U Students Wear Purple and Organize a Protest to Advocate for Campus Safety


Students protest before the U football game on Sept. 28 (Courtesy Unsafe.U)


Three days before the homecoming football game against Washington State, the Unsafe.U Instagram account called on its followers to “wear purple to demand #JusticeforLauren.” 

The Instagram account is run by anonymous students and staff at the University of Utah in protest of the U’s requested dismissal of the McCluskey family’s lawsuit against them and their overall handling of Lauren McCluskey’s murder. It also focuses on domestic violence, general campus safety and increasing student involvement. The account is the culmination of constant and often emotionally charged criticism of the U administration from students since McCluskey’s murder in October 2018.

In its first organized movement, the Instagram account announced that purple ribbons, armbands and wristbands would be handed out throughout Homecoming Week festivities, from the Homecoming 5K to the football game on Sept. 28: We ask that you wear purple to honor Lauren, demand accountability from the university, and advocate for a truly safe campus,” a caption from its post on Sept. 27 said.

A protestor holds a sign criticizing the U’s handling of the Lauren McCluskey case. (Courtesy Unsafe.U)

At the football game, flashes of purple dotted the typically red-and-white student section. Fans wore purple ribbons, coats and hair scrunchies or painted small purple hearts on their face to honor McCluskey. Throughout the day of Sept. 28, Unsafe.U reposted pictures of students wearing purple and messages of support from members of the campus community on their Instagram story.

“I can still sing the fight song and chant the chants for the school I have so much pride for, all while wearing purple to show that some of the policies the school is currently supporting are not something I or the greater part of the student body are okay with,” said Meaghan Flannagan, a sophomore studying modern dance and biology, in a text message. 

The protests went further than clothing or social media posts, though. Abhiijith Harikumar, a fourth-year student majoring in information systems, was asked by some of the anonymous organizers of Unsafe.U to help with the protest. He hosted a banner-making party at his house the night before the football game.

Hours before the game, many students, staff, alumni and even a few passersby gathered outside of the MUSS Tailgate on the intersection of 500 S. and 1580 E., just above the Rice-Eccles Stadium.

As they handed out purple ribbons, they held signs varying from “U failed Lauren” to “U are accountable,” playing off the school’s signature block U logo. Some signs replicated hashtags used on the Unsafe.U Instagram page, including #SupportLaurensLawsuits and #UnsafeU. One protestor carried a sign that read, “Campus police killed Lauren.” 

Protestors hold signs with #BelieveWomen. Many students have criticized the U’s motion to dismiss, calling it victim blaming. (Courtesy Unsafe.U)

Rebecca Hardenbrook, a doctoral student in applied mathematics, held a sign that said, “If this sign makes you uncomfortable, imagine how Lauren felt. #unsafeu” 

“I wanted it to be a reminder that something terrible happened on campus and the university is not being honest with the public about how they could have prevented it,” Hardenbrook said in a text message.

For Harikumar, McCluksey’s murder is indicative of a larger problem.”

“At the end of the day, the university and this space should be a place where [students] feel safe,” he said. “The administration doesn’t really seem to be taking any accountability for that.” 

Those involved with the protest hope their efforts inspired education and dialogue about campus safety.

“Many Utes fans we spoke to yesterday were truly unaware that Lauren had made complaints,” Hardenbrook said. “Some were even unaware that we have our own police department, and some were even unaware Lauren had been murdered on campus.”

“A lot of people weren’t really familiar with what the protest was about,” Harikumar said. “But they approached us and we were able to have a conversation with them about it.”

Rebecca Hardenbrook, who protested before the game, is an ASUU Senate representative on the Academic Senate. (Courtesy Unsafe.U)

Flannagan wished that more students were aware of the demonstrations. “I genuinely believe this could have been a massive statement for the student body to make, and one that I believe we want to make,” she said. “However, the idea came up very last minute, to the point where I do not think the message was spread widely enough.”

Unsafe.U is already organizing more student protests. “There is an Academic Senate meeting tomorrow from 3-5 p.m.” Hardenbrook said. The meeting will take place in Room 2004 of the Henry Eyring Building. “We are asking people to show up in purple to support Lauren and other domestic violence victims on campus, and to bring prepared signs or statements regarding student safety on our campus.”

Many students believe this protest is just the beginning for student activism surrounding campus safety.

“I do not think this ends with wearing purple for homecoming week,” Flannagan said. “I think this was just a start, and I hope change comes from it.”

Hardenbrook agrees: “If the administration chooses not to listen to student outrage and does not take this seriously, this will not be the last protest regarding student safety issues.”


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