‘It’s a pity’: LSU community reacts to end of STAR partnership for sexual harassment training
STAR’s trainings touched on workplace culture, harassment awareness and coping with trauma
LSU community express renewed frustrations with LSU after the university declines to continue partnership with local nonprofit for sexual violence prevention training (Photo by Julie O'Donoghue)
The loss of the expertise from the local nonprofit Sexual Trauma and Response (STAR) has once again ignited feelings of hurt and mistrust on LSU’s campus.
STAR, a Baton Rouge-based group dedicated to building a sexual assault-free community, offered a variety of training to LSU employees in the wake of a national scandal that an explosive USA Today investigative report kicked off in 2020.
Shortly before the current semester, LSU notified STAR it would not be renewing its contract, citing the desire to handle training within its newly revamped Title IX office. Its staff is tasked with addressing allegations of federal civil rights law violations on campus rooted in sex-based discrimination.
But there are those on campus who remain doubtful of the office’s ability and are disappointed to lose STAR’s training. LSU student Allison Allsop described the decision to end STAR’s contract as another example of the university failing its students.
“I am not convinced the recent changes to the office, including the new hiring of a permanent vice president, will resolve all of the issues,” Allsop said. “STAR has been an integral part of healing the relationship and trust between students and administration, and by discontinuing the partnership, LSU is showing once again how little they care about truly enacting change in the attitude and operation of the campus.”
How it started
Following the release of USA Today’s report, the university commissioned law firm Husch Blackwell to do an audit that revealed a number of institutional problems regarding how LSU handled Title IX complaints.
In the wake of the Husch Blackwell report, LSU hired STAR. STAR President Racheal Hebert said the organization and the university entered into a verbal agreement for a five-year training partnership in 2020. State bidding laws prevented the university from agreeing to a multi-year deal, but university administrators promised to renew an annual contract for five years, Hebert said.
In the time since the Title IX scandal broke, LSU has undergone major changes in leadership. Interim President Tom Galligan gave way to William Tate in 2021. Jane Cassidy, the interim Civil Rights & Title IX vice president who worked closely with STAR and other organizations, was replaced by former Entergy executive Todd Manuel this year. Dereck Rovaris, vice provost for the Office of Diversity, retired suddenly in 2021, and his responsibilities were folded into the office Manuel now oversees.
“We were so excited to work with people that were actually committed,” Hebert said. “We couldn’t have anticipated that all of this would have happened.”
With STAR’s original partners at LSU gone, the relationship between organization and the university declined, according to Hebert.
I'm worried that there's a disconnect and that LSU isn't recognizing sexual violence as a public health issue
– Racheal Hebert
“I don’t blame the people that made the original promise with STAR because I think they did have that intention. They had that full intention of investment. They were committed,” she said. “There’s a new president. There’s a new vice president of Title IX, so that’s the change and that’s something we just have to live with.”
Another factor that led to LSU moving on from STAR was the state Board of Regents establishing new requirements, standards the board determined STAR’s training did not meet.
Sexual violence as a public health issue
Before its contract was canceled, STAR planned this academic year to conduct training focused on sexual violence prevention, which Hebert considers a public health issue.
“President Tate often talks about public health that’s a big priority for him and understanding public health issues, applying the knowledge and doing research on public health,” Hebert said. ”I’m worried that there’s a disconnect and that LSU isn’t recognizing sexual violence as a public health issue.”
If STAR had known it was working on a shorter timeline, it would have approached the LSU partnership differently, Hebert said.
Anticipating its annual contract to be extended over a five-year period, STAR put together a curriculum that would build on concepts taught in previous years. In the first year, the priority was to stabilize a university in crisis, according to Hebert.
Over time, STAR hoped to implement transformational training, like the plan for this year, that would help faculty incorporate prevention into their curriculum.
Bob Mann, a professor at LSU, was one of a handful of mass communication faculty to attend one of STAR’s initial training sessions. A couple of months after Mann took part in the training, LSU scrapped the program.
“I learned something useful about sexual violence and how survivors respond to it, but it was unfortunate that LSU allowed a group of faculty members to go through this training when they had to have known they were about to scrap the program.”
“I think it’s a pity LSU has ended the relationship,” Mann added.
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Partnership with new group anticipated
In August, LSU spokesperson Ernie Ballard told the Louisiana Illuminator the university has fully staffed its Title IX office and was no longer in need of STAR’s services.
Earlier this month, President Tate said in an interview the university would soon announce a partnership with a different organization to provide support.
“Our expertise is very different than [from when] we initially commissioned STAR, thankfully, because of STAR,” Tate said, adding that the contract with the organization ended, in part, because of the success of the partnership.
“A lot of times when you’re a consultant, you do such a good job, and everybody is readily accepting the kinds of recommendations you make, that you’ll eventually scale what you have and you get to a point where it’s time to invest in another way,” Tate said.
LSU has reached that point, according to Tate, who said an announcement on the new partnership could be expected this month.
STAR put its good name on the line to help a school tainted by widespread allegations of abuse, Hebert said.
“STAR was brought in to rebuild trust in the community for LSU in this area, and we have extended ourselves and extended our reputation and extended our brand to LSU,” Hebert said. That included defending LSU in the community when people questioned STAR’s decision to get involved with a troubled institution, she added.
“I would say, looking at it objectively, LSU has benefited much more from this partnership from STAR than STAR has benefited,” Hebert said.
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