When It Rains In Death Valley
Updated: Jun 29, 2021
by Caroline Savoie
From birth, I put my parents' alma mater on a pedestal. As a student, I watched it come crashing down.
I often find myself standing close to Tiger Stadium, shielding my eyes from the sun to look up at its massive yellow lettering.
In my first 18 years, I stood in its shadow, dreaming of the day I would walk LSU’s campus as a student. My dad, a proud alumnus, carried me through the eighth gate on his shoulders until I grew too tall. Before the ticket scanner let out its glorious high-pitched riff signaling our admittance, I stared at the crowd of students waiting to get into the seventh gate, teeming with impatient excitement.
My dad always asked, “Stairs or ramp?” when we stepped through the gate. Choosing the stairs meant walking straight into the stadium, climbing hundreds of steps with my back turned to the field. So I always chose the ramp.
My father and I trudged up the dimly-lit path, my little legs slowing down to take a close look at the rooms that once housed students inside the stadium. I was acutely aware that I was walking through history. Once we reached the top, light would pour in from the stadium’s arches, the roar of thousands of fans would fill my ears, and I felt joy.
Through my years as a student at LSU, I hoped to never let go of that. As a freshman, as a sophomore, as a junior, I would take a moment to soak in the stadium’s presence, in awe of its meaning in my life.
As a senior, I stand close to Tiger Stadium, my safe haven, my beacon of hope, and it is tainted.
I can’t bear witness to my beautiful stadium without picturing the sea of students protesting in its shadow. I see tears pouring down the faces of women who were sexually assaulted by football players I once worshipped. I hear the rough, Cajun voice of a man from my hometown who protected a sexual predator for fear of losing a football game.
The stories-high concrete walls kept secrets that shattered the faith and admiration I naively held for so many years.
On March 5, the stadium’s walls burst open and spilled their secrets in a Zoom meeting when the Husch Blackwell law firm released its report investigating sexual misconduct reports at LSU. After a prayer to “lift up the survivors of sexual and domestic abuse,” the Board of Supervisors spent five hours listening to a detailed summary of egregious wrongdoing on the part of several employees.
Verge Ausberry, executive deputy athletic director, and Miriam Segar, associate athletic director, broke federal Title IX laws when they failed to investigate sexual abuse and domestic violence allegations against two prominent football players, Drake Davis and Derrius Guice.
I have been pursued by Guice on multiple occasions. The football player liked to join LSU students at Tigerland bars, and one night he motioned for me to join him on the stage at JL’s Place. I felt the pull, the allure of a powerful man who carried so much clout.
I danced with him, and he poured Hennessy down my throat. As I stood in Guice’s presence, I felt small, and he knew he was big. It felt like flying close to the sun. Luckily, I left without any burns.
Guice has the same inflated ego that enables high-ranking employees at LSU to “protect” the university’s reputation at all costs, no matter the students whose spirits are crushed by their hollow promises and meaningless punishments.
When the board suspended Ausberry for 30 days and Segar for 21 days, its members didn’t consider the students who teeterd through the quad as toddlers, who heard Memorial Tower’s bell toll as teenagers, who threw their arms over their friends and belted out the alma mater with pride twinkling in their eyes as students.
They thought only of minimizing damage to the university’s money-making agenda and gilded reputation.
The misgivings did not stop after the five-hour board meeting on March 5. Investigations revealed former coach Les Miles’ inappropriate behavior when he was alone with female student workers.
But the “Most Deplorable” award may have to go to beloved head coach Ed Orgeron, who called a 74-year-old woman who requested that Guice not play in the Citrus Bowl after she said the running back sexually harassed her in New Orleans. Orgeron pleaded for her forgiveness, she said, which she refused and Guice rushed 98 yards in the bowl game.
“Perhaps most troubling of all the report’s findings is the understanding that, whether through our actions or inactions, our institution betrayed the very people we are sworn to protect,” LSU’s interim president Thomas Galligan said in the meeting with Husch-Blackwell.
When I heard Galligan’s words, I almost believed him. I almost believed that our leadership might be so humiliated with the “complete failure” the law firm described that he would take action. But LSU’s public relations mastermind, Ernie Ballard, couldn’t let Galligan place blame on current employees for endangering students, regardless of their proven guilt.
No, Galligan and the PR team took care to blame “our institution.”
Yes, LSU’s greed for money and power is a cancer that has festered and thrived for centuries, but the problem with blaming the entire university for the ethical breaches of certain employees is clear.
The “institution” cannot be dismantled. LSU cannot be uprooted. Blaming the “institution” requires no action.
The only way to remedy this cancer is to split the university open, reveal its bloody innards and cut out the tumors. Husch Blackwell’s report and subsequent investigations have named each tumor, pointed them out and placed big flashing neon signs over their heads reading, “fire me.”
Amidst the controversy and the cries from students that someone, anyone, receive a harsher punishment than a month without pay, the LSU football team started spring practice in March under Orgeron’s direction. It seems that within the self-serving and centuries-old institution that is LSU Football, the privileged players and their coaches are conducting business as usual.
Perhaps they will find a rug big enough to sweep their crimes under.