Roughly 20 students gathered in front of Montana Hall Wednesday, April 19, in protest of what they said was evidence of a lack of communication and support from the university to address issues of sexual assault, suicide and discrimination that students face on campus.
The protest came on the heels of threats sent to student organizations on campus and controversy over MSU’s initial decision not to release a statement, covered in previous Exponent reporting.
The events that have transpired in the last eight to nine weeks aren’t the beginning of issues queer students and students of color face, said ASMSU Senator Taryn Van Steeland, an organizer of the protest. “Montana State University has had an ongoing socio-cultural climate that allows discrimination against students in multiple different formats,” she said.
The students distributed a pamphlet on campus ahead of the protest citing statistics from MSU's annual security reports about sexual assault, suicide and retention rates for students of color at MSU. Retention rates for students of color are the lowest they've been since 2018, the students wrote. According to the Diversity and Inclusions Office statistics, retention rates for “under-represented race/ethnicities” have dropped from 66.8% in the 2017-2018 academic year to 62.2% in the 2022-2023 academic year.
Queer students and students of color hear discriminatory things every day, Van Steeland said, but because those comments are considered free speech, nothing is done about it. “I think that the administration lets people get away with saying more things than what is really protected by free speech and putting it underneath that guise so that they don’t have to do something about it.”
Political science sophomore Cassidy Alber, who attended the protest, said she wanted people to feel safe at school.
“I think it’s really important to have everyone feel like they have a healthy learning environment, and death threats [are] not a healthy learning environment,” she said.
Many students asked Alber what the protesters were doing on the mall, she said, leaving her to think that many students didn’t know about the death threats sent to student organizations this semester. She would like to see more avid communication and dissemination of information from the administration to students, she said.
Van Steeland said MSU’s policy about sexual assault is reactionary and lacks preventative measures.
“Students don’t feel like the support they’re receiving is adequate,” she said.
“It’s one of many ways students can voice their concerns,” said Vice President of University Communications Tracy Ellig of the protest. “As is reaching out to the many university staff who are here to help students and want to assist them.”