Students and Campus Organizations Move Forward After McCluskey Lawsuit Settlement

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Alexis Perno

Jill and Mathew McCluskey, Lauren McCluskey’s parents, stand and watch the McCarthey Family Track at the memorial walk on Oct. 22, 2020. (Photo by Alexis Perno | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Natalie Colby, News Editor

 

Oct. 22, 2018, track athlete and University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey was shot and killed on the U’s campus by her ex-boyfriend, Melvin Rowland. McCluskey had contacted the U police to seek help 2o times in the days leading up to her death

After two years, students heard the U take responsibility for the murder of McCluskey after it announced a lawsuit settlement with the McCluskey family of $13.5 million. Campus organizations plan to move forward with their mission of creating safety on campus. 

“I think that there is a sense of sadness, regardless. Because as the dust settles, there’s still a lot of things that I think we wish could be initially altered,” said Ayanna Amaechi, the ASUU vice president of university relations. “I also think there’s a sense of hope that a lot of really great things will come out of this … so I think that I’m really excited for what this campus can continue to do to evolve.”  

McCluskey’s murder and the U’s previous attempts to dismiss lawsuits inspired U students to start the organization UnsafeU in the fall of 2019, with an initial goal to get justice for McCluskey. 

“We are feeling a lot of kind of joy and peace today in knowing that the McCluskey family will finally be able to get some peace on this,” a rep. from UnsafeU said.

They said the settlement was probably inevitable, but the admission of guilt from the U was less expected. 

“I think that wouldn’t have been possible without the sustained action of students, student leaders, community members legislators, legal, journalists… I think that sustained pressure is ultimately what caused the U to agree to the settlement, the condition of admitting their fault in this. And so I think that’s an important win for us because we don’t see wins like this and the activist community especially around gender-based violence,” the UnsafeU rep. said.

Despite the U reaching a settlement with the McCluskey family, UnsafeU said since their account was created hundreds of people have reached out to them expressing dissatisfaction with how the university has handled their cases and emphasized their work is not over. 

“I think what we didn’t realize at the time that we started the account was that we were kind of just scratching the surface with Lauren’s case,” the UnsafeU rep. said. “So that’s what’s kind of caused our expanded reach on campus safety. So we’re planning on continuing on doing the work.”

According to the students that run the UnsafeU Instagram account, real accountability from the U would include increasing victim-survivor advocates, providing them adequate breaks, giving them a better space and more integration of victim-survivor advocates in the campus community. 

They also want more visible and easily accessible data about campus safety.

UnsafeU’s work moving forward includes working with state legislators to create a statewide independent review commission and a statewide campus safety report card. 

They are also still protesting Sim Gill’s decision to not prosecute Miguel Deras — the officer who showed other law enforcement officers the explicit photos of McCluskey after she had given them to the police for the investigation. UnsafeU is also working to close loopholes in Utah’s revenge porn law. 

Amaechi said the ASUU presidency is continuing to work on campus safety, which includes creating legislation asking professors to add Lauren’s promise to their syllabi.

The promise states, “I will listen and believe you if someone is threatening you.”

“Safety is a very big part of our platform and so our goal is to hopefully institute that within our own separate roles within [our] committees,” Amaechi said.

On Oct. 22, 2020, the U also announced they were renaming the Center for Violence Prevention to the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention. 

Director of the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention and College of Education Faculty, Chris Linder said she knew there was a possibility for the name change, but she did not expect it to happen so quickly. 

Linder said the work will stay the same, but the name change brings more opportunities.

“What I think it does is yet again makes more people pay attention, which is important. And also it gives us an awesome opportunity to work with Lauren’s parents to see how they want her legacy to be honored and for us to work with them to try to be able to do that as best we can,” Linder said.

The center launched at the end of Sept. 2020 and focuses on perpetration and peer culture at the U to prevent relationship and sexual violence. 

While actual programming and educational aspects for the center might not be instituted until the spring, Linder said students can work on changing the peer culture around them by setting clear boundaries and respecting other people’s boundaries in all spheres of life, not just sexually.

“Knowing what our own limits are, but then also respecting other people’s is really important,” Linder said.

 

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