“Something needs to change”: UWL student pens open letter after receiving trespassing citation

Ally+Clark.+Photo+retrieved+from+Ally+Clark.+

Ally Clark. Photo retrieved from Ally Clark.

Sophie Byrne, Social Justice Reporter

Content Warning: mentions of suicide

On April 25, a Facebook post demanding that The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse “do better” regarding mental health was shared by over 150 students, parents, and UWL community members. The post received over 300 reactions and garnered 35 comments, many in support of the author, UWL sophomore Ally Clark.

The 861-word post was about an incident that occurred on the evening of April 21, during which Clark entered Eagle Hall, violating UWL’s COVID-19 restrictions, and was subsequently issued a $200 citation for trespassing by UWL police officers. The Racquet Press reached out to Clark to learn more about the incident and her Facebook post.

Clark stated in the opening paragraph of her letter, “I have seen that I am only one of many students who have suffered due to UWL’s ignorance towards students’ mental health.” Clark then referenced the recent suicide of a UWL student, saying, “Chancellor Joe Gow did not even put a content warning on the email sent out to an entire community to discuss a student dying from suicide, emphasizing how little this university understands or cares about mental health.” 

She continued in the post, “That night, some of us lost a best friend, some of us lost a classmate, some of us lost a neighbor, some of us quite literally even lost ourselves. And just hours later, we were expected to pretend that nothing happened at all.” 

Clark lived in Eagle Hall at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, before moving off-campus. Clark said that the night she received her citation, she entered Eagle Hall to support a friend who was experiencing suicidal thoughts. “I broke the rules because I received a text from my best friend saying, ‘I am going to kill myself tonight, I’m serious this time,’ and sat with her both sobbing at 2:30 a.m., just begging each other to hold on for one more day. I broke the rules to see the friends I would give my life for at any given moment, just to ask the simple question that our school failed to ask – ‘how are you?’ I broke the rules to make sure that I wouldn’t have to attend another funeral for someone who made my life so much more beautiful.” 

Clark said in her post, “I am fully aware that COVID-19 is a genuine public health concern, and it is killing people, but we need to start recognizing that COVID-19 is not the only pandemic that is occurring right now. Our brains are sick, and just because there is no physical way to test ‘positive’ for depression doesn’t mean that this illness is not authentic or invalid by any means.”

When asked what her intent was behind the Facebook post, Clark said, “I posted on Facebook because I got fined and escorted out of the building [Eagle Hall] by police for being there for my friend. They’re not doing anything to help students’ mental health after the loss of Jules…but I got a text from my friend saying, ‘I’m going to kill myself, I’m serious,’…so clearly, it’s still a problem.” 

Clark said in the Facebook post that she and others had been turned away from the Counseling and Testing Center, which she re-stated while speaking to The Racquet Press. “Despite whatever they’re saying about how you can go to the counseling and testing center, it’s not working. Something needs to change. I and multiple other people have reached out to the dean of students and been ignored for the most part.”

On the evening of April 21, Clark believes that Residence Life staff witnessed her entering Eagle Hall. She believes they then contacted the police and initially went to her old room in Eagle Hall, where she thinks her former roommates may have then directed staff and the officers to the room she was in. Clark says that she doesn’t believe contacting the UWL Police Department was warranted. “I read through all of the student handbook policy, and there are multiple interventions that should have been taken [rather than contacting law enforcement]. Calling the police was not even mentioned.” 

According to Clark, there was a second non-resident in the room who was never questioned and did not experience consequences. “If they were doing their job, they would have looked up who lived in that room and known that she didn’t live there either. But I think their intention was to target me, so they never knew that she didn’t live there either.” 

Clark was informed as she was escorted out of the building that she would be receiving a written citation for trespassing. Last semester, Clark said she had also received an email containing a written warning after she had been seen in Eagle Hall. Clark read the student handbook policy and said, “What should have happened is that if they knew I was in [Eagle Hall] again, then I should have had a conversation with the Hall Director or Residence Life, not been fined $200.” 

Clark said that she has not received any response from UWL staff or administration after her Facebook post. However, Clark was reached out to by a representative from student association. “I remember I took a screenshot of that email and sent it to my friend and said, ‘this is the first positive interaction I’ve had from campus since I started going to school here,’” said Clark. “The fact that the students are the only ones doing anything for anybody just shows how warped the whole system is.” 

Clark plans to attend her court date on May 20 to argue her citation but may need to reschedule as she is also meant to move out of her current living situation on the same day.   

When asked if she had anything left to add, Clark said, “I just feel like nothing has been done. The fact that we had to lose somebody because nothing had been done, and they continue to do nothing…is terrifying. I’m kind of embarrassed to be a UWL student at this point.” 

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