Editor’s note: On Monday, Anna Ayers was arrested and charged with three counts of making false alarms. An Ohio University Police Department investigation found that Ayers placed the three threatening notes herself prior to reporting them to police. Click for the most recent reporting.
An LGBTQ Ohio University Student Senate member has received a death threat, and Student Senate leadership believes the threat likely came from another senate member.
Anna Ayers, commissioner of the Senate Appropriations Commission, found two notes in the drawer of her desk in the Student Senate office. On Sept. 27, she found a “hateful, harassing” note referencing her LGBTQ identity and calling her a derogatory term. On Monday, Ayers found another note in her desk that included a threat against her life.
The note likely came from someone within Student Senate, Student Senate President Maddie Sloat said. Anyone can enter the senate office, but whoever left the note had to know which desk belonged to Ayers, who is a member of The Post Publishing Board.
Student Senate is not releasing the specific wording of the notes to protect the integrity of an ongoing OU Police Department investigation, Ayers said.
Student Senate postponed all scheduled events, including a presentation from Athens Mayor Steve Patterson, to discuss the threats at its Wednesday meeting. Student Senate members listened to Ayers speak and discussed experiences of harassment on campus. Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones moderated the discussion, and a counselor from Counseling and Psychological Services was present.
OU President Duane Nellis did not attend the meeting. Hall-Jones said Nellis had been in contact with Ayers and Sloat, and Hall-Jones read a statement from him condemning the notes.
Ayers said she spent the weekend “angry, frustrated and disappointed” after finding the first note. She had to call her parents to explain the incident to them. After finding the death threat Monday, she spent hours with the threat “ringing over and over again in (her) head.”
As much as she struggled to deal with the content of the notes, she said it was harder to comprehend that they may have come from someone within Student Senate.
“Senate will never be the same for me,” Ayers said. “The friendships will continue to grow, and our successes will always evoke pride, but the memory of my time in senate and at OU will be marred by this experience. We will all have a memory of a time when this body failed one of its own.”
Ayers also addressed the writer of the note directly, saying she hoped that person was in the room. She called that person weak, cowardly and worthless.
“You may find me revolting and worthy of a threat on my life, but in reality, it is your beliefs that are repulsive,” Ayers said. “You need to get this through your head, you f---ing a--hole: I am proud to be who I am, and nothing you could say or do will ever change that.”
Hall-Jones said the locks on the Student Senate doors have been changed. Student Senate members will have the ability to swipe into the office using their student IDs, and Student Senate will establish new office hours.
The incidents left Hall-Jones with an “overwhelming sense of disappointment.”
“People asked me, ‘What have you done in the past when this happened?’ And I’m like, ‘I can’t remember anything like that happening before,’” she said. “Basically, I didn’t have an answer, but we have to figure this out together.”
It’s unlikely that OUPD will be able to determine who left the notes, Hall-Jones said. Though she and senate leadership believe the notes came from a member of the senate or someone close to senate members, the office is an open space. Anyone could have left the note.
“I don’t know if we will ever have a sense of justice,” Hall-Jones said. “We will have to be honest with ourselves about that and determine what we will have to do to find that sense of justice.”
Student Senate broke into group discussions. Tables of senate members shared past experiences and searched for ways to move forward. Ayers walked around the room and exchanged hugs with senate members.
Several Student Senate members said they were shocked the threat had happened on a campus they had long considered safe and accepting. Others said it was important to remember hate exists everywhere.
The discussion brought up several potential solutions, some institutional and some personal. Some members said diversity events might not be as effective as intended because the students who attend tend to already have an understanding of social justice. Student Senate members also brought up the possibility of cultural competency courses, which the body has discussed in recent years.
Hall-Jones and Student Senate members also discussed the importance of standing up to injustices, holding friends accountable and examining personal biases.
Sloat said the meeting was productive, but it was only a beginning. She will continue to try to determine the identity of whoever made the threats, and the staff will receive additional training.
“There’s only so much we can do (right now),” Sloat said. “This feels like such a small Band-Aid type of fix. ... It’s not a solution. I consider this the start of a very long conversation.”
Ayers said she hopes members of Student Senate learn to hold each other accountable, even when it feels uncomfortable. She also said the threat isn’t reflective of Student Senate or OU at large.
“I could have quit senate Friday after the first note,” she said. “I mean, nobody would have said I didn’t have the right to do that. But it never crossed my mind.”
Clarification: This story has been updated to include accurate information in a quote from Maddie Sloat.