MASSACHUSETTS — A Framingham State University student plans to file a Title IX complaint against campus police after officers “threatened” her during an investigation into cyberbullying allegations.
On Nov. 8, campus officers questioned the student, FSU junior Victoria Dansereau, about her Facebook post denouncing two students’ Halloween costumes. The costumes became known on campus because of an Instagram post, which showed a woman with a fake black eye and a man raising his fist toward her.
“A girl at my school dressed up for Halloween as ‘a domestic violence victim,’” said Dansereau’s post, which she agreed to delete on Nov. 8. “I hope you know that you’re disgusting to the core for a) sexualizing domestic violence, and b) making it comedic in the same breath. You’re clearly going somewhere in life.”
Additionally, two editors at the student newspaper, The Gatepost, were also questioned by police. Editor-in-Chief Kaila Braley said police asked her and Associate Editor Joe Kourieh about their decision to exclude information the woman’s mother provided off the record from a news article and why they chose to run an opinion article criticizing the students’ Halloween costumes.
When Dansereau was called into the police station, she explained to the officers “I was so upset over this picture because of my past abuse,” she said, “and they said ‘none of what happened matters because what you did was wrong.’”
Dansereau said FSU officers Kate Gagnon and Marc Symington told her she would lose her on-campus jobs in the Residence LIfe and Admissions offices because of the Facebook post. Additionally, the officers said Dean of Students Melinda Stoops, who was not available to comment, wanted to meet with her for disciplinary reasons.
“They said that as a representative of the school, I can’t make those kinds of comments,” she said.
Gagnon, who didn’t respond to an email requesting a comment comment, said it was strange Dansereau hadn’t commented on other Halloween costumes, when other women were dressed as “skanks,” Dansereau said.
Dansereau said she contacted the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts to investigate legal action against the police officers and plans to submit a Title IX complaint this week.
In an editorial on Friday, Braley and Kourieh said their questioning was unacceptable and violated their First Amendment rights. The editorial called on the university to hold accountable people who violate the First Amendment.
“When those rights are threatened or questioned, it feels like it’s our duty to take a stand for it,” Braley said. “In this situation, it’s about our rights as a publication, but it extends to First Amendment rights for everyone in the community.”
On Nov. 7, Braley wrote an article about students’ reactions to the photo of the costumes. In response, Arts and Features Editor Sara Silvestro wrote a column about the effect domestic violence has on victims and asked the campus community to reconsider defending the students’ costume choice.
The day after the articles ran, an officer called Silvestro and asked if she talked to the man in the photo and why she wrote the opinion article, Braley said. Gagnon left a message for Braley the same day, and Braley said she agreed to meet Gagnon on Nov. 10 in the police station.
The officer asked why Braley excluded information the mother of the female student told her that the officer said would have changed the tone of the article, Braley said. The student’s mother spoke to the newspaper off the record, so Braley explained that she couldn’t publish information that she couldn’t attribute to someone. When Braley asked why she was being questioned about details in their stories, the officer said she couldn’t comment on an ongoing investigation, Braley said.
Brad Medeiros, chief of police for Framingham State University Police Department, did not respond to phone and email requests for comment.
FSU President F. Javier Cevallos said the police officer made a mistake when she asked the editors about the article and the police chief will train the officers on the difference between asking questions about an incident and an article about the incident.
Cevallos declined to comment on the officers’ contact with Dansereau.
“We certainly respect the freedom of expression of everyone on campus, absolutely the freedom of the press,” Cevallos said. “I would go to the wall to defend the rights of students to write whatever they want and to protect the freedom of expression in all cases.”
SPLC staff writer Anna Schiffbauer can be reached by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 127.