Utah State University again fails to provide its students a safe environment, the Editorial Board writes

Student’s lawsuit brings evidence that campus and city police did not take cases of sexual assault seriously.

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah State University Old Main Building, Friday, July 22, 2016.

A university can offer inspiring professors, state-of-the art labs and libraries, research opportunities, recreation, parties, life-long friendships — even a bowl-worthy football team. But if it cannot, or will not, provide a safe environment for all of that other stuff to take place, then it is a failure.

This week brought more revelations about how Utah State University has yet to offer the level of safety, particularly for its female students, that should be expected. Some serious changes are in order.

USU was already on the radar of the U.S. Department of Justice for failure to provide a safe living and learning environment for its female students. USU officials promised to do better. But there is reason to believe that they aren’t.

As recently as 2020, the DOJ found USU seriously wanting in its duty to protect women from sexual assault and rape. It charged that both campus and community law enforcement agencies ignored repeated reports of assault from students, giving particular deference to the school’s elite, its football players and fraternity members.

The feds also charged that campus officials, all the way up to the office of President Noelle Cockett, have failed in their duty to make the school the haven for growth its students have every right to expect.

The most recent set of appalling revelations have become public through a lawsuit filed against the university by a student who reported being raped by a member of the school’s football team in November of 2019. The victim reported the assault to local law enforcement and to the university’s Title IX Office, a division that exists to make sure female students have an equal opportunity to live and learn on college campuses under the provisions of federal law.

But rather than see her attacker brought to justice, or even being believed and supported by the university, the victim was dragged through months of stops and starts, forced to relate and relive the trauma again and again as a succession of new case managers and more demanding evidence requirements were put in front of her. Even though USU’s Title IX office twice concluded that the student’s claim was accurate, the case dragged on for two years before being dismissed with no disciplinary action taken against her alleged attacker. Cache County prosecutors never brought any charges.

In support of the claim that the university establishment is not set up to provide for the safety of its female students, the victim’s attorneys provided an audio recording of a meeting where the chiefs of both the Logan Police Department and the USU Police Department gave members of the Aggie football team advice, not on how to behave respectfully toward women on and off campus, but on how to avoid being accused of assault.

Women who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, USU Police Chief Earl Morris is heard to say, may even indicate in the moment that they are consenting to sexual relations, only to later claim that they were attacked in order to stay in the good graces of their church.

This is victim-blaming twice over.

Add to that comments from an unspecified football coach telling his players that it “has never been more glamorized to be a victim” and statements from both city of Logan and USU police that players should contact them directly if they are ever in a jam — going so far as to give the players the personal text numbers of high-ranking officers in the departments — and it all strongly suggests that the point of the meeting was not to protect USU women from being attacked so much as it was to keep USU athletes from getting caught.

There is nothing glamorous about being a victim of sexual assault. Victims, though, are increasingly likely to go public with their ordeals, if only because it seems that official channels intended to deal with sexual assault aren’t doing their jobs and speaking up is the only alternative left.

If you think you’ve heard this story before, it may be because several USU students reported being attacked by football player Torrey Green, who was convicted in 2019 of sexually assaulting six women while he was a student at the Logan school. Four women had told Logan police in 2015 that they had been assaulted by Green, but no charges were filed until after The Tribune published an investigative report about their claims.

USU Police Chief Morris resigned Thursday after the recording of what he told the football players came to light.

It is far past time for USU President Cockett, the Utah System of Higher Education, the Utah Legislature, Gov. Spencer Cox, Logan and Cache County law enforcement and the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training agency to make clear that this level of favoritism and willful blindness has no place on the state’s college campuses.

Or anywhere else.