CAMPUS PROTEST: NSU students say administration ignoring sexual assault reports, poor housing conditions, lack of handicap access

A group of Northeastern State University students gathered on the Tahlequah campus Friday to protest that the school is not investigating sexual assault claims. From left are: Dru Baker, Steelle Stevens, and Finnley Mantooth. (CNHI News Service)

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — A group of Northeastern State University students staged a protest Friday afternoon, saying the school is not investigating sexual assault allegations, addressing poor housing conditions, or providing adequate access to facilities for handicapped individuals.

Outside on the campus’ Second Century Square, the students asserted there have been 15 sexual assaults this fall semester, and that reports to the administration and police department are being ignored.

“The NSU administration is covering up sexual assault crimes and trying to prevent that information from getting out to the public,” said Jacob Hartman. “They’re not doing anything about it and they’re covering up rape.”

The Tahlequah Daily Press asked NSU for comments regarding the allegations, and the communications department responded with answers it provided to Tulsa’s News On 6, which also covered the protest. Student Affairs Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Sheila Self said the university supports the student-led efforts to stand up against acts of violence.

“NSU is committed to responding to all reports of sexual assault in accordance with state guidance and federal law,” Self said. “We prioritize student safety, empower victims to determine how their case proceeds, and provide a fair and equitable due process for both parties.”

Students have complained that alleged abusers are not being held accountable and are free to remain on campus, causing further distress to victims who believe they’re being dismissed. Self said the accused students are typically not removed immediately, and that while this gives the perception that nothing is being done, it is “important to remember that both complainants and respondents have rights and options, including due process.”

When asked if the institution is concerned that students feel unsafe on campus, Self countered that NSU is a very safe campus.

“We hear regularly from students (and their families) that they feel safe here,” she said. “In fact, we are listed in The National Council for Home Safety and Security as one of the safest campuses in America. In part, we have earned that designation by listening to our students to address their needs, and we take every safety concern seriously.”

However, students who protested Friday said the school has a reputation for being unsafe. They argued one of the fraternities is nicknamed “Pike Spike” for allegedly spiking students’ drinks.

“The school has a reputation for sexual assault,” said Malynn Reynolds. “I came from an hour away to go to school here. Everybody told me before I came to be warned and to really protect myself, because this school has such a high rate of sexual assaults.”

The demonstration was a multifaceted one. Students also complained of poor housing conditions, including moldy rooms they claim were painted over; a lack of laundry machines in the dorms; no hot water and more. Dru Baker said there’s barely any parking for handicapped vehicles, and that spaces meant for disabled people are adjacent to one another, with no room for people to exit their vehicles. She said most handicapped vehicles have a ramp that comes out from the side of the van, and there must be at least 8 feet of space for her to get out.

“I have talked to people on being able to get to certain places on this campus,” she said. “It’s impossible some places. Haskell Hall, there’s no entrance for me to get in – not even the front door of the first floor. For years, I’ve tried to get that changed, and I got told I just can’t take a class there.”

Some of the students said they would be dropping out after this semester because of the issues brought up at the protest.

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