Death of University of Utah Student Starts Dialogue on Campus Safety and Domestic Violence

On Oct. 22, 2018, twenty-one-year-old, Lauren McCluskey, was fatally shot by her ex-boyfriend, Melvin Rowland in a University of Utah parking structure.

McCluskey had reported to both Salt Lake City police and campus police numerous times that she had felt unsafe. In a batch of now released phone transcripts between her and SLCP McCluskey expressed concern on at least two occasions where she felt her case was not being properly attended to by the campus police. 

McCluskey was a track star for her school, a senior communications major with a 3.75 GPA, and most importantly a teammate, a sister, a daughter, and a friend to many. Her mother, Jill McCluskey, said, “She loved to sing, and had strength and determination. She was dearly loved and will be greatly missed.”

McCluskey met Michael Rowland, who went under the pseudonym, Shawn at a local club where he worked as a bouncer. Rowland would introduce himself as a 28-year-old community college student studying computer science.

A Toxic Relationship that Ultimately Turned Deadly

Rowland began sleeping over nearly every night in McCluskey’s small student apartment and became increasingly controlling. On several occasions, McCluskey was told what clothes to wear and was dissuaded from going to friends’ parties where other men would be around. Not even 2 months into the relationship, McCluskey broke it off.

Everything was a Lie

Rowland lied about his name, his age, and his criminal record. Shawn was actually Michael Rowland, a 37-year-old registered sex offender who previously did nearly 10 years in prison for his crimes. 

Rowland began texting McCluskey after the break up from unknown numbers pretending to be his friends and would then guilt her for ending things. Rowland told McCluskey on one incident over text message that he had killed himself and it was her fault.

Rowland threatened to expose a comprehensive picture of the two if she did not give him 1,000 dollars; McCluskey complied. Throughout the incidents, McCluskey was in contact with police who dismissed and belittled her case.

On October 22, 2018, while McCluskey was on the phone with her parents returning from class, Rowland forcibly pushed her into a car that he drove to campus and fatally shot her several times. After the murder, Rowland went on a date with a woman he met off of a dating app. Shortly after the date Rowland killed himself in a local church. 

The Need for Conversation 

McCluskey’s death opened dialogue surrounding prevention, domestic violence, and campus safety.

According to the Community & Media Relations Specialist of UPD, Raquel Herriott, SDSU’s reporting protocol is dense, “San Diego State University Police Department (UPD) responds to the call, interviews all parties involved, and enforces the law to best protect the victim/survivor.” 

“If the victim/survivor has sustained any visible or non-visible injuries, UPD  prioritizes medical attention for the impacted persons. Additionally, UPD facilitates resources to the victim/survivor. This can include informational handouts, access to a victims’ rights advocate, information about shelters and community resources, provide transportation to the victim/survivor to a shelter if needed, and provide the victim/survivor an emergency order or guide them in gaining a restraining order when appropriate.”

Raquel Herriott

Herriott highlights that officers are required to go through domestic violence training and that resources to students include access to Title IX Coordinator, Jessica Rentto. 

There is a requirement for all incoming students to participate in the sexual violence prevention and awareness training: Let’s Talk.

According to the 2018 SDSU Annual Security Report there were at least 7 cases of reported domestic violence in 2017, but Herriott described a new pattern, “0 domestic violence cases since January 1, 2019”

Not all students are so trusting with UPD, current SDSU fifth year Jenny C., who did not want her name publically disclosed, said, a man climbed onto her balcony and stared into her apartment at four in the morning. “Since we were not technically considered on-campus housing, UPD said they would not help. I ended up calling SDPD and they came to arrest the man. That experience definitely left a bad taste in my mouth regarding campus PD.” 

Not every police department is perfect and there is always room for improvement, “We continuously strive to build better relationships with the community we serve by establishing trust. This is a unique challenge because students come and go each year. However, we are persistent in community outreach and understand that students are more likely to report information to us once they are familiar with us and believe that we care,” says Herriott. 

“This is the sad reality of survivors not being believed.”

Elizbeth Islas, Coordinator of Equity & Inclusion at the Women’s Resource

The Women’s Resource Center acts as a bridge between the campus and the greater San Diego community. According to Islas, the WRC offers a safe place for victims to find support, “I’ve helped multiple students in crisis. Nine out of ten times it’s folks who have survived sexual violence.”

“We can sit down, listen and connect them resources like Title IX, the Economic Crisis Response Team, physiological resources, or campus police. Listening to them, believing them, and giving them the autonomy to choose what to do after they disclose is key,” Islas said. 

The WRC works with campus police, especially in regards to their training on sexual violence, but it may not be the first option deeply communicated with those that feel failed by the system. 

“I’m talking about the system failing survivors in terms of systems of oppression. It’s thinking about how different systems that are so deeply a part of society perpetuate injustice and what that looks like for people that are marginalized: women, non-binary, people of color, LGBTQ+ community, and undocumented. These are all important factors to keep in mind when discussing resources,” Islas said.

Resources do not fall short at the WRC explains Islas, “We are here to serve students and we host a weekly support group called Rise every Thursday to 12:30-1:45 PM at the WRC library. It’s confidential, led by psychological services and is open to all survivors of interpersonal violence.” 

Some students express concern for SDSU’s vulnerability to a similar situation occurring on campus. Senior psychology student Isabella Luna is one of those students, “sometimes I feel underrepresented and unheard in general about crimes against women. Specifically, we have an open-campus and are home to over 30,000 students. There are so many possibilities that could happen.”

Not every message clearly reaches students and there could be improvements, “I would like to see for-credit courses surrounding topics of domestic violence, seminars, and more self-defense classes.” says Luna, “I know that SDSU advertises surveys about campus safety and trainings that they encourage people to take. I feel like it’s really only glossed over and people don’t think about it until it happens to them or a person that they know.”

Written by: Ali Goldberg

OPINION: What you need to know about U.S. Troops withdrawal from Syria

Trump ordered American troops out of Northern Syria who worked alongside the Kurd-led Syrian group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.

This is an action that paved the way for Turkey to attempt to wipe out the Kurds in Syria who have allied with the U.S. in the war against terrorism, specifically with ISIS.

The Kurds were originally promised their own homeland in the agreement established in the Treaty of Sèvres after World War I, but then a following agreement spread them throughout Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. In Turkey , Kurds are oppressed and are seen as a threat.

What happened since Trump called out U.S. soldiers? 

First, Turkey covered 125 miles in the North East of Syria. The invasion alone displaced at least 130,000 people and have a reported 100 civilian casualties; thus, prompting the Kurds to reach out to Russia and Syria for help due to the area’s airstrikes and lack of resources.

The Kurds now had to fight a Turkish invasion on one end and prevent fleeing ISIS prisoners on the other. In fact, because of the removal of American troops, ISIS families and supporters northeastern Syria had escaped from a detention center.

Trump’s “America First” foreign policy mentality has received critical comments from scholars, Republicans, Democrats, and even the military themselves. Retired Gen. Joseph Votel, former head of U.S. Central Command, said,

“abandonment threatens to undo five years’ worth of fighting against ISIS and will severely damage American credibility and reliability.” 

Taking it a step further, it was even announced in a nonbinding resolution that the House voted 354 to 60 in opposition to Trump’s decision. Putting it into perspective, this is over two-thirds of the House and includes many high-profile Republicans.

Supporters for the decision, like those at recent Trump rallies, draw on Trump’s campaign promise to bring the troops back home and an overall agreement of less U.S. involvement in the Middle East. However, looks can be deceiving as it has been known that troops have not been sent home, but are rather just dispersed throughout the region. 

As of October of 2019, officials have been meeting to come to agreements but the area is still at war and is considered to be a humanitarian crisis. 

Even thousands of miles away Trump’s decision impacts the world today.

Knowing this, I turned to the San Diego State University community to get some more opinions on the matter. 

Professor Allen Greb, an International Relations professor, said,

“This undermines U.S. credibility. No one will join us if we are just going to abandon treaties. This decision did not make sense and was not oversought by professionals, it’s as if it was as personal as a real estate deal.”

Greb said Trump pulling American troops is detrimental, “the area is much less stable and safe now. By abandoning our trusted partner in the fight against ISIS we have made Russia, Turkey, and Iran main players in the Middle East.” 

Taking America out of the mix as a major player in the Middle East has let autocratic regimes have more influence. Good or bad, one thing is for sure, humanitarian needs have drastically declined in the short time since the U.S. pulled out.

SDSU graduate student, Patricia Abella, said she had an overall shock about the whole situation calling it disappointing and a shame.

“This doesn’t seem diplomatic, which is not one of Trump’s strong suits. It concerns me how unsupported this decision was and there will surely be consequences from it.”

Tom Derig, Geography major, said he is embarrassed about the move out from Syria.

“We now have turned our backs on our allies that helped us beat them [ISIS]. The biggest shock to me is that the United States military took a stand and actually disagreed with Trump’s plan,” Derig said. 

Personally, the decision by Trump to pull out troops from Syria is not only misleading but also foolish. Our troops are not being sent home and our relations with the Middle East just became way more complicated. America looks unreliable and unstable to our allies and to the overall international community.

Ten steps back or 10 steps forward? Well, that’s up to you but what we can tell is that the crisis in the Middle East is not getting solved anytime soon.

Written by Ali Goldberg