LSU will no longer receive sexual harassment awareness and prevention training from local nonprofit

STAR’s multitude of trainings touched on workplace culture, harassment awareness and coping with trauma

By: - August 25, 2022 2:17 pm
A tree branch partial obscures the LSU Library

LSU has declined to renew Sexual Trauma and Response's (STAR) contract for sexual assault prevention training (Photo by Julie O'Donoghue)

LSU has declined to renew the contract of Sexual Trauma and Response (STAR), the organization that has provided sexual assault and harassment awareness training to university employees following multiple instances of federal Title IX law violations. 

STAR is a Baton Rouge-based nonprofit dedicated to building a sexual assault-free community. Its employees help shape legislation, provide legal services to sexual assault survivors and provides training to local entities. 

LSU became engulfed in scandal following a USA Today investigative report in November 2020 that showed how the school had mishandled sexual misconduct allegations. The university’s subsequent in-house probe, conducted by the Husch Blackwell law firm, revealed a number of institutional problems regarding Title IX failures, leading LSU to hire STAR for training.

Title IX is the section of civil rights law that prohibits sexual discrimination in any educational setting that receives funding from the federal government.  

Public records obtained by the Louisiana Illuminator show STAR was called upon to conduct a number of training sessions in the two years following the USA Today report, including for its athletic department, the College of Agriculture, LSU Libraries, Student Life and the French department. 

The most recent training, in spring 2022 for the French department, followed reports that indicated the head of the department allowed a graduate student with multiple sexual misconduct accusations to continue to work with undergraduate students. STAR provided two 1.5-hour sessions on coping with collective trauma training, conducted a cultural assessment of the department, ran two additional 1.5-hour customized training sessions and provided coaching and support to department leaders on navigating workplace culture change and sexual harassment prevention efforts. 

While STAR’s work with LSU began after the scandal came to light, the organization also provided proactive training to make the university campus safer. 

Tanya Rawal, STAR’s vice president of social change, said LSU had already paid STAR to create a proposal for the work they would do this academic year, but then notified the organization in late July it would not be renewing their contract. 

Rawal said the STAR curriculum for this school year aimed to address sexual assault on college campuses. A major emphasis of that would have been training for professors on ways to integrate discussions of sexual violence into their curriculum. Rawal said that she has been involved in similar training at other schools and found it to be effective. 

“You can talk about bringing data science into these into these conversations around sexual violence,” Rawal said, using a math professor as an example. “It’s very helpful if we’re able to use data and different number models to show the data to the public… because people need the numbers to understand the problem the way that it is.” 

Rawal said professors she had spoken to were looking forward to the training. 

LSU told STAR that its services were no longer needed because the university had hired more people in its Title IX office, according to Rawal. The Husch Blackwell report recommended a thorough overhaul of that office.   

LSU spokesperson Ernie Ballard reiterated that reasoning in a statement. 

“In the last 18 months, the university has built a robust Civil Rights & Title IX office with 12 staff members on the main campus, including a permanent vice president over Inclusion, Civil Rights & Title IX,” Ballard said. “Our staff, who are all trained in this area, will be providing the campus with guidance, resources and trainings.” 

Rawal did not find the explanation to be satisfactory. 

“In our heads, we’re kind of just like, you have 30,000 students and people, like three people in one office, they’re not going to solve the problem,” Rawal said. We’re gonna be a community effort.” 

Rawal said she worries that ending the partnership now will mean all the progress STAR has made on campus will be lost. 

Emily Hebert, an LSU student involved with Tigers Against Sexual Assault, an organization that partners with STAR to combat sexual assault, expressed her disappointment in LSU’s decision. 

“As a person who has taken a STAR course, I find their process to be educational and worthwhile. I think it could’ve been really useful for LSU staff to take part in the course that STAR was producing,” Hebert said. 

LSU will still continue its partnership with STAR on other projects, Ballard said. LSU lists STAR as a resource for students on several of its web pages. 

STAR also represents students who file Title IX complaints at LSU, aiding students through the investigative process and resolution.

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Piper Hutchinson
Piper Hutchinson

Piper Hutchinson is a reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She has covered the Legislature and state government extensively for the LSU Manship News Service and The Reveille, where she was named editor in chief for summer 2022.