(Daily Montanan) Everett Johns stood on the steps of Main Hall on Tuesday at the University of Montana and called on President Seth Bodnar to ask for the resignations of Alexander Blewett III School of Law Dean Paul Kirgis and Associate Dean of Students Sally Weaver.
“At best, they are incompetent leaders, and at worst, they have created and perpetuated a toxic culture at the law school,” said Johns, a second year law student. “They have reinforced rape culture, and they have silenced and retaliated against victims.”
Johns made the demand in front of roughly 120 demonstrators who periodically cheered and held signs that read “Pack it out, Paul,” “Resign Now,” and “Sayanara, Sally!” The address followed speeches from students at the law school and a march down the Oval to Main Hall with members of the crowd chanting: “We will not be silenced,” “We believe survivors,” “Pack it out, Paul,” and “Show me what unity looks like. This is what unity looks like.”
In the speeches, the students talked about the impacts and prevalence of sexual violence and said law school administrators had tolerated sexual misconduct far too long. In the law school north plaza, Kirgis stood just outside a door facing students as they spoke, but he did not offer any public remarks himself. Neither did Weaver.
The students started planning the walkout roughly a month ago to show support for survivors of sexual assault and harassment after hearing reports that Kirgis and Weaver ignored and mishandled complaints from students including rape reports. Last week, the Daily Montanan published a story citing women from the law school who said they had been discouraged from going to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX, which handles sexual misconduct on campus.
A sign posted at the entryway to the dean’s office after the demonstration addressed the administrators: “Dear ABIII admin & the repeat perpetrator, You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my confidence, my education. YOU TOOK MY VOICE. But now I’m taking it back.” A heart was drawn at the end of the message.
Kirgis and Weaver have denied that they ever stood in the way of students who wanted to file complaints to the Title IX office. Last week, Kirgis issued a statement apologizing that students did not feel adequately supported, but the students called Tuesday for a change in leadership despite the dean’s message noting steps the school would take to move forward.
In separate statements, both faculty and staff of the law school signed letters of support for students. At least three faculty members, Andrew King-Ries, Monte Mills, and Hillary Wandler, stood in the demonstration wearing purple shirts that read “Solidarity.”
“We recognize the significant impacts of the recent distressing news coverage on our students, alumni, staff and entire community,” said the faculty statement. “Like many of you, we were saddened to read about the concerning allegations and pain expressed in those stories.
“We love our school and our students — past and present — and regret the damage done to the learning environment and institutional reputation that we deeply value and work so hard to create and maintain. We refuse to let our school be defined by these events or this moment.
“To every member of our Law School community, particularly those angered, hurt, dispirited, confused, or otherwise distressed by these events: We hear you. You are not alone. We are firmly committed to working together to heal and to build the transparent, safe, inclusive environment we all value and deserve.”
Staff also issued a statement: “We, the staff at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law, acknowledge the turmoil our school community is experiencing. As staff, we are called to engage with students, faculty, administration, and the greater ABIII community. Our work is guided by a steadfast commitment to serve all students.
“This is a challenging time. Each of us is here for each of you in support of and solidarity with the community we love.”