Lessons for Penn State: Cover-Ups Cost Money, Student Lives

PHOTO: Laura Dickinson and Jeanne Clery
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Laura Dickinson was raped and murdered in her dorm room at Eastern Michigan State College on Dec. 15, 2006, but her parents waited an agonizing 10 weeks before they knew the truth because of a cover-up.

It took several days to find the 22-year-old student after her parents, unable to contact her, frantically called the college. Dickinson's decomposed body was found by a janitor after students reported a stench coming from her dorm room.

She was found lying on the carpet in room 518 of Hill Hall, naked from the waist down, a pillow over her head, with traces of semen on her leg. The attacker had taken her keys and locked the door.

But the college hid those grim details and the fact that police were investigating Dickinson's death as a homicide, instead issuing a release to students saying she had unexpectedly died and and telling her parents "no foul play" was suspected.

School safety experts say a combination of arrogance and ignorance fuels college cover-ups like the apparent one at EMU and an alleged one at Penn State University in a growing child sex abuse scandal.

"We were left to wonder and try to figure out how a perfectly healthy young lady up and died," said her father Bob Dickinson, a 55-year-old Home Depot employee who lives in Grand Rapids, Mich. "It was frustrating and unnerving. And as time went on, nothing made sense. It was hard to put it to rest."

Laura's family was told of the crime two months later in February 2007, when police arrested 20-year-old Orange Taylor III, a student with numerous college violations.

"They lied to us," said Dickinson.

EMU was fined $350,000 by the Department of Education, the same federal agency that is investigating Penn State, alleging officials did nothing when they learned former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky had allegedly raped a 10-year-old boy in a locker room shower, among the 40 counts involving eight boys.

Penn State has denied knowing about the alleged rape in 2002.

The department is also looking at Marquette University in Milwaukee, where five athletes were accused of sexual misconduct by three female students last year, according to a report this week in Time magazine. The university, which does not have its own campus police, did not report the allegations to law enforcement.

The university has said it is cooperating with the investigation.

"Marquette has acknowledged mistakes made in dealing with allegations of sexual assault involving student athletes on our campus. The focus of our efforts moving forward is on protecting our students, providing support to sexual assault victims, and working with our entire campus community and beyond to improve our education and procedures around this critical issue," school officials said in a statement.

Under the 1990 Clery Act, colleges and universities are required to disclose information about campus crimes and warn students of threats to their safety. It was named for Jeanne Clery, who was raped and strangled to death at Pennsylvania's Lehigh College in 1986 at the age of 19.

"There are laws and police to protect us, but unless the people in charge act on them, they don't work," said Dickinson. "There was arrogance on some part and for others, they were following what they were told to do, even though they knew better."

After two trials -- the first a hung jury -- Laura's attacker was convicted and is now serving a life sentence without parole. Dickinson learned then that Taylor seldom went to class and those he did attend, he was failing.

He also had a "repeat habit" of breaking into dorm rooms and stealing electronics, according to Dickinson. "It was not his first offense. He should not have been allowed on campus."

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