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.”