“I have spent my whole life in the shadows of men. This was me fighting to get out.” : UWL senior gets sexually harassed over capstone topic

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Photo provided.

Stroozas' post that was submitted to Barstool Lax.

Kayleigh Marshall, Multimedia Editor

Content Warning: The following article includes mentions of sexual harassment and sexually explicit language.

In the fall 2019 semester, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse senior Sam Stroozas completed her research project Clitoral Masturbation: “I believe that it is very common for individuals to do this, but no one talks about it” for her women’s, gender, and sexuality studies capstone. Stroozas’ project focused on the stigmas surrounding clitoral masturbation and how those stigmas affect the masturbation habits and feelings surrounding masturbation for those with clitorises.

“I decided to do my project on clitoral masturbation because I feel like it is an overlooked topic and that people with clitorises are often policed yet oversexualized. I was expecting backlash, but not the type I experienced,” said Stroozas.

As part of her research, Stroozas sent out an anonymous survey about clitoral masturbation to random UWL students emails that she received from the ITS department. “At first, I got some negative responses because people were not taking the survey seriously. Then I emailed people again explaining to not provide these responses, and of course, because people were called out on their behavior, they decided to revolt,” said Stroozas. “I sent out my survey on Nov. 10 and had been collecting some responses by convenience sampling prior, but on Nov. 11 during my night class, Barstool Lax posted the photo of my email and another student posted my survey to 4chan, which is this messaging board site, similar to Reddit but for incels and white supremacists. They posted the photo of my emails around 4 p.m. and I had to take the survey down at 7:30 p.m.”

Stroozas said that the responses she got included things such as people calling her a “pretentious cunt,” telling her she does not deserve rights, people telling her they would be praying for her and her “sexually explicit” mind, and that her field of study is useless and she should just be “a housewife.”

The amount of negative and aggressive responses Stroozas received increased after images of her survey were posted on the Barstool Lax Instagram account and on 4chan. The images whited out Stroozas’ email address, but students still knew it was Stroozas. Some responses included UWL specific information, which made Stroozas believe they were from students at UWL, even though the responses were untraceable. Many responses were very threatening and said they knew who Stroozas was and “hated everything [she] stands for,” or that she deserved to be sexually assaulted, and then explained to Stroozas what they would do to her sexually.

An email that Stroozas received. (Photo provided. )

After receiving the responses, Stroozas said she felt unsafe on campus. “The responses that I received were really detrimental to my health and safety. I used to study at the campus until 11 p.m., but I started going home when the sun was setting. I was afraid to walk to class and I felt like I had a target on my back. I am really good at hiding my emotions with anger but I was extremely scared for my well-being. I realize maybe not all of these people went to UWL, but now dozens of people know who I am. They know what school I go to, what I am studying, they know my name. And this is because I asked a question others were afraid of.”

Stroozas said the next day she went to university police and had meetings with her research adviser and the Institutional Research Board (IRB), who approved her project to be distributed. She filed a no-contact order against the student who she believed submitted the photo to Barstool Lax and made a statement with a detective. “I did the things I was supposed to. I played the system game and I hoped that someone would look out for me,” she said.

When she held the clitoral masturbation teach-in as part of the capstone project, a police officer attended to ensure Stroozas’ safety. Once Stroozas’ filed the no-contact order, a Title IX investigation occurred surrounding the events. Stroozas said she was eager to hold someone accountable for the harassment she received and said that Kara Ostlund, the assistant dean of students, gave her a space to tell her story. The process began in December and Stroozas received the final ruling in May. She called the student who was believed to have submitted the post to Barstool Lax and the three owners of Barstool Lax into question.

All four students were found not guilty on the chargers of retaliation, discriminatory harassment, discrimination, and sexual harassment.

The advertising poster for Stroozas’ first event in the fall of 2019.(Photo provided. )

“I understand that not everyone that was called to question was guilty. The guilty people are the responses I received who are UWL students, but we have no way of tracing that. Whoever directly posted my email on Barstool Lax and submitted it deserves to be punished. Their behaviors and social media accounts worsened this experience for me,” said Stroozas.

Stroozas said she was hurt when the four students were not found guilty, but she was not surprised. “I have seen how hateful UWL can be first-hand, there is no going back once you see that up close and personal. I am disappointed that I was encouraged to file a report and four men who spend their time mocking the female sexual experience and highlighting rape culture through their social media channels were found innocent on four counts. I was sexually harassed and I have proof of it, but just like many other sexual misconduct cases, this proof is institutionally stripped. There is no ‘proof of intent,’ but the responses that I got echo otherwise,” said Stroozas.

As of May 1, Greg Phlegar, dean of students, assumed the role of interim Title IX coordinator. Other members of the team include John Acardo, director of human resources, Allen Hill, chief of UWL police, Kara Ostlund, assistant dean of students, and Ingrid Peterson, violence prevention specialist. Peterson is retiring after the 2019-2020 school year and has not yet been replaced.

Phlegar let Stroozas know she can appeal the decision to Chancellor Gow but she has decided not to due to her recent graduation status.

“I want people to know that asking about these things is not bad. Being curious about your body and how it works should not be demonized because you are feminine or have a vagina. I have spent my whole life in the shadows of men. This was me fighting to get out. I will always be proud of myself and how I handled this case, but I will also forever be disappointed in what UWL will tolerate. So many people thanked me for starting this conversation and said they wanted to talk about this topic, but never had the space to do so. This is for them, and everyone else who needs to feel seen and validated,” said Stroozas.

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