Hundreds protest at EMU amid sex assault allegations

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Ypsilanti — There were several hundred spectators at Eastern Michigan University on Sunday evening, more than a dozen speakers, countless stories told and four words from senior Georgia Nagel that summarized the sentiment at a rally decrying sexual assault and the university's response to it:

"We are not safe."

Four days after a federal court lawsuit accused EMU officials of covering up a series of sexual assaults, the crowd gathered in front of historic Pease Auditorium to voice support for victims and derision for the university and its president, James Smith.

"EMU doesn't care about us," Nagel said, an assessment that drew cheers. "It's a reality."

Students and community members rallied Sunday in front of Pease Auditorium on Eastern Michigan University's campus. Speakers shared stories of sexual assault voiced support for others.

The 166-page lawsuit that sparked the protest was filed by 11 Jane Does against the board of regents, campus police and several fraternities, including Alpha Sigma Phi and Delta Tau Delta.

It alleges in graphic detail that nine women were sexually assaulted by former Alpha Sigma Phi  member Dustyn Durbin, and also names former Intrafraternity council leader Thomas Hernandez and D'Angelo McWilliams, who attended EMU while working as a deputy with the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office.

All three face charges in Washtenaw County over related allegations, and all were on the minds of speakers at the Sunday rally.

Alexis Gipson, 22, a senior from Port Huron, took the microphone on the top step of the entrance to Pease and noted that her apartment is located between the two fraternity houses.

"I actually considered breaking my lease," she said.

Addressing the fraternity system, she added, "I know you have your brotherhood, but brotherhood doesn't mean (anything) when people are scared."

"I know you have your brotherhood, but brotherhood doesn't mean (anything) when people are scared," said EMU student Alexis Gibson, referring to the fraternity system.

EMU spokesman Geoff Larcom said Sunday night that the university shares students' concerns over sexual assault, and "fully endorses the expression of their views in this public manner."

Protecting students is critical to the university’s educational mission, he said, "and our staff in law enforcement, Title IX, student affairs, and elsewhere work every day to try to provide a safe environment for our students to learn. The university stands with all survivors of sexual assault and is committed to supporting them."

The administration, however, had no defenders in a crowd that dwindled in number but not enthusiasm amid a fierce wind and intermittent drizzle.

"I don't go to EMU, but I wouldn't now," said Samantha Phillips, who said she is aligned with the Detroit Will Breathe protest movement. The administration is "sitting there making excuses for abusers. Are you kidding me?"

Students and community members join the rally Sunday.

One of many posters held by students exhorted administrators to "Support your students." Others mentioned Smith by name, not satisfied by a campus-wide letter he sent Thursday expressing support for the Jane Does and contending that "in no case did a complainant come forward who wished to proceed with a formal investigation by our Title IX or Public Safety office."

Larcom said Sunday that EMU had tried unsuccessfully to connect with the plaintiffs through their lawyer, Todd Flood, before the suit was filed, "in order to further understand and, more importantly, act on their concerns."

Third-year health administration major Raegan Lyons, who organized the event with her three roommates, said their goal was for "everybody to be held accountable. We want them to listen."

In front of her, a woman held a placard with a question:

"What if it was your daughter?

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn