When an arrest was made on February 23rd ten weeks after Laura Dickinson’s death, it was the first time her family knew she had been raped and murdered. It was the first time her fellow classmates at Eastern Michigan University knew she had been raped and murdered, too. In her dorm room. Since December, they’d thought the 22-year-old had died of natural causes. Her family buried her thinking she had died of natural causes—maybe a heart attack, as she had a history of stress-related cardiac arrhythmia. They were never told that she’d been found naked from the waist down with a pillow covering her head and semen on her leg.
The school “lied to us,” Laura’s father, Bob Dickinson, said. “They let us bury her thinking that a healthy 22-year-old girl died by some freak accident.”
School officials will not say why they kept silent. But some parents and people in the community believe administrators endangered students in an effort to protect the university’s image.
An independent investigation initiated by the school’s Board of Regents agrees. In a 568-page report released this month, investigators with the Detroit law firm of Butzel Long detail how school officials violated the Clery Act, a federal law requiring colleges and universities to disclose information about campus crimes and warn students of threats to their safety.
Eastern Michigan University’s violation of the Clery Act—a federal statute enacted in 1990 that requires all colleges and universities receiving federal aid to record and disclose information about crime on and near their respective campuses—is painfully ironic, as such violation proves its very need. Given the grimly similar circumstances to the case out of which the requirement was born, the violation is particularly tragic as well: The Clery Act was named for Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh University freshman who was raped and murdered in her dorm room in 1986, and whose parents discovered that the university had not disclosed to current and prospective students 38 violent crimes on the campus in the three years preceding Jeanne’s murder.
So common, you see, is campuses’ desire to mask the truth about crime generally—and sexual assault principally—that a federal law was required to make them be honest.
And even then, Eastern Michigan University, recently having suffered a series of hits on its reputation—after spinning through three presidents in three years, having “under-reported the budget of, and failed to get state approval for, a $6-million mansion for its president,” and weathering a staff strike and the resignation of nearly half its regents in response to a campus culture of “distrust and open animosity”—evidently decided that violation of this federal law was acceptable because, damn, they just didn’t want more bad publicity. Which is why the Clery Act was designed to protect students, not universities.
The man who has been arrested, Orange Amir Taylor III, was caught by dormitory surveillance cameras sneaking into the dorm and leaving 90 minutes later, with some of Laura’s possessions in hand. His DNA matches the semen sample taken from Laura’s body and her bed. He was also a student at the university. And he’d taken Laura’s dormitory keys with him.
In the weeks after Taylor’s arrest, school officials held public meetings to let students air their complaints. “I was specifically told I was not in danger, that we weren’t in danger, and unless you guys already had a guy in custody, we were in danger,” student Jaclyn Armstrong said in one meeting, according to the school newspaper, the Eastern Echo. “And the fact that he is being charged with criminal sexual assault, not only were our lives in danger, but we were in danger of many other things.”
Indeed. And Eastern Michigan University decided that the rape and murder of more of their female students was a risk they were willing to take, if only they could avoid a little more bad publicity.
How’s that working out for ya?