Fellow campus community,
“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” – Elie Wiesel
After recent reports of rape involving USD students, our campus community has an opportunity to reflect on our response and discussions about it. Infamous defendants, like Brock Turner from Stanford, have instigated necessary development in our national conversation about sexual violence and perpetrators of it. This time the conversation is closer to home, prompting discussions and factual allegations that would be easier to avoid altogether.
Within our law school classrooms, we discuss uncomfortable facts and topics quite often; exposure to the dark sides of the human condition is an occupational hazard in the law. Law faculty and students reading about the allegations noticed that the news reports and interviews had a skewed focus, one that we felt was inappropriate in light of the allegations.
For example, consider the following quote from Tena Haraldson, a university spokeswoman which was reported by The Volante: “It’s just an unfortunate situation. It hurts the image of USD, it hurts the athletic team, the football team is going to be affected by this,” she said. “It’s their comrades, but yet it is also their pride of their team, so I think everybody is going to be dealing with it for a long time.”
This quote in particular spurred significant conversation within the law school, as to how a quote like this would be elicited, chosen for publication, and prioritized as the concluding remarks of the story. Regardless of any explanation, we owe reluctant victims more support as leaders, journalists or fellow students.
Complicity in light of our professional and personal experiences in this area was never an option. According to Rape Assault Incest National Network (RAINN), a sexual assault occurs every 98 seconds in America. Only 20 percent of female students ages 18 to 24 report their assault to law enforcement. Even fewer female survivors of rape sought assistance from a victim service agency.
Victims often forego reporting their experience in fear of exposure to disbelief of their trauma or to retribution stemming from the perpetrator’s identity or social status.
Criminal defendants are innocent until proven guilty, and rape charges are quite difficult to substantiate beyond a reasonable doubt. Additionally, there is no doubt that the future of the accused has been and will be significantly impacted as well. After the passage of Marsy’s Law, victims have a bill of rights providing a degree of privacy and other protections to victims.
On campuses nationwide, Title IX empowers university officials to investigate and mitigate the effects of existing allegations involving students and employees, in a proceeding entirely separate from the criminal justice system. Although as law faculty and students we often happily debate the complexities of the law in these areas, no debate exists that a significant disservice was done in the dialogue about this victim and other victims with similar experiences.
Assumed innocence of a criminal defendant and compassion for victims or those impacted are not mutually exclusive. Our dialogue must adjust if we prioritize a criminal justice system where victims feel safe using our legal system to remedy their situation.
The indictment documents made it clear that the victim, our fellow Coyote, hesitated to come forward about these student-athletes, because she feared the repercussion of allegations against star athletes in the midst of a successful football season. True to form, reports on this incident ensure that readers focus on the athletic prowess of the charged individuals and the impact allegations will have on an entire team.
As future legal professionals, we expect community and university leaders to be aware of the societal impacts that the status quo inflicts and we expect our local media to report without prioritizing arguably irrelevant information that feeds into an already repugnant social disparity. Let’s start a new conversation on campus, one that demonstrates compassion for victims while retaining roots in our principles of justice.
The following individuals do not speak for their organization, for the Law School or for the University of South Dakota:
Morgan Nelson, Student Bar Association President
Rachelle Norberg, Alternative Dispute Resolution Board President
Paige Petersen, President of Women in Law
Alayna Holmstrom, Co-President of Trial Team
Britni Summers, Managing Editor of the South Dakota Law Review
Jenna Schweiss, American Bar Association Representative of the Student Bar Association
Lynae Tucker, Student Government Association At-Large Senator
Willie Hustead, President of St. Thomas More Society
Olivia Siglin, President of Law School Democrats
Sara Smalley, Chair of First Generation Law Students Committee
Victoria LeftHand, Vice President of Native American Law Students Association
Kay Luther, Former Vice President of OUTlaws
Austin Printz, Criminal Justice Education Project Representative
Tracy Miller, Treasurer of Women in Law
Rachel Mairose, Secretary of Women in Law
Erica Ramstad, Black Law Students Association Student Advisor
Brianna Haugen, 1L Class President
Whitney Petersen, Vice President of the 1L Class
Mae Meierhenry, 1L Representative of Women in Law
Kelcy Schaunaman, 1L Representative of Law School Democrats
Kylie Beck, 1L Representative to the Criminal Justice Education Project
Ian Haubert, Vice President of Environmental Law Society
Dylan Kirchmeier, 1L Representative for Law School Democrats
Bert Bucher, 3L at USD Law
Lindsay Martin, 3L at USD Law
Bo Bearshield, 3L at USD Law
Justin Huston, 3L at USD Law
Jennifer Doubledee, 3L at USD Law
Stephania Greenwood, 3L at USD Law
Camille Brown, 3L at USD Law
Kate Ginsbach, USD Law School Community Member
Erin Willadsen, 2L at USD Law
Amanda Ludwig, 2L at USD Law
Joseph Mattson, 1L at USD Law
Emmanuel Tomenou, 1L at USD Law
Brian Meis, 1L at USD Law
Isabelle Hayes, 1L at USD Law
Christine Hutton, Professor of Law at USD Law
Frank Pommersheim, Professor of Law at USD Law
Thomas Horton, Professor of Law and Heidepriem Trial Advocacy Fellow at USD Law
Myanna Dellinger, Associate Professor of Law at USD Law
Dr. Sean M. Kammer, J.D. Ph.D., Associate Professor of Law at USD Law
Hannah Haskgaard, Assistant Professor of Law at USD Law