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McCluskey family announces plan to make campuses safer, increase awareness of dating violence

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

On the third anniversary of University of Utah student-athlete Lauren McCluskey's murder, her parents announced a new plan from the McCluskey Foundation to change the culture surrounding dating violence stalking on college campuses.

On Oct. 22, 2018, Melvin Rowland fatally shot Lauren McCluskey outside her dorm room. The two had dated previously, but she ended things when she found out he had lied about his name, age and criminal history. When they met, he was on parole and on the sexual offender list.

After she ended things, Rowland became increasingly aggressive and controlling to the point of threatening and stalking Lauren and asking for $1,000 not to release explicit photos of her. She reported these instances of harassment and extortion to both campus and Salt Lake police, but the university later acknowledged in a settlement with the McCluskey family that police failed to "fully understand and respond appropriately" to her reports in their investigation.

"Lauren's murder exposed severe flaws in how many campuses respond to incidents of dating violence and stalking throughout the United States," the Lauren McCluskey Foundation states on its website. Some of the money from the settlement was used to establish the foundation on college campuses across the U.S.

One of the foundation's goals is to make campuses across the country places where students are safe. This plan is the organization's next step to attaining that goal.

Jill and Matt McCluskey, who are faculty members at the University of Washington, announced the plan's five initiatives to make campuses safer during the second memorial walk at the McCarthey Family Track and Field at the U., hosted by the Associated Students of the University of Utah.

The initiatives are to:

  • Increase awareness of the seriousness of dating violence and stalking by starting an annual awareness day in Lauren's honor, beginning Friday and working with campuses to spread awareness. The overall goal is to create a national awareness campaign.
  • Expand the adoption of Lauren's promise: "I will listen and believe you if someone is threatening you." College professors at 158 universities have already put the pledge in their syllabi to let their students know that they are a safe resource.
  • Create a best-practices blueprint for effective response to dating violence and stalking on campus by evaluating safety programs, campus housing, counseling and other aspects of campus safety in order to coordinate a unified response.
  • Develop and distribute a campus safety score through those best practices in order to incentivize universities to adopt the practices. The scores will take into account current procedures, training, resources and responses to threats in order to give parents and prospective students information about university safety when they are selecting schools to attend.
  • Share resources to strengthen dating violence and stalking laws and become a trusted source of information for these topics.

The measures inspired by Lauren McCluskey come too late to help her.

"Nothing can change that or bring Lauren back, but it's our hope that the steps that we take today and in the future will prevent this from happening in the future," Matt McCluskey said.

Jill McCluskey explained that the plan came about because it will take a coordinated response from a variety of groups in order to improve the current state of campus dating violence. She gestured to the group of students, professors, athletes and other supporters behind her holding up signs saying that they made Lauren's promise.

One of these students, 18-year-old freshman Chloe Shewell, said that, to her, the promise means that anyone can come to her with anything, and she will do her best to help them — that she is a safe person to come to.

Her mother, Tiffany, said that she is proud of the foundation and the university for taking these steps to help keep students like her daughter safe.

"The fact that this incident happened here in this amazing supportive and safe campus shows that if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere. We need to be on the lookout and show people where they can go," she said.

Thirty-four other universities also hosted memorial walks on Friday in Lauren's memory.

Jill McCluskey, mother of Lauren McCluskey, left, University of Utah President Taylor Randall, second from left, and others participate in a memorial walk for Lauren McCluskey at the McCarthey Family Track and Field Complex at the U. in Salt Lake City on Friday.
Jill McCluskey, mother of Lauren McCluskey, left, University of Utah President Taylor Randall, second from left, and others participate in a memorial walk for Lauren McCluskey at the McCarthey Family Track and Field Complex at the U. in Salt Lake City on Friday.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

University of Utah President Taylor Randall stated that the university was in full support of the initiatives and is excited to be part of them. He also spoke about the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention at the university as "the key to these efforts on campus" and invited listeners to read the research coming from the center.

"I couldn't be more proud of our students for taking the initiative and making this happen," he said.

Violence on campus is preventable and it particularly affects people of color who also present as women, and without students demanding safety and change, these changes would not have happened, said Tiffany Chan, vice president of the Associated Students of the University of Utah.

"It should be naturally given that campus safety is top priority. The demand for it is increasing, and it's long overdue. The time is now," she added.

Utah State Sen. Derek Kitchen also spoke, saying the current system fails to listen to women and would require an entire cultural overhaul to change.

Matt McCluskey ended the event by thinking about how his daughter would feel if she were at the event.

"Lauren would be happy to see this outpouring of love and involvement," he said.