Reese: My Open Letter to President Watkins


University of Utah President Ruth Watkins and University Police Chief Dale Brophy spoke at a press conference on the investigation into the death of student Lauren McCluskey on Oct. 25, 2018 | Chronicle archives.

By Isaac Reese, Opinion Writer

Dear President Watkins,

When I first attempted to write this letter, I felt angry, frustrated and upset with the actions the University of Utah has taken following the murder of Lauren McCluskey on its campus. I feel hurt by your silence on the U’s request that the lawsuit that Lauren’s parents have taken against the university be dismissed. Because of this silence, I feel forced to assume that you stand by the actions, language and message taken by the University’s public relations and legal teams.

Originally, I thought it was justified of myself to demand your resignation, but even that would not accomplish anything productive or bring the justice that Lauren deserves. I understand that you may not have directed the decisions of the university’s legal team and public relations department, but the burden of leadership ultimately falls upon your shoulders. As a student of the institution you lead, I am disappointed to see that the U does not appear to stand on the side of its students.

The university claims to be a safer place after the six major changes that have been implemented this school year, but many students, including myself, remain rightfully upset. An independent group of students has recently organized via Instagram through the @unsafe.u account. The Associated Students of the University of Utah passed a resolution condemning the victim blaming in the request to dismiss the McCluskey’s case against the University of Utah. These students are demanding real change and justice for Lauren, yet $60,000 have already been wasted by the U’s desperate attempt to superficially improve its own image.

When the lawsuit dismissal was first reported, one university spokesperson said that “he’d let the court document speak for itself.” As a result, many members of ASUU and the larger student body were lead to believe that the university blames Lauren for her murder. After ASUU put out a resolution condemning this language, the university released a statement that “none of the statements in the motion were intended, or should be read, to suggest victim blaming. Let me be clear, the university does not believe that Lauren McCluskey had any responsibility for the heinous actions of her murderer.”

Yet, even in your dismissal of Lauren’s murder falls upon her shoulders. You claim she never sought help from campus housing officials. She and her friends did make reports to U Campus Police — over 20 times. Your staff did not listen and now your legal team has chosen to support them in their claim that Lauren was responsible for preventing her own murder. Lauren alone has paid the consequences of an incompetent group of individuals who were tasked with providing security, yet refused to believe students in danger.

Not one officer involved has been punished or faced consequences for their inaction that enabled Lauren’s murder. Police Chief Dale Brophy resigned with benefits, even though his tenure as police chief was riddled with a mismanaged and immature police force. The officers who have left the force have since been hired in new departments across the state. President Watkins, you have the power as President to hold employees accountable, especially those you have tasked with protecting students. These officers have failed Lauren and the entire U community, yet they do not have the face the consequences of their inactions. It was Lauren who was met with the consequences, and now she is dead.

Many of us in the student body are turning against you. As President, you must be on the side of your students, yet you seem to stand on the opposite end.  Are you going to listen to the students? Will you take action against those who failed Lauren in her time of need? Do you agree with your legal team that Lauren was responsible for her own murder? You are the leader of this institution and you as the leader need to demand real action and change for the university, for us and for Lauren.


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