What’s the truth about a rape and murder when you’ve got a reputation to protect?

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?

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41 Comments

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41 responses to “What’s the truth about a rape and murder when you’ve got a reputation to protect?

  1. nightshift66

    This isn’t unique to EMU, either. My own alma mater is notorious for doing everything it can to conceal violent crimes on campus in general, and especially violent crimes against female students. Never forget that universities are just large business organizations in structure.

  2. Lya Kahlo

    This and this: http://abyss2hope.blogspot.com/2007/06/stranger-rapist-she-didnt-say-no.html

    are making my blood boil to much to a coherent response.

  3. I read through that and I’m utterly lost: coroner? autopsy?

    Those are public records.

  4. Melissa McEwan

    Those are public records.

    To which access was likely not sought because the family was told natural causes.

  5. SAP

    Fucking. Bastards.

  6. This is sick and wrong in so many ways I can’t even put it into words. As a parent, I think I could forgive a school if a crime happened to my daughter there — though I’d really prefer not to find out. But I would never forgive them lying about it. And I’d spend my remaining days making their lives hell for this. Hell.

  7. I was so disgusted by that school when I read the story. Every single parent who has a child at that school should consider whether they really want their child attending an institution that treats the safety of their children as if it doesn’t matter.
    And there had to have been meetings about how the situation would be handled. Can you imagine the cold hearted callousness of the people who decided to lie to absolutely everyone?
    I honestly feel that they should lose their accreditation because of this. There should be consequences.

  8. Reprehensible. I work on a college campus and they do indeed send out bulletins when a crime has been committed (almost never on campus, it’s usually just nearby). There’s no excuse not to. I hope EMU pays through the nose for this.

  9. Blitzgal

    I went to a very small liberal arts college in southern Wisconsin (less than 1500 students). We had a series of rapes in which a non-student gained access to dorm buildings and attacked women in the communal bathrooms. The school itself was completely mum about the situation, even though almost *every* student lived in the dorms per college rules. Only students who knew the women involved ended up hearing about this until there’d been multiple rapes and the school was finally forced to publicize it. I don’t think they ever caught the guy, either.

    The dorms were generally kept unlocked during daylight hours, something that seriously pissed me off especially since I myself ended up being accosted in the bathroom during my junior year. Thankfully I managed to chase the guy off…in my case the guy was more of a peeping Tom than a rapist and turned chicken as soon as I got belligerant.

    At any rate, this veil of secrecy seems to be status quo, and it’s to the detriment of the students who are living on campus. You’d think that safety would be a primary concern, not how any “unpleasantness” would affect their damned bottom line.

  10. Christina B

    This should be made as public as possible so that they are forced to fire the people who made this decision!

  11. What does the death certificate say?

    That, I would like to see.

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  13. callous and calculated, cruel.

    money, it’s all about the money.

  14. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    Callous, calculated, cruel…the people responsible for this would make great members of the Chimperial Administration. [We need an “angry smiley” for these situations.

  15. This is appallingly fucking bad. Dear god. Do the words ‘punitive damages’ never occur to these people?

  16. Mamasquab

    What must those poor parents be going through. I can’t bear to think about it.

  17. ElleDee

    Wow, I’m creeped out by how much the victim resembles one of my best friends who was also raped and murdered in her dorm room.
    (A timeline of her story can be found here, you can see the how much they look alike by checking the original article linked in the post and comparing to this.)
    The university system could have acted better in Jessie’s case as well, (details on that here) but at least they didn’t lie about it! How can EMU put the safety of their students behind their reputation is just hard for me to believe, but maybe if safety had been a big priority to begin with maybe this murder might not have taken place to begin with. Hopefully this will inspire reforms that will make their campus safer like happened down here in North Carolina, but I know that that doesn’t do a damn thing to make up for past mistakes.

    But I can’t imagine how hard must be to get over that kind of a loss when the university doesn’t have enough respect for your loved one’s life to tell you what happened to her. They couldn’t protect her within their reaches, so you’d think they would do what they could to help the family as much as possible and to try to make sure it couldn’t happen again.

  18. CJ_in_VA

    This makes my blood boil. The very first thing we do here on my campus is issue an alert if there is reason to believe students are in danger. Especially for things like this – I need the students to help make sure their communities are safer by not propping open doors or letting people trail in behind them. That’s why we lock the fucking doors 24/7.

    What’s worse for your reputation – being honest that a crime was committed in your halls or lying about the crime and getting the rep that you don’t give a shit about your students?

  19. One of the things that sold me on my alma mater (ok, so I was sold already, but it sealed the deal):

    There was a rape on campus a week or so before I came for my overnight visit. Not only was there no effort on anyone’s part to shield the prospective from the bad PR (not that it would have necessarily worked, but they could have tried) but the biggest controversy among the students was not “was it really rape?” or “did she deserve it?” (neither was on anyone’s radar, that I could see) but instead “did Public Safety act responsibly by giving out a hasty description that was pretty much just “generic black man?””

    The idea that a college would lie to students and to parents as to how their classmate/daughter died – I just can’t get over how evil that is.

    And in this case it’s a state university, so a lot of those students and parents, unlike me and mine, don’t have the option of going elsewhere.

  20. Em

    He took her room keys? They might have caught a serial psychopath.

  21. How about the Catholic hierarchy and and the sex crimes of its priests? Exact same thing: reputation vs the vulnerable.

    I’m starting to think that when there’s a big difference in power between perps and victims, we should dispense with the assumption of innocence and assume guilt instead.

    We have to do *something* about the thing enabling this type of crap, and that’s people’s willingness to believe anything anybody says if they have a shred of power.

  22. nightshift66

    Moira,
    As a state institution, it is possible that EMU cannot be subject to punitive damages no matter what behavior can be proven. It is a holdover from ‘sovereign immunity,’ when the state and its subdivisions could not be civilly sued for any tort. In my own state, no state institution can ever face punitive damages unless (in very limited circumstances) you can bring in federal legislation that specifically allows it.

  23. jon

    I’m starting to think that when there’s a big difference in power between perps and victims, we should dispense with the assumption of innocence and assume guilt instead.

    You mean like a bunch of wealthy white lacrosse players at an elite university being accused of raping a poor black girl from a non-elite state school?

    I don’t understand why college students are treated like they are. If they were 18 year olds that weren’t in school, they would just be left on their own to sink or swim. But, the best and the brightest of our youth need to be nannied like a bunch of 5 year olds. Lock the door to your room. Don’t let strangers into your building. Those are things that I would hope people teach their kids when they are 5. And people wonder why the average 22 year old college graduate has no idea how to deal with any problems in the real world without calling for mommy and daddy or a lawyer.

  24. Nightshift, you’re probably right. I vaguely remember hearing something about a state or state agency being basically immune to tort claims brought for violations of federal law. Federal agencies could sue states, but individuals have no right to. I don’t know how that works with state criminal law.

  25. Speechless

    Jon,
    Excuse me? She’s dead because she was IMMATURE? She’s dead because she didn’t keep her door locked or she let a stranger into her dorm? He was another student and you have no idea how he got access to the dorm. HOW WAS THIS HER FAULT?

    Oh, yeah, I forgot. It’s ALWAYS her fault. Especially since she’s a college kid who needed to be “nannied”. And you know she needed to be nannied ’cause she ended up dead. Right? There’s your proof, if she had been “left on her own to sink or swim” she’d be alive today!

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  27. Melissa McEwan

    Lock the door to your room. Don’t let strangers into your building. Those are things that I would hope people teach their kids when they are 5. And people wonder why the average 22 year old college graduate has no idea how to deal with any problems in the real world without calling for mommy and daddy or a lawyer.

    Wow. I’m so glad you’re here to teach us all silly wimmenz such important lessons like LOCK YOUR DOOR. No wonder we’re always getting ourselves raped! Where you have been all this time?!

  28. I don’t understand why college students are treated like they are. If they were 18 year olds that weren’t in school, they would just be left on their own to sink or swim. But, the best and the brightest of our youth need to be nannied like a bunch of 5 year olds. Lock the door to your room. Don’t let strangers into your building. Those are things that I would hope people teach their kids when they are 5. And people wonder why the average 22 year old college graduate has no idea how to deal with any problems in the real world without calling for mommy and daddy or a lawyer.

    Wow, now that was all kinds of stupid …

    Speaking as someone that works in judicial affairs on a BIG state campus, the reason we put out notices like this is PRECISELY because a campus isn’t like the big wild world. We have our own police force, we have our own prosecutorial standards, and students have different rights and responsibilities that any old job-public does on a campus.

    Hence, in order to make campus a safer space than the outside world, we strive to empower students as much as we possibly can in order that they CAN be safer and more powerful adults. Hell, it’s rather the parents that are wanting to ‘protect’ their ‘little babies’ that get in the way of that. And personally, speaking as a doctoral student myself as well as someone that works on campus, anything and everything the university can do to make this campus safer for me, it bloody well should be doing. Keeping mum on violence is making your complicit in the perpetration of further violence.

    And, in a general sense, what THE FUCK is wrong with attemping to make the world in general a safer place? You want everyone to fucking well run around with clubs? What the fuck is wrong with you? Victim blame much?

    As I said; all kinds of stupid.

  29. Roy

    I live in the area around EMU, and attended that institution during my undergrad days, and this is, sadly, not even remotely surprising. The instructors there were fantastic, in most cases.
    The admin? Not so much.

    And, as others point out, jon, you have no idea how the attack happened. It could be that they knew one another. It could be that he knocked on the door and she opened it to see who it was. It could be that he broke in.

    Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. He raped and killed her, and the school tried to cover up what was happening, despite federal laws requiring them to full disclosure.

  30. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    Liss asked Jon-Boy, “Where have you been all this time?”

    Liss, I reckon he’s been jacking off to Net porn [he visited your site during a recovery period] because no woman with half a brain would fuck him. 😛

  31. Melissa

    My undergrad campus seemed pretty transparent with reporting crimes (no scandals about it erupted, anyway) and everything was in the student paper’s police blotter, including off-campus incidents. Everyone read it, mostly to see who got busted by the campus cops for smoking pot and to tease them about it the next day.

    This is simply despicable, though. I would transfer if I were a student as students are obviously not their priority.

  32. Melissa McEwan

    Melissa
    Jun 20th, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    Welcome, Melissa. I hope you’ll continue to comment at Shakesville, although you might want to change your handle, even if it’s just to add a last initial, otherwise you will be routinely confused with me, the blogmistress of this joint. 😉

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  35. Lock the door to your room.

    Taking her room keys may mean that he has dorm keys too. It would have at my school. At that point the owners of the building (assuming not a house) could – and should – get in serious trouble for not changing the locks – no matter the age of the inhabitants or who owned the building.

    More importantly: what everyone else said.

  36. Dear Jon —

    I can’t tell you how much your comment saddens and sickens me. I wept when I read your all-too-famiiar post.

    I try to “hang in there” with the rape threads. It heartens me to see that some people might actually get educated by having a number of people assist them in deepening their understanding of the issues surrounding rape, and spend their time and energy educating people who think the answer to the rape crisis in our country is “teach your kids to lock their doors”.

    Today, however, my patience is short — but I will try to speak to you calmly. Your citing of the lacrosse team, given your following injunctions about how to prevent rape, do not even follow logically.

    If you were following your own form of “logic” (and I use the term loosely, believe me), then the advice you would give to wealthy white lacrosse players everywhere should be: “Don’t attend parties where there are women. You might be wrongly accused of rape. And if you do, don’t call your mommy/daddy/lawyer” Do you get how absurd that looks?

    And do you GET THAT THE WOMAN IS DEAD? AND THAT THE RAPIST’S DNA TRACES HIM TO HER RAPE AND MURDER!?!?!? AND CAN YOU TELL HOW PISSED OFF I GET WHEN SOMEONE TELLS ME THAT RAPE CAN BE PREVENTED IF I’M JUST “CAREFUL” ENOUGH?!?!?!

    Oh — I guess that wasn’t very calm, was it? So sorry — next time, make sure you lock your door.

  37. Jon, I live in an apartment building, and I’m an adult. And if someone was raped and murdered in the building, I’d damn well want to know about it. And if I found out the apartment management company had hushed up the murder because they didn’t want negative publicity, I’d be off-the-charts furious. And if I found out they knew the murderer had gotten away with keys to the building, and the apartment management didn’t do anything about it for months, I’d be talking to an attorney.

    And that’s out in the “real world” Jon. Why should a university be held to a lower standard than my apartment building?

    The behavior of the school administration was reprehensible, and no amount of victim-blaming can change that. As far as the victim herself, you don’t know whether her door was locked or it wasn’t. But even if she had a sign hanging out her window saying, “Want to rape and murder someone? Enquire in room 217!” it wouldn’t matter, because she’s not the rapist/murderer, and she’s not the people who tried to hush it up. And I refuse to believe this is her fault for a goddamn second.

  38. Lock the door to your room. Don’t let strangers into your building. Those are things that I would hope people teach their kids when they are 5. And people wonder why the average 22 year old college graduate has no idea how to deal with any problems in the real world without calling for mommy and daddy or a lawyer.

    At one school I went to, a woman was raped (and fortunately not murdered) in her dorm room by her ex-boyfriend. The outside doors to the building were locked. The door to her room was locked. The window to the first-floor window was not locked, because the university just never got around to it. The woman had put in several requests to have the lock fixed, emphasizing that the man she’d broken up with had made threats against her.

    After her ex raped her, the woman went to the police to report her assault and to file charges. The Dean of Student Life at the University of Redlands, Charlotte Burgess, went down to the police station.

    Got a guess as to why she went? Burgess went to the police station to try to talk/threaten/intimidate the victim into not filing charges. The rapist was a young man, had such a bright future ahead of him, his life shouldn’t be ruined because of one mistake.

    Oh, and his father was on the board of trustees.

    Jon? Still reading? Do tell me what the victim here could’ve done to avoid being raped. I want to know.

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  40. Moira,

    I wanted to ask you something over email but I can’t find your address on your livejournal. Would you mind e-mailing me at QMickle at g mail? (I know you don’t know me, so I won’t have hurt feelings if you don’t 🙂 )

  41. Glazius

    Apropos of nothing, when I was at college my dorm room was broken into while I was inside it with the door locked.

    It was a couple guys down the hall playing a prank, but two good shots was all they needed to ram the deadbolt through the doorframe.

    Jon, would you care to amend your advice?

    –GF

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