Approximately 100 Eastern Michigan University students marched from Pray-Harrold to Welch Hall as Title IX lawsuits continue to be filed against the university.
The organizer of the protest, EMU freshman Abbigail Francis, gathered students on Thursday to bring awareness to the alleged sexual assaults that may have happened on campus.
“Every student I have talked to has voiced that they feel unsafe being on campus, including myself,” Francis said in an email. “We are disappointed with the administration, faculty, and campus police.”
Protestors also called on EMU to hold their local fraternity chapters, Alpha Sigma Phi and Delta Tau Delta, accountable for their accused actions as well as their removal on campus, as they chanted “abolish greek life” and “stop protecting frats.”
“There are children, children on this campus. 15, 16 (years old),” EMU junior Hannah Berberoglu said. “How are we going to keep children safe, if we allow a bunch of frat people on here to rape kids.”
Former EMU students and ex-members of ASP and DTD, Dustyn Durbin, D’Angelo McWilliams, and Thomas Hernandez are accused in the lawsuit of criminal sex conduct.
Between 2015 and 2020, nine EMU students were raped by Durbin, and one EMU student was gang-raped by Hernandez and McWilliams, according to the lawsuit. These allegations allegedly occurred at EMU fraternities, ASP and DTD.
On the day of the protest, EMU President James Smith sent out an email to students stating that the university is taking steps to ensure students are safe, such as required annual Title IX training for students and Clery Act training for more than 100 university administrators that requires them to report information about certain crimes that occur on or near campus.
Responses from protestors regarding the email sent out were mainly feelings of frustration.
“It outraged me,” EMU freshman Lynn Green said. “They could have sent that email any other day, but yet they chose to do it at the morning of the protest. They could have done so much more and it just kind of felt like a ‘hey, don't destroy school property’ or ‘hey, don't be too mad at us.’”
As of Sept. 8, EMU is facing three Title IX lawsuits by 24 individuals who claim that the university failed to properly respond to their sexual assault cases, the lawsuits also included ASP and DTD.
A series of Title IX lawsuits began in March when a number of individuals came forward and accused EMU of covering up their cases of sexual assault.
Former EMU Title IX coordinator Melody Werner, among other individuals, are accused of manipulating or misleading survivors of sexual assault as well as discouraging them from reporting their case, according to the lawsuit.
The university contracted with the external law firm of Cozen O’Connor on Sept. 25, 2020, to review EMU’s Title IX and related policies, procedures, and actions regarding these events, according to Smith. He also announced that he expected the review to be completed by spring 2021.
“The Cozen O’Connor review remains underway,” EMU Vice President for Communications Walter Kraft said in a recent email. “It is an outside, independent review of our practices. We have stated from the outset that once it is completed, whatever its findings and recommendations, it will be shared with the campus community.”
The protest comes around the same week as U.S. gymnasts, such as Simone Biles, testify in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the FBI’s mishandling of sexual abuse cases committed by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, emphasizing the issue of systematic neglect of reported sexual assault cases.
“It's really disappointing more than anything, it just feels like you really took the chance to handle something and just mishandled it terribly,” EMU sophomore Je’naiya Tims said. “And then on top of that, tried to hide it. And it's really just about taking accountability and taking responsibility. And I think that's what we're all here for… We want to see Eastern do better as a whole.”