LSU students to legislature: ‘I have never felt safe on campus’

Students testify in front of women lawmakers

By: - April 8, 2021 6:47 pm

LSU students express their fear and frustrations with the university to the Louisiana Senate Select Committee on Women and Children. (JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)

Students at LSU expressed their fear and frustration with the university to women lawmakers Thursday, saying that they didn’t feel safe on campus and were hurt and embarrassed that their school put money over the care of its students.

“I came (to LSU) with the expectation I would be safe on campus, and I’m not,” Mia Macaluso, an undergraduate told the Louisiana Senate Select Committee on Women & Children during a hearing about sexual misconduct on higher education campuses. “I have never felt safe on campus, even during the day.”

“You can ask any female LSU student and she will have multiple instances” where she felt unsafe or uncomfortable on campus, Macaluso said. 

Thursday was the third hearing the committee has held since the law firm Husch Blackwell released a 150-page report last month that concluded that LSU hadn’t made enough of an effort to combat sexual misconduct and violence on its Baton Rouge campus, hadn’t sufficiently staffed the Title IX office, which handles campus cases of sexual misconduct and violence, and had no clear policies in place about when employees are required to report sexual violence and sexual misconduct.

The LSU scandal has had a ripple effect across the country, but no one who lost a job was still at LSU. Former LSU football coach Les Miles was fired by the University of Kansas. KU also fired the athletic director who hired Miles. F. King Alexander, who served as LSU president between 2013 and 2019 when a number of the allegations of sexual misconduct and violence occurred, resigned as Oregon State University president. The Oregon State board of trustees said there was no way Alexander could regain the trust of the OSU community.

Verge Ausberry and Miriam Segar, two LSU athletics administrators who did nothing when they learned of several allegations of violence and misconduct against football players, weren’t fired, but suspended. 

Students have protested the LSU administration’s response, saying it has left students feeling that the university hasn’t done enough to protect its students.

“It’s humiliating, and it’s scary to know that if (sexual violence) were to happen to me in the future, I would not be protected,” Macaluso said. 

Macaluso said she’s graduating soon, but will be going to graduate school elsewhere because “I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t want to go to a campus that continually puts my money into covering up (sexual and domestic violence cases).”

Kimsey Stewart, another undergraduate student at LSU, expressed similar frustrations with the university, telling the committee that LSU has continually protected its brand over its students.

“The university does not care about its students, they only care about how much money they can make off of students,” she said.

Stewart listed multiple instances when her female classmates would go to campus police and report being harassed, stalked or flashed only to be told by campus police there was nothing they could do.

“Today, I am missing one class because LSU chose abusers over me, but that’s nothing compared to the continued trauma and disruption to the lives of victims,” she said.

State Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, chairwoman of the committee, said hearing that LSU students “never felt safe” on campus is “extremely troubling and has to be corrected.” She told the students that LSU has “failed you, and they continue to fail you. That is just not a good path forward.”

LSU officials didn’t testify at the hearing, citing a possible lawsuit from LSU Athletics administrator Sharon Lewis against the university and several individuals associated with it. Their absence was another source of frustration for LSU students and lawmakers.

“They argue it wouldn’t be fair to the administrators, but what about us?” Mia LeJeune, another LSU undergraduate student, asked. “Where is the fairness when it comes to students? It’s completely unfair that nine members of our faculty who are supposed to be here to protect us instead decided that they weren’t going to come and speak up and own up to us.”

In their place, Winston DeCuir, LSU’s general counsel, spoke to the committee and told the women lawmakers that even though LSU won’t allow its employees or board members to speak in front of the women’s select committee, “that doesn’t mean we weren’t working on this, that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to fix this” or stop cooperating with the legislature. DeCuir also spoke on behalf of the school when asked about the systemic changes — or lack thereof — LSU is undertaking in light of Husch Blackwell’s report.

DeCuir said LSU’s new Title IX office is now up and running and the university is hiring a third party auditor to make sure the university follows through with making the Husch Blackwell report’s 18 recommended changes a reality.

However, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) told DeCuir that based on the university’s reluctance to fire anyone, she feels like the university is sending a message that they aren’t concerned enough for the students and all these changes are being done to protect their brand.

In response, DeCuir said the university’s history with a lack of reporting of sexual and domestic violence was due to systemic problems, and they need to fix the system, not fire individuals.

Carter Peterson said she agrees the problem was systemic, but said this was an active cover up, “and that warrants dismissal” for some of those implicated in the scandal.

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is a former Louisiana Illuminator reporter. Prior to working with the Illuminator, Canicosa worked for Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon. Canicosa earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.