Rachel Rudisill/ The Sunflower
Roughly a dozen community members gathered across the street from the presidential inauguration ceremony to call for accountability following social work professor Karen Countryman-Roswurm’s lawsuit against the university that cited “years of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.”
“We need to hold WSU responsible for causing harm,” Gianna Williams, a lifelong friend of Countryman-Roswurm and the protest organizer, said. “We need to ask those leaders to do better. The lawsuit is an attempt to hold them accountable and I hope the community will push them to find a safer space for staff and students.”’
Williams said she decided to hold the protest because she wants to see change from the university.
“It’s important because a lot of the community are not aware of the harm that can be caused by what they consider to be simple locker room talk,” Williams said. “She has complained and followed the chain of command for years and has not been able to get satisfaction so I just wanted to come out here when there was a lot of attention on WSU to say, ‘I don’t think this is OK.’ They can do better.”
The protesters spread out around the complex across the road. The majority of protesters were holding up signs.
Many of the protesters were friends and old coworkers from the Center for Combatting Human Trafficking, as well as social work students at WSU.
Linda Gregory, who did photography work for the CCHT, said that she was at the protest because she wanted to stand up against the culture of sexual discrimination.
“I am supporting Karen Countryman-Roswurm in her lawsuit that she has tried to avoid having for years,” Gregory said. “No one will do anything about it, they tell her just don’t report it, take it easy, it will go away. It does not go away. It becomes worse. No one should take that kind of mental and verbal abuse that she has taken.”
In terms of what she wants to see happen from the university, Gregory said that she wants them to be aware of the community support for the lawsuit and be made aware of the situation so they can begin to change the community so it is no longer an issue.
Kristen Powell, a criminal justice graduate from WSU who worked at CCHT said she was there to stand with her mentor. Powell said she would like to see some changes with Title IX.
“I don’t think that having in-house reporting is something that is good on campus, in jail systems, or any system,” Powell said. “How do you know it’s ever going to escalate within the university? So I think that would be something that would be helpful for both students and staff members because the person who you are making the report to is someone who might be working in the same office or building.”
ShaiLyn Malsky, a graduate student in social work, said that she attended the protest to hold those in power accountable.
“Honestly, I think that leadership needs to be held accountable,” Malsky said. “Women in academia haven’t been taken seriously in general, and the idea I think behind this is not only to support a community member like Dr. Karen Countryman-Roswurm, who’s been a pivotal part of WSU and the Wichita community, but again to hold male staff members accountable.
“We need to show them that it is not okay to treat women like objects and it’s not okay to do these kinds of things, and it will be highlighted. It will be shown.”