The protest of the proposed Jacksonville State University dining hall and $275 mandatory commuter meal plan took place in front of the Theron Montgomery Building (TMB) on Friday, November 1 after a short march around Trustee Circle.
A group of students silently held posters at the back of the room during the Board of Trustees Athletics Committee meeting on Monday. The signs bore messages like “It’s on us” and “To be part of the solution,” “To be proactive” and “To stop sexual assault.” They were gathered to protest JSU’s decision to sign Landon Rice to the football team.
Rice was signed to play football at Auburn University in 2016 but left the program in September of that year. A Title IX investigation conducted by Auburn found Rice “responsible” for an alleged sexual assault incident in April 2016. At the time, Rice was banned from Auburn’s campus until 2024. He was not charged with a crime. Rice transferred to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College before being recruited by JSU, and, in September 2017, Auburn’s ban was lifted.
Jessica Forbus, a 2016 JSU graduate organized the protest on social media with help from the JSU College Democrats.
“The idea for this protest stemmed from a desire to voice our concerns with the recruitment of Landon Rice,” Forbus said. “We chose to address the Board of Trustees meeting because we felt that it was our best chance to get in front of the people who make these decisions on campus.”
About 20 JSU students and community members took part in the protest, and a small group of students stood to the side in support of Rice. Following the committee meeting, the Board of Trustees gave one member from each side five minutes to address the Board.
Katelin Molan, a former student athletic trainer, took to the podium and alleged that she was sexually assaulted by a university student coach in August. Molan reported the assault, which occurred off-campus, to JSU’s acting Title IX director, Dr. Timothy King. The whole incident has tarnished her experience at JSU.
“JSU is signed up for multiple anti-sexual assault programs like It’s On Us and UMatter, but I see the guy who assaulted me everywhere I go, and no one does anything about it,” Molan said. “We have UMatter, but I don’t feel like I matter, and I don’t feel like other women in this boat have mattered, and that’s the problem that we have.”
Next, Spencer Goffigan, a former tight-end for the Gamecocks and a current graduate assistant football coach, spoke in favor of JSU’s decision to sign Rice.
“I’ve been around Landon Rice for the last week,” Goffigan said, “and I don’t know all the facts, but he told me his story, and I can tell you that Landon Rice is a good kid. Now, does that excuse his actions? No. Because, clearly, he’s not at Auburn University anymore, but he was not convicted by a grand jury and he passed a polygraph test.”
Goffigan concluded his portion by quoting Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Immediately following Goffigan’s discourse, Jeannie Volpe, the mother of current JSU students, stood up and expressed her concerned about the athletic department’s decision to pursue Rice through athletic recruitment.
“If JSU is legally obligated to accept this child, I understand, but what I don’t understand is why he was recruited or why anyone would make that decision,” Volpe said, “and I want you to know that if that was a decision you had a choice in, you will be personally responsible for my children if they’re hurt, and I hope that that weighs really heavily on you.”
Thomas Dedrick, the chairman of the Athletics Committee, assured listeners that JSU took all necessary actions before bringing Rice on campus.
“Every student at Jacksonville State University is important,” Dedrick said. “Every student deserves to be protected. Every student deserves to be able to come here and enjoy their college experience and not be concerned about their well-being, and we do all that we can to make sure that happens … This is not an issue to be taken lightly … if we had any question that this wasn’t the right thing to do, we wouldn’t have accepted him.”
In a statement after the meeting, JSU President John Beehler added that privacy laws like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prevent the university from speaking about specifics related to Rice.
“There are privacy laws, so we can’t really say a lot, because the student is currently a student, and the privacy laws forbid us from releasing information that we may be privy to,” Beehler said. “All I can say is that both the Board and I are satisfied that due diligence was followed in the decision by the coach and the Athletic Director to bring this student to campus.”
Not all agreed.
“I’m disappointed in my university,” Molan said.
“I feel that the Board neglected to address the concerns of students, alumni, parents and staff in any meaningful way,” added Forbus. “Their lack of concern for the safety of students on campus has not gone unnoticed. I am disappointed in my alma mater’s acceptance of this individual’s behavior. In my final year, JSU committed to a campaign to end sexual assault. Simply saying “it’s on us” is not enough. It’s time to prove that Jacksonville State University has no tolerance for sexual assault.”
Of the students gathered to support Rice, most declined to comment on Rice to The Chanticleer. One man, who only identified himself as a childhood friend of Rice, refused to give his name but strongly supported Rice’s future at JSU.
“People who know [Rice] know he’s a great kid and tremendous kid. He’s probably the most respectful human that goes to this school … At any point in life, everyone has not respected the word ‘no.’ As a little kid, people don’t know what ‘no’ means. That’s why they should be disciplined to know what ‘no’ means.”
On Tuesday, Auburn University issued a statement to AL.com regarding Rice’s suspension: “Mr. Rice and Auburn disagreed about whether the process as applied to him was legally sufficient. A compromise was reached under which the suspension was reduced to one year, but the finding of responsibility remained. Once the suspension period expired, Mr. Rice was again in good standing.”