[Updated] Rachael Denhollander Says Liberty University Forbid Student Leaders From Inviting Her to Address Sexual Assault Claims

UPDATE: Save71, the group of Liberty students, faculty and alumni who have been a driving force for change, say Liberty leadership has reversed course and will allow Denhollander to speak on campus as originally planned.

Student leaders at Liberty University who’d been planning to hold a prayer rally calling for investigations into allegations of sexual abuse mismanagement were told they could not invite advocate Rachael Denhollander onto campus, according to Denhollander. The news comes in the wake of a series of revelations about about Liberty’s institutional response to cases of sexual assault on campus.

“Student leaders organizing a prayer rally to call for a proper institutional response to the crisis facing LU, were told I could not come on campus,” Denhollander tweeted. “3 yrs ago I was invited to teach on this. Today, when it is needed, it is no longer wanted. Aching to see a heart change tomorrow.”

Denhollander is a former gymnast who was the first to come forward with allegations about sexual abuse at the hands of former U.S. gymnastics coach Larry Nasser. Today, she works as an advocate for victims of sexual abuse and has championed reforms in numerous church denominations and Christian institutions. On Wednesday, Religion News Service reported that she would be speaking at Liberty in solidarity with student leaders calling for change. RELEVANT has reached out to Denhollander for comment.

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Last summer, Liberty was rocked by a lawsuit from a group of 12 former students and employees who sued the nation’s largest Christian college over a culture they claimed makes it “difficult or impossible for students to report sexual violence.” Last month, a bombshell ProPublica report detailed stories from numerous women who said they were cautioned against reporting their assaults to police or pursuing justice, and were told they could be punished for violating the student code of conduct known as “the Liberty Way.”

Liberty President Jerry Prevo, who replaced former President Jerry Falwell Jr. following a series of scandals, sent a message to his senior team, saying “Liberty University will not tolerate Title IX violations, sexual abuse or sexual assault in any form at any time.”

“I hope and pray these allegations turn out to be false,” he continued. “Discrimination against victims of sexual assault because of their gender and engaging in sexual harassment are contrary to our Christian faith and mission, and have absolutely no place at Liberty.”

Following the media circus that followed Falwell’s downfall, students and school officials had expressed hope that Prevo’s leadership would help change the school’s course. Some have expressed disappointment. Karen Swallow Prior, a former English professor, told RNS that “I think he has been a disappointment. I am less hopeful than I was a year ago.”

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