Ava Theodossin is an English senior. Her views expressed in this letter do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
Trigger warning: Sexual Assault
After great thought, I have decided to write to you in hopes of sharing my opinion with the Cal Poly community in regards to President Armstrong and his administration’s failure to side with rape victims after the hiring of Paulette Granberry Russell. Due to personal frustration with President Armstrong’s email to faculty and students, I made the decision to email both President Armstrong and Chancellor White directly. Their response was possibly the most insulting and offensive set of emails I have ever received due to their undeniable indifference and dismissal of what I had to say.
Given Russell’s office’s history of Title IX violations at MSU, many found the decision to hire her to be extremely wrong. However, the 12,769 signatures from the community were not able to convince President Armstrong that he made a horrible decision as a leader. Following Russell’s rescinding, President Armstrong emailed students and faculty in order to reprimand community members for speaking against his chosen candidate.
He began by stating, “I must express how disappointed I am that Paulette’s decision comes after outcry from some campus community members that was, to be frank, ill-informed, misplaced and in some cases downright vile.”
President Armstrong then decided to place distrust in news agencies by claiming “media stories and postings online often lack the detail and accurate information necessary to understand complex events and a detailed chain of events.”
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to research Paulette Granberry Russell’s career. You will find dozens of articles written by different journalists describing Russell’s history. Is every single journalist lying? Or is President Armstrong in denial of his obvious mistake in assuming students were not competent enough to do their own research?
More importantly, he defended Russell’s negligence and wrongdoings.
Armstrong went so far as to state, “I know Paulette to be a woman of character and integrity and I believe every member of our community would have come to the same conclusion if they had the opportunity to meet, work with and learn from her.”
While President Armstrong may believe Russell is a woman of character and integrity, it is important to note that Russell seemingly failed at overseeing the Title IX office which should have been protecting students. Instead, her office found Larry Nassar not guilty of assaulting a student in 2014 and allowed him to continue to abuse students for two more years. Even Scott Teter, Michigan Attorney General and Department of Education, stated that he believes Paulette Russell used her personal email to keep a rape report off of the MSU email system which was subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
While I disagree with Paulette Russell’s career choices, at least she chose to rescind and listened to the Cal Poly student body. That was more of a response than we received from our own president.
When I first read the articles about Russell, I thought maybe President Armstrong messed up. Maybe he just simply needed someone as soon as possible and didn’t do his research. His email to the campus community after her rescinding was what I found to be utterly disgusting and shameful.
On the morning of July 13th , I emailed President Armstrong asking for one simple request: an apology.
I felt that at the very least he owed the community the word “sorry” for hiring a woman who ignored rape or was, to say the least, extremely negligent. He owes his faculty an apology. He owes his student body an apology. More importantly, he owes every victim of rape an apology for putting us in even more danger. I expressed repeatedly that his response following Russell’s rescinding was disgusting given that so many students are impacted by sexual assault.
In my email to President Armstrong I stated, “In one part of your email, you asked the student body to imagine how we would feel if people who didn’t know us were posting inaccuracies about our character. Well President Armstrong … as a white man with power, I ask you to imagine how it would feel to have another man stick his penis or fingers inside of you without your permission. Perhaps instead of feeling empathy for your friend Paulette and informing your students to think about how she feels, you should be feeling empathy for the victims of rape on your own campus.”
I went on to disclose that I had been sexually assaulted and explained how his decision and email offended me very deeply. I then addressed Chancellor White, head of the CSU system, who also did not respond to my email.
I wrote, “And to you Chancellor White, I ask when you will hold our president to a higher standard and if you also stood by the decision to hire Paulette Russell? Do you also feel that the 12,560 members and the majority of the student body are too inept to read the news or do research? Do you also believe that Paulette Russell had absolutely no idea that even one child or woman was molested by Larry Nassar? Do you support President Armstrong’s email on condemning the student body and faculty for using their voices? Your silence is telling me that you do.”
How did President Armstrong respond? He didn’t.
Instead, he instructed someone else to extend me an apology for what happened to me during my freshman year of college. Jessica Darin, the Associate Vice President and Chief of Staff, said I could meet with Armstrong when classes resumed. Keith Humphrey, the Vice President for Student Affairs, sent me a rape link to SAFER with the number for counseling services. Essentially, they missed the entire point of my email.
Rather than apologizing for their decision to hire Paulette Russell and for President Armstrong’s emailed response after, they simply extended their condolences for my personal experience with sexual assault. I never asked for their pity or sympathy. I asked that President Armstrong be held to a higher standard.
In addition, the administration continued to stand by their decision to hire Russell even in their response to me. They stated, “Please know that as the letter to the campus community states, we researched the complex situation and found Paulette to be a strong candidate and an experienced leader in diversity and inclusion. While we anticipated questions and feedback, we did not expect a response such that Paulette would not have the opportunity to engage with our community.”
I was shocked by this sentence. After everything I had said and the thousands of people who signed the petition for Russell’s offer to be rescinded, they still defend Armstrong’s decision.
According to the Cal Poly SAFER website, 25% of women are sexually assaulted before the age of 18. In addition, 18.3% or 1 in 5 women experience rape at some time in their lives. There are approximately 10,629 women at Cal Poly. This means that about 2,657 women on our campus may have either been raped or will be raped at some point in their life. Personally, I think the number is far higher than we think.
I wanted President Armstrong to apologize for his email after Russell rescinded and for not protecting rape victims. Instead, I was sent a link and a phone number to address my mental health.
After I opened the administration’s response, I sat on my bed for a while thinking about how it really didn’t seem that anyone bothered to hear what I was saying. I felt sad and angry all over again. I felt they wrote me off as some whiney little girl who was crying rape and needed immediate mental attention. I could not understand how this was their response to everything I shared with them.
And then it dawned on me.
I wasn’t worth a response from President Armstrong and he does not care. He does not care that almost 3,000 women who attend our school are raped. He does not care that 12,769 people rejected his hire of Russell. He does not care that hiring Russell could have put rape victims in even more danger of not feeling supported at Cal Poly. He just doesn’t care. I think as a campus we all knew that when we opened his email and saw that he sided with Paulette Russell instead of us.
So I ask my fellow students, at what point do we start asking for a new president that does care?