Rallying for Change: Justice for Janes, Rachael Denhollander Take to Liberty University’s Campus During the Week of Board of Trustees Meeting
Since mid-September, multiple students at Liberty University have been wearing teal ribbons and have taken to social media in support of several victims of alleged sexual assaults.
This coalition is headed by Justice for Janes (J4J), a student-led organization seeking reforms of university policies to protect students from sexual violence.
It appears that the organization’s calls are being heard.
Liberty University’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved an independent and comprehensive review of Title IX policies and processes at its fall meeting Nov. 5.
This announcement follows two days of protests led by Justice for Janes, which gained the attention of Liberty President Jerry Prevo who attended one of the rallies in person.
Installation of blue light call boxes announced
The Vines Center erupted in applause Nov. 3 following an announcement from Liberty University President Dr. Jerry Prevo: “We are in the process of installing blue boxes.”
Prevo was referring to blue light emergency call boxes that allow students to press a button on the light and alert police to their location if they feel endangered.
As he made the announcement, a map of campus appeared on the screen behind him, showing where the 12 blue light emergency call boxes will be placed.
Prevo continued, announcing the installation of up to 1,000 cameras throughout campus, a project he authorized for about $8.5 million.
“We’re serious about making Liberty University a safe place for all of you,” Prevo told the Convocation audience.
According to Calum Best, who served in Liberty’s Student Government Association (SGA) from 2016 to 2020, student representatives have requested blue light emergency call boxes every year since at least 2012. Best said that the call boxes had been shut down by both SGA and university
Prior to these announcements, Prevo talked about Liberty University’s Title IX amnesty policy, which is offered for anyone who reports an incident of sexual assault that occurred while the complainant was in violation of the Liberty Way honor code.
“You are not going to be disciplined for that if you come and you have a legitimate complaint that you have been sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, dating or domestic violence,” Prevo said. “You’re going to have what we call amnesty. We do not want you to be afraid to come forward thinking that you’re going to have to give an account of what you were doing when that happened.”
The installation of blue light emergency call boxes and the confirmation of the amnesty policy fulfill two of the requests made in a petition started by Justice for Janes, a student-led organization calling for reforms at Liberty.
“I’m glad that Jerry Prevo has come out and publicly made a commitment to concrete action,” Daniel Harris, founder of Justice for Janes, said Wednesday, Nov. 3. “And now it is time for the next step. We have to strike now while the iron is hot and welcome this change and push for the right thing, the completion, which is knowing the truth.”
The petition has received over 1,000 signatures and, furthermore, calls for an independent audit of the Human Resources and Title IX offices.
“They talked mostly about the blue light call box, which is great. The cameras – great,” Harris said. “But the investigation is really where things are at, so while Justice for Janes is grateful for the steps being taken, we understand that there is way more to be done. That investigation needs to happen.”
Prevo addressed the Title IX office’s policies and told the audience of students that the university will investigate any previous mishandlings.
“I do not know what happened before I came, but I can tell you this – we’re not going to try to cover up anything,” Prevo said. “We’re going to look back, have that investigated and also if we’ve done wrong, we are going to correct that wrong the best we can.”
“I didn’t come here to cover up,” he added. “I came here to clean up.”
Attorney Rachael Denhollander meets with president, joins student rally
American attorney and anti-sexual abuse advocate Rachael Denhollander spoke to a group of students gathered for a rally at the roundabout in front of the Liberty University bookstore Nov. 4.
Justice for Janes and Save71, an alumni organization calling for reform, invited Denhollander to speak at the rally. Denhollander is known for being the first woman to publicly accuse Larry Nassar, the former women’s team doctor for USA Gymnastics, of sexual abuse.
The purpose of the prayer rally was to call for an independent audit of Liberty University’s internal processes, particularly concerning how the university’s culture, structure and policies may affect how it handles allegations of sexual assault and abuse.
Dustin Wahl, a 2018 graduate and co-founder of Save71, opened the rally in prayer, and Hailey Wilkinson, a member of the public relations and communications team for Justice for Janes, read a statement from a past Liberty University student known as Jane Doe 2, who was allegedly sexually assaulted on campus.
Then, Denhollander gave a speech on reform and informed the students about what she is hoping will be accomplished at Liberty University regarding Title IX conduct.
“What really needs to happen is a fully independent third-party investigation that can look at the culture, and then also the policies and the structure at Liberty University. And we are talking quite broad,” Denhollander said.
Denhollander said this broad structural and policy assessment is needed in order to catch any areas that could feed into abuse. She also encouraged attendees to put their faith fully in God.
“My prayer is that you will remember who you are in Christ, and you will define success as faithfulness to Him,” Denhollander said.
According to Wahl, there were complications as to whether or not Denhollander was allowed to protest on Liberty campus. Ultimately, they heard that Liberty’s top leadership would allow the event to proceed on public property but within visual proximity to every car driving on and off the main entrance to the campus. This resulted in a change of original venue, the Hancock Welcome Center, to public property on the sidewalk outside the Liberty Bookstore.
President Prevo joined the rally, standing with other attendees. He spoke with students, the press and Wilkinson, answered questions, and confirmed his approval of an independent audit. Wilkinson asked Prevo how reputable the third-party firms conducting the audit will be.
“We’re going to do our best to find out what has happened. We’re going to do our best to correct it. And we’re going to do our best to keep it from ever happening again,” Prevo said to WSLS.
Prior to the prayer rally, President Prevo hosted Denhollander, accompanied by former Liberty English professor Dr. Karen Swallow Prior and the Title IX coordinator. Denhollander offered her professional services as a paid consultant and discussed what the right steps would look like for reform.
“The articulation was that his (Prevo’s) heart’s desire was to do the right thing,” Denhollander said at a press conference earlier that day. “My heart’s desire is we are able to move forward, collaboratively.”
At the press conference, Wilkinson announced that they received a phone call from campus pastor Jonathan Falwell verbally committing that the independent audit was approved by the executive committee and would be presented to the Board of Trustees at their fall meeting taking place the next day.
Justice for Janes rallies outside Board of Trustees fall meeting
The protests continued Friday Nov. 5 as students, led by Justice for Janes, stood and chanted for change outside the Hancock Welcome Center, where the Board of Trustees held its fall meeting.
Justice for Janes organized the protest, which started at 12:30 p.m. with protesters meeting in front of the Liberty Bookstore. After a time of prayer, the demonstrators moved to the Liberty Mountain Conference Center, where the organizers believed the Board of Trustees was holding its meeting. They stayed there until 1:30 p.m., when the group found out the meeting was actually being held at the Hancock Welcome Center and moved the protest there.
The protesters held signs and chanted.
“Denial = defense,” read one of the signs.
“If I’m not safe, none of us are,” read another.
“We want change,” they chanted.
At one point, a megaphone was brought out, and the chants grew louder.
The protesters walked to each side of the Welcome Center as they chanted. Their goal was to be seen through the glass windows that cover much of the front of the Welcome Center.
Kendall Covington, a student representative of Save71, said that the group hoped that the Board of Trustees would approve an independent audit, and by doing that, bring change.
“Preferably, we would love to see them (the Board of Trustees) take Rachael Denhollander’s advice, or her services up, to have a true, independent, transparent third-party investigation with accountability,” Covington said.
According to Covington, Save71’s central goal is change.
“We’re looking for some real change,” she said. “We’re looking for some movement today.”
Other students protesting felt that Liberty needs to have the independent audit as well. Many of them felt passionately about creating change in the university to ensure a safer campus.
“I just really am a huge advocate for justice,” said Kanee Johnson, a sophomore student at Liberty. “It is their right to feel safe on campus. Every female, male, anyone’s right to feel safe on a college campus, and I think here, especially lately, that’s a lot of what they’re not seeing.”
Kendall Oxford was protesting as well. She said that the university could do a better job protecting on-campus students, including herself.
“There have been moments where we (Johnson and Oxford) have actually been together and we’ll be at one of the super far parking lots,” Oxford said. “And it’ll be like 11 o’clock at night, and we end up having to walk back to campus when it’s dark outside and there’s nothing going on and there’s no lights … so those moments have definitely been really scary.”
As the event continued, people stopped to talk to the protesters and asked them what they were doing. Many tried to duck around them to head into the Welcome Center.
The protest lasted until 3:30 p.m.
That evening, the board announced that it would allow an independent review of the university’s Title IX policies and processes, according to an article released by Liberty’s Office of Communications & Public Engagement.
At the time in which this article was written, several notable responses came over the weekend to the Board of Trustees’ decision on Friday. This includes expressions of disappointment and disagreement from Rachael Denhollander and Justice for Janes. We will be covering that story as the subject of a new article along with comments and reactions from President Prevo on the Board’s decision and the comprehensive third-party investigation.
This remains a developing story.