Haskell student speaks out about alleged sexual abuse on campus, says she has reported what she’s experienced ‘over 30 times’
photo by: Journal-World File
A student at Haskell Indian Nations University says that though she has made dozens of reports about alleged sexual abuse on Haskell’s campus, her pleas for support have fallen on deaf ears.
Now, Tierra Thomas is speaking out and hopes that by doing so she’ll be able to encourage other victims to also come forward.
Thomas has been corresponding with the Journal-World via email for the past week, after first reaching out to voice her continued frustrations with administrators on campus seemingly ignoring her past abuse. Thomas alleges that she was sexually abused by a fellow Haskell student in April of 2022 and, in the year and a half or so since, has reported what she experienced “over 30 times” to 18 employees at Haskell and the university’s Board of Regents.
Thomas told the Journal-World that when making the initial reports of her alleged abuse in April of 2022, she detailed being drugged and abducted, subjected to “severe sexual violence” and having to escape her abuser. She says she provided sources, followed up multiple times seeking help and was assured repeatedly that she’d be supported and protected.
But instead, Thomas said she’s felt that her requests for help have been met with indifference by Haskell administrators and the Bureau of Indian Education — the federal agency that oversees the university’s operations — since June of 2022, several weeks after her attack.
“It’s hard to explain the torment one feels when reporting trauma and doing so repeatedly, awaiting for help that never comes while being told otherwise,” Thomas told the Journal-World.
Thomas claims that her attacker remained enrolled at Haskell and attended classes that fall, then allegedly assaulted another student within a month. During that time, Thomas said her grades became an issue. She said she soon after found herself subjected to bullying from Haskell students and employees, who became a “day-to-day” source of torment.
Last year in September, for example, she said that though she didn’t tell anyone about her grades — which were slipping as a byproduct of her alleged abuse — an employee released her academic records to other students, who then went dorm to dorm telling other students about how she’d failed her classes and wasn’t eligible to participate in student athletics.
“This was personal and embarrassing to repeatedly explain to random students what was going on,” Thomas said. “I reported this conduct immediately to necessary officials and got no responses.”
Thomas claims that leaders with the BIE continue to protect alleged abusers on campus by “deflecting our reports, creating false reports, citing imaginary rules, bullying persistently or by sending their unstable lackeys to harass victims.”
Thomas said she reported her allegation of assault both to campus officials and to local police, and added that she’s currently working with a Lawrence police officer to submit further documents and evidence. The Journal-World reached out to the Lawrence Police Department to confirm that Thomas filed a report, and Sgt. Drew Fennelly said the department isn’t able to provide confirmation of names or any identifying information of victims in a sexual offense.
But Thomas also claims that officials with the BIE aren’t documenting reports of sexual violence to begin with, despite their saying such reports are being written up and passed along to local law enforcement.
The Journal-World has reported that a six-month investigation took place on campus last year, according to students at the university, which purportedly looked into allegations of sexual abuse, embezzlement and other wrongdoing. Most recently, the rumored investigation became the subject of a lawsuit from a government watchdog nonprofit pushing for its release. The BIE has not publicly acknowledged whether the investigation took place or, if so, whether the agency will ever release its findings publicly.
Thomas listed the names of six investigators whom she said she’s spoken with to provide testimony about her allegations, at least three of whom were apparently involved with last year’s investigation. She said she and other abuse victims came forward hoping to assist with the investigation and were promised that if they did so, the report would be made public.
“All in all, many of the sexual abuse victims have seen the writing on the wall,” Thomas said. “If you continue making reports about what happened, no matter how evil or ugly it is, you’re the problem.”
All of this has left Thomas feeling like she can’t trust the university’s administration to do right by her for now — but she said she does have faith that they can be trusted once visible advocates step up and take tangible action.
Thomas said she no longer feels safe living on campus. She lives off campus today, which she called “one of the best decisions of my life.” She said other women on campus who have suffered abuse tend to stay confined to their dorms, the “next safest option besides leaving Haskell altogether.” In part, she said that’s because living off campus can be a financial challenge for many students.
Thomas said she agreed to release her name for this story hoping that it would clear a path for other abuse victims to speak up.
“I hope it doesn’t end up in vain, but leads our women to knowing that they, too, have a voice,” Thomas said. “They have value. They have worth.”
The Journal-World reached out to the BIE just before 10 a.m. Thursday to request comment for this story, regarding the alleged sexual abuse taking place on campus and the existence of the investigation Thomas said she provided testimony for. The BIE had not responded to those questions by 4 p.m., the deadline the Journal-World requested for a response.
BIE Communications Director Jennifer Bell did repeatedly ask the Journal-World to extend the deadline beyond 4 p.m. However, previous requests for information from Bell have resulted in weekslong delays that ultimately yielded no response. As the Journal-World has reported, past inquiries made by the Journal-World to the BIE have routinely gone unanswered. Previous formal information requests, such as one through the Freedom of Information Act, have taken the BIE nearly a full year to fulfill.