Students and alumni plan to converge on the Lynchburg, Virginia, campus of Liberty University Thursday to demand administrators take more aggressive action on sex-assault complaints.
The “rally and prayer event,” as organizers termed it, will take place 10 days after Scott Lamb, former chief spokesman for the school, sued alleging he was fired for criticizing the evangelical Christian university’s response to assault accusations and lawsuits.
It will also take place one day after the school president promised students they would be safer on campus and able to report sexual assault without fear of reprisals.
Jerry Prevo, who took the top post last year after then-president Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned in a scandal, told a student convocation earlier Wednesday, “If we’ve messed up as a university in the last few years, we’re going to do our best to make it right and not cover up.”
Rachel Denhollander, a survivor of sexual abuse by Michigan State University physician Larry Nasar who is now an attorney and a victim’s rights advocate, is expected to address a press conference off-campus before the rally, organizers said. She will be joined by Southeastern Baptist Seminary English professor Karen Swallow Prior, who taught at Liberty for 21 years before leaving last year.
Dustin Wahl, a 2018 Liberty graduate who leads a group called “Save71” composed of students and alumni seeking reforms, said the protest is designed to help the school and will chiefly consist of students and alumni.
Previous attempts at on-campus gatherings by dissidents — such as an announced visit from Soulforce, a liberal Christian group — have been rebuffed by campus security.
Contacted Wednesday evening by The Washington Times, a school spokesman said, “Liberty University’s policy is that campus activities are reserved for residential students, faculty and administration. Demonstrations that are planned well in advance, for which space is requested and reserved, are permitted on Liberty University’s campus, as long as they involve residential students, not the general public. Organized demonstrations off campus, or near to campus, must go through Lynchburg authorities.”
Former Liberty professor Karen Swallow Prior, in a telephone interview, affirmed the school can limit or bar unauthorized demonstrations.
“Liberty University is a private university and its property is private,” Ms. Prior said. “There have been threats of arrests made by other people in groups who have come to pray or hold rallies. So that is a standard operating procedure.”
Mr. Wahl said he’s looking for a different outcome on Thursday.
“We are hopeful that they understand that our comments are going to be in good faith, and that they don’t, you know, do anything to react against us. What we’re calling for will be really good for Liberty,” he said in a telephone interview, asserting “accountability is good for the institution that is held accountable.”
Mr. Wahl added, “We have been calling for the school to conduct a thorough, independent investigation into the [abuse] allegations that have been made for over a year, and in doing so publicly and also through private channels.”
He said the Save71 group — the number refers to 1971, the year Liberty University was founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. — had not had a response from the school to their requests, but “the board is well aware and so are most of the leaders at Liberty.”
In his remarks Wednesday, Mr. Provo said the school would not sanction students for infractions of “The Liberty Way,” the code governing student conduct.
“You are not going to be disciplined for that if you come [forward], and you have a legitimate complaint that you have been sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, dating domestic violence, you’re going to have what we call amnesty,” Mr. Prevo said.
He said the school is going to install “blue boxes” at locations around campus that will connect victims reporting an assault with campus security via video call. Police and medical aid can be dispatched to one of the box locations, he said.
“I authorized about $8.5 million dollars to do this,” Mr. Prevo added. “We’re serious about making Liberty University a safe place for all of you.”
Mr. Prevo said the school was going to review previous accusations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic violence involving the school, which has an on-campus student population of 15,000.
“I can tell you this, we’re not going to try to cover up anything, we’re going to look back, have that investigated. And also, if we’ve done wrong, we’re going to correct that wrong the best we can. I’m not here to cover up,” he declared.
A total of 22 students and former students sued Liberty University this year, alleging the school did not properly respond to reports of sexual assault or tell students they had the right to report such attacks to the local municipal police force.
Correction: This article has been revised to identify a protest organizer as Dustin Wahl.