Speaker series explores Lauren McCluskey’s story, evoking change on college campuses

Closeup of Lauren McCluskey in a University of Utah track uniform.
More than 150 people attended Evoking Change - The Lauren McCluskey Story, the most recent of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication’s Power of Voice speaker series.

In the aftermath of the murder of their daughter, Professors Jill and Matt McCluskey sometimes struggled to find the strength to keep going. On Tuesday, Jill McCluskey participated in a panel discussion on the Pullman campus with three women — a student activist, a state legislator, and a film producer — who helped her keep pushing for justice.

Closeup of Jill McCluskey
Jill McCluskey

“I said that these women are my heroes, and they really are,” said McCluskey, the director of the School of Economic Sciences as well as a regent’s professor at Washington State University. “I feel like every time I would get worn down…they were always there.” 

More than 150 people attended “Evoking Change — The Lauren McCluskey Story,” the most recent of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication’s Power of Voice speaker series. Lauren McCluskey, who grew up in Pullman, was a 21-year-old track star when she was murdered on the University of Utah campus five years ago. Her story continues to bring awareness to the pressing issues surrounding dating violence and stalking on university and college campuses.

Closeup of Nicole Noren
Nicole Noren

Two days of events hosted in Goertzen Hall and online offered a candid, moving discussion of how the power of communication can be a catalyst for positive social change and reform. On Monday, Emmy-award winning ESPN producer Nicole Noren joined students, faculty, and community members for a screening of the film “Listen,” a 90-minute documentary about McCluskey’s murder. During Tuesday’s panel discussion, Noren spoke about investigating the institutional and systemic failures that led to her death.

“Sadly, this is a topic that I have covered multiple times in my career on college campuses. We spent four years working on this story,” Noren said. “This was my intent in making this film — to show it on campuses and show it to these types of audiences.”

Closeup of Jani Iwamoto
Jani Iwamoto

The panel was co-developed and led by Murrow scholarly assistant professors Molly Schotzko and Wendy Raney, who are passionate about women in sport and inspired by the work of the Lauren McCluskey Foundation. In addition to McCluskey and Noren, panelists included Jani Iwamoto, former Utah state senator and attorney; and Devon Cantwell-Chavez, student activist and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Ottawa.

Cantwell-Chavez helped organize a student movement to hold the University of Utah accountable for systemic failures in the death of Lauren McCluskey, who contacted campus police more than 20 times prior to her murder. Cantwell-Chavez said Lauren’s death highlighted the dangers of intimate partner violence and stalking. She also worked with Iwamoto to prepare and pass legislation to increase police response times in such cases, as well as several other changes.

Devon Cantwell-Chavez
Devon Cantwell-Chavez

“Lauren’s life and what she went through has been a part of everything I did going forward,” Iwamoto said. “Her life mattered. It (this tragedy) shouldn’t have happened. But from her life a lot of good has happened.” 

McCluskey encouraged everyone involved with a school or university to join Lauren’s Promise, and vow to make college campuses a safe haven for sharing incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking. Faculty at more than 280 universities world-wide have made Lauren’s Promise. It is also part of the standardized university syllabus at WSU. The university community stands firmly behind Lauren’s Promise and will listen and facilitate support and reporting options for anyone being threatened.

“I hope that students who are experiencing relationship violence and stalking are empowered to report and that fellow students, university staff, and professors will support and help them. It really takes a lot of courage to come forward if you are experiencing dating violence and stalking,” said McCluskey, “We want to change the culture that responds poorly to dating violence.”

Launched in October 2020, Murrow College developed the speaker series as a platform to engage alumni, students, and the greater public in important, timely and relevant issues at the intersection of communication and social justice. BECU is the proud sponsor of the 2023–24 Power of Voice series and supports student experiences across the WSU system. 

Learn more about the Power of Voice series and watch the webinar recording on the series webpage.

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