Culture changes around sexual misconduct at LSU will take time, advocates say

Student says it may ‘take almost a whole new generation’

By: - October 8, 2021 6:00 am

LSU students protest in front of the Football Operations Center in — demanding stiffer punishment for athletic executives who sat on sexual misconduct allegations. (Photo by JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)

In April, LSU students told a committee of women lawmakers that “I have never felt safe on campus, even during the day.”

Today, for women, nonbinary and transgender students at LSU feeling unsafe on campus is “definitely still an issue,” said Angelina Cantelli, president of Tigers Against Sexual Assault — a student-run organization at the university.

Ever since USA Today reported a mammoth sexual misconduct scandal that detailed how LSU repeatedly mishandled and ignored sexual misconduct on campus, university officials have talked about how committed they are to changing the culture surrounding sexual violence. 

For LSU President William Tate, who started as university president months after the scandal broke, changing that culture starts with making sure the university handles Title IX cases “from a trauma-informed perspective.”

LSU needs to make sure that people who report sexual assault or harrassment to the school “are treated in a way that makes sure they’re taken care of from a psychological perspective.” Tate said in July, “a lot of the time, individuals (who report Title IX cases) have to prove something has gone wrong, and then we treat them like they’re the ones with the problem.”

Morgan Lamandre, an attorney at Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response who represents survivors of sexual assault, said that she has noticed LSU has “really improved their response efforts to provide survivors a trauma-informed approach when it comes to Title IX investigations.”

However, Lamandre said she believes Title IX investigators for the university have overcompensated and have avoided asking difficult questions to survivors at all because “they do not know how to articulate the questions in a way that does not shame or blame a survivor.”

“Avoiding questions does not help survivors in the long-run when they are appearing before hearing panel members that ultimately ask those tough questions,” Lamandre said. “So, I think there still needs to be more training in that area.”

Lamandre said it’s difficult to expect culture around sexual misconduct to change at LSU when “Louisiana still tolerates a lot of sexual harrassment and sexual abuse.”

“Even the idea that people say like, ‘oh it’s jokes. Oh it’s southerners.’ It’s not just LSU, it’s the culture of Louisiana,” she said.

Lamandre also said LSU’s efforts to minimize liability on LSU also cause a natural conflict with changing the culture and being accountable to past wrongs.

It’s hard for LSU to move forward and change the climate and culture at the school when accountability can lead to liability,” she said.  “There are so many pending lawsuits against LSU. Being completely accountable for past wrongs, which is necessary for the culture to truly change, becomes nearly impossible when the Office of General Counsel is doing all that it can to avoid or reduce any legal liability.”

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In March, the Husch Blackwell law firm gave LSU a 150-page investigative report detailing how the university hadn’t made enough of an effort to combat sexual misconduct and violence on its Baton Rouge campus. The law firm also gave LSU a list of recommendations on how to adequately address sexual misconduct reports.

LSU officials have said they’re working to fulfill all of those recommendations, including fully staffing their Title IX office.

So far, LSU’s Title IX Office has eight staff members, up from the two members previously staffing the office, but much less than previous plans. Last April, LSU leaders said they planned to hire 14 to 18 people for the office, which investigates and handles sexual misconduct. 

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Cantelli said the increased Title IX staffing has been a noticeable improvement. Eight months ago, at the time Husch Blackwell released its report, LSU had one part-time Title IX coordinator and one Title IX investigator for its 35,000-student campus in Baton Rouge. 

However, Cantelli said she doesn’t think a culture change around sexual misconduct is going to happen during her time at LSU.

“I really think it’s going to take almost a whole new generation of LSU students for the culture to truly change,” she said.

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is an award-winning journalist at The Louisiana Illuminator. Canicosa has previous experience at Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon and 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.

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