Professor still hospitalized after being found beaten

Christina Stavale

Autistic son charged with felonious assault

Professor Gertrude “Trudy” Steuernagel, who was found beaten in her home Thursday morning, was in serious condition as of Friday afternoon at Akron City Hospital. Yesterday, family members declined to comment further on her condition.

After the political science professor did not show up for her 9:15 a.m. class Thursday morning, her colleagues became concerned, and Steven Hook, chair of the political science department, went to her home in Franklin Township at about 10 a.m. No one answered and the door was locked, so he then called the police department.

Autism: Autism is a neurobiological disorder that affects approximately 1 in 150 people. It impairs the way a person communicates and relates to others. Symptoms may range from very mild to severe, and is associated with rigid routines and repetitive behaviors.

It is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the United States, and there is no medical detection or cure.


Symptoms of autism:

&bull Extreme difficulty learning language

&bull Avoiding eye contact, resisting being picked up or cuddled, tuning out the world

&bull Extreme hyperactivity or unusual passivity; resistance to change

&bull Insensitivity to pain or lack of response to cold or heat

&bull Inability or reduced ability to play cooperatively or make friends


Portage County Sheriff Dave Doak said they found Steuernagel badly beaten in the kitchen. Her son, Sky Walker, 18, was charged with felonious assault and assaulting an officer.

The case is still under investigation, and Doak could not release any information about her injuries, including how and when the beating may have occurred.

In a letter to the editor dated March 27, 2008, Steuernagel wrote that her son has autism. She said that the two of them have never had a conversation; however, she has a “forever commitment” to him. She described the two of them as “content,” despite the every day challenges they face.

Hook said he knew there was a problem when Steuernagel did not show up for class; at first, he assumed she was late because of the weather.

“This was alarming because in all her years of teaching here, that had not happened,” he said.

Steuernagel has been at Kent State since 1975. Hook said she has “a passion for teaching and motivating students,” adding that she’s brought Political Theory – normally a dull class – to life with her ability to engage students.

“She always makes time in and out of her office hours for students,” he said. “She cares what students do after they graduate.”

She was teaching two classes – American Political Theory, and Women, Politics and Policy – this semester. Hook said the department has taken extra care to ensure that its best instructors will fill in for her during her time of need, particularly for her women and politics class, which is a favorite of hers to teach.

“To honor Trudy, we are going to recreate the class as one that will be taught by a team of our top faculty in this and possibly other departments,” Hook said. “We feel that Trudy would want this to happen since teaching and her students have always been her highest priority.”

Molly Merryman, associate professor of justice studies, encouraged Steuernagel’s students and colleagues to send their thoughts and wishes to [email protected]. She said she will collect the thoughts to share when she visits the hospital.

“If Trudy were awake right now, she would definitely appreciate the outpouring of support,” Merryman said. “It’s very positive and enlightening about what kind of people are here at Kent State.”


Students and faculty who want to send wishes to Professor Steuernagel may send them to [email protected].

Contact news editor Christina Stavale at [email protected].