Emma Halling

Editor's note: In a previous version of this article the two individuals were named because the case was public record at the time. The charges filed against the two individuals were later dropped and their records expunged. The Kansan has removed the names to reflect this change. 

Foreword

The Sept. 2 Huffington Post article about a student’s mishandled sexual assault case spurred campus-wide outrage and semester-long conversations about ineffective policy, breaking the silence and rape culture. Since then, changes have been made, but there is more to be done in the coming semesters.

Where we were

On July 16 the University was added to a list of 76 (now 85) schools under federal investigation by the Office of Civil Rights regarding the administration’s handling of sexual assault cases.

Last semester, former student body vice president Emma Halling proposed a reform of the University’s sexual harassment training; however, she said she was ignored by administrators, including Jane McQueeny, director of the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access (IOA). Halling wanted interactive, mandatory training; McQueeny wanted it to be voluntary.

“I understand that that’s a good aspirational goal, but you’re not going to get there without a cultural shift, and those are very difficult,” Halling said.

Halling’s suggestions were brushed aside, but Tim Caboni, vice chancellor for public affairs, said the University has been working diligently since IOA was founded in 2012 to investigate complaints of sexual assault.

“The creation of that office predates the visible and heightened conversation we’ve had this semester,” Caboni said.

The campus-wide conversation among students may be new, but Kathy Rose-Mockry, director of the Emily Taylor Center for Women and Gender Equity, said the concern isn’t new for administration.

“We have a lot of caring, concerned individuals, especially administratively,” Rose-Mockry said. “I think there are many of us that have an ongoing concern.”

Some students were talking about sexual assault last semester, Halling said, but only those who knew someone who had gone through or was going through the complaint reporting process with IOA. At that point, it was an individualized issue that wouldn’t be understood as something greater until the Huffington Post article.

“I think the beginning of the year was a shift from individual problems to a systematic problem,” Halling said.

A culture shift

Students responded with outrage to the female student’s experience detailed by the Sept. 2 article, inciting criticism of the University’s handling of sexual assault and demands for change.

September Siblings, a student group that formed as a result, released an anti-recruitment video on Sept. 9 titled “A Great Place to be Unsafe.” The title alludes to the University’s slogan “A Great Place to Be,” but instead, advised prospective students to avoid the University until policies and procedures improved.

On the same day, The Kansan published an account of another student’s disappointment with how administration mishandled her case. Under particular scrutiny in the account was how Nick Kehrwald, then-director of student conduct and community standards, handled implementing recommended sanctions for the accused student.

Many students also used social media to express their anger and disappointment with the University by using the hashtag #AGreatPlaceToBeUnsafe. The evening of Sept. 9, September Siblings hosted an open forum at the Ecumenical Campus Ministries (ECM) to discuss the issue and give victims a platform for sharing their experiences.

Two days later on Sept. 11, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little announced the creation of a task force as a step to better prevent and respond to sexual assault. She also held an open forum on Sept. 18 to answer questions.

“Some of you have shared heartbreaking stories of your own sexual assault, while others have made recommendations about actions we can take to improve our prevention and response efforts,” Gray-Little wrote in the announcement. “Our university has a responsibility to create an environment where every member of our community feels safe.”

Gray-Little identified four areas needing improvement for the task force to address: student policy, the investigation and resolution process, victim support and advocacy, and prevention and education.

Alesha Doan, co-chair of the task force, said since the formation of the task force, she has been approached by alumni who see it as a step forward.

“Everyone’s been really supportive,” Doan said. “I’ve also heard from alumni that have said, ‘I was sexually assaulted when I was a student and didn’t know what to do and didn’t know where to go.’ And this could be from students that attended literally decades ago.”

Halling said the continued pressure from students is a driving factor in any change in policies and procedures.

“It’s students who have been made aware of the shortcomings of the system, and KU responded to the Huffington Post story by saying, ‘We have an effective system,’ while student activists continued to say, ‘We don’t think so,’ ” Halling said. “Now, the students are coming forward and saying, ‘OK, if you think it’s such a great system, then show it to us. Give me the help that I need.’ ”

The task force submitted its first policy recommendation Dec. 5: an addition to the Student Code of Rights and Responsibilities that would solidify the University’s jurisdiction over sexual misconduct occurring off campus. The addition would clarify the University’s authority to investigate and discipline students for sexual harassment, sexual violence or intimate partner violence as long as the perpetrator was a student at the time of the offense.

The addition reinforces the change that Gray-Little approved to the code on Nov. 24. In a press release, Gray-Little said the change makes it clear that the University has jurisdiction for cases of sexual assault and harassment occurring off campus.

On Oct. 1, it was made public that multiple allegations of sexual assault were filed with IOA after an impromptu party at the Kappa Sigma fraternity during the early morning on Sept. 28. In a statement released Oct. 1, Gray-Little announced the fraternity would be placed on interim suspension because of the allegations, which Gray-Little described as “disturbing and serious.”

On Oct. 9, two men, one a University student, were each charged with one felony count of rape of two women incapable of giving consent, according to Capt. James Anguiano of the KU Public Safety Office. The alleged rapes also occurred on Sept. 28 in Hashinger Residence Hall.

Trent McKinley, the Lawrence Police Department spokesman, said the allegations at Hashinger Hall and Kappa Sigma are not related.

IOA’s investigation of the Kappa Sigma incident is ongoing, and Kappa Sigma has remained on interim suspension this semester after several extensions.

Greek community members formed a greek task force to encourage dialogue about sexual assault prevention and consent. The group met throughout the semester and is reviewing the Greek Community Standards to promote a culture that discourages sexual assault, said Colin Thomas, a senior from Baldwin City in Beta Theta Pi fraternity and member of the Greek Task Force.

Thomas said they’re talking with University and greek alumni to create a curriculum for a values-based education program for fraternity pledges.

“What we really hope to do is look at men that are really leaders in their community, real gentlemen, really demonstrating what it look likes to be a man and seek their advice so we can put together the best program we can,” Thomas said.

Within the administration, the University hired Sarah Jane Russell as Campus Assistance, Resource, and Education (CARE) coordinator to assist students through the IOA investigation process. The full-time position, as part of the Emily Taylor Center, began Oct. 27.

Caboni said the CARE coordinator was an important role to fill, and the provost allocated resources to get someone quickly. He said the position is temporary and will be reevaluated at the end of the year.

“One of the things that was clear is that the investigative process is confusing and overwhelming and so ensuring that complainants, victims, respondents, all have someone to assist them with navigating the process is something that we heard early on,” Caboni said.

However, in a discussion with task force members, Chrissy Heikkila, executive director of GaDuGi SafeCenter, said the CARE coordinator position does not meet the definition of a victim advocate. A policy states all University employees are required to report incidents of sexual harassment, including sexual violence, to IOA and the position serves the dual role of supporting both the victim and the perpetrator through the investigation process.

The OCR said it strongly encourages that universities have confidential reporters, but currently, the University has none.

“OCR wants students to feel free to seek their assistance and therefore interprets Title IX to give schools the latitude not to require these individuals to report incidents of sexual violence in a way that identifies the student without the student’s consent,” it said in a Title IX Q & A on its website.

Doan said addressing prevention and education is a bigger undertaking that will take more time. She said currently, prevention and education measures are not centralized, and there is minimal communication or awareness among different people.

Doan said although national statistics say one in five women are sexually assaulted during their college careers and task force members have heard many personal anecdotes from student victims, that they don’t have statistics specific to the University or other climate information.

“What kind of resources are they aware of on campus and in the community?” Doan said. “How safe do they feel? Do they feel unsafe? And if they feel unsafe, where do they feel unsafe? Why do they feel unsafe? Those kinds of pieces would be really helpful to have.”

Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, a University spokeswoman, said in an email that “the task force was given the climate surveys in October. When they will be distributed to campus hinges on [the Office of Institutional Research and Planning’s] capacity to send them out.”

Doan said the task force is reviewing the climate survey drafted by IOA and developing recommendations to maximize the efficacy and validity of it. Doan said the biggest challenge for the task force is gathering and sifting through information and figuring out what recommendations would be most effective.

“There’s a lot to get our arms around and the challenge is acquiring all of this information, making sure we’re talking to all of the relevant people, and getting the right information,” Doan said.

What else must be done

Since Jan. 1, IOA has received 161 complaints, of which over 75 percent are related to sexual assault, battery, harassment, stalking and dating and domestic violence. Currently, approximately 41 cases related to Title IX are open.

Murphy said because of the increased discussion, more survivors are coming forward despite the fear that nothing will be done.

“These women are going forward knowing that nothing will change, but they’re doing it because they want there to be a paper trail and they want there to be a conversation and they want to stand up anyway,” Murphy said.

Once a 2014 climate survey is released to students, information collected will be sent to groups including the chancellor’s task force and the Emily Taylor Center. Doan said the task force will gain insight about the specifics of sexual violence on campus from the survey that is a challenge to get elsewhere.

Rose-Mockry said they will use the information to direct programming and create informational resources, like websites and flyers or pamphlets for students.

Barcomb-Peterson said the CARE coordinator office will move to Watkins in early January to provide students more anonymity and accessibility. In the spring, the CARE coordinator “will be focused on making the campus more aware of the position and building a sense of trust with the campus community.”

In order to educate men on campus and encourage them to ask for consent, report sexual assaults and support victims, IOA was awarded a $25,000 grant in the fall from the Kansas Health Institute. According to Caboni, the programming is still being discussed.

“I think that that will be an important on-going effort during the course of this year and years to come,” Caboni said.

The task force is drafting a formal University partnership for victim support with the GaDuGi SafeCenter and the Willow Domestic Violence Center. They are also going to make a recommendation for a clear consent policy. They hope to have all of their recommendations to the chancellor by April.

“We hope that [the memorandums] being in progress while we are drafting the official recommendations will contribute to some of them going into effect,” Murphy said. “I don’t foresee all of them going into effect; there’s just not a way for that to happen. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t make recommendations about what we think is best and point out where the holes are.”

According to Caboni, the Office of General Counsel is drafting a formal partnership with the Lawrence Police Department so investigations don’t interfere with one another.

“We want to make sure that as we go about doing Title IX investigations they also do not get in the way,” Caboni said. “We want to make sure that we’re all aware of the work that each entity is doing and doing it in such a way that complainants and victims are treated with care.”

Kehrwald, who previously handled the sanctioning of students involved in the reporting process, has left his position. According to Barcomb-Peterson, Jane Tuttle, assistant vice provost of student affairs, and Joshua Jones, student conduct coordinator, will be responsible for Kehrwald’s work until a replacement is hired. The candidates were interviewed the week of Dec. 1 and Barcomb-Peterson said the position will be filled early next spring.

The Emily Taylor Center has plans to bring in several speakers, host events and encourage discussion next semester, which it will schedule after the office moves to Wescoe Hall. The center will also work with many offices on campus to promote national Sexual Assault Awareness month in April.

“The ongoing conversations need to keep happening,” Rose-Mockry said. “I think we all need to be creative because some people will come to conversations specifically about this topic, but some won’t. So we need to be a little more creative about how we engage those students as well.”

Student initiatives include the new member sexual violence education program that the Greek Task Force has created. The program will be part of new member orientation and will include sexual violence education and information on how each house handles sexual violence. They plan to pilot the program in a few chapters next semester so it can be in place for the next academic year.

According to Thomas, the Greek Task Force also hopes to start a peer-to-peer program that would involve pairing sororities and fraternities to talk to each other about sexual violence and relationships between members.

“This is a student-led effort and I think a student-to-student component like that can be very, very helpful,” Thomas said. “I think as long as it remains student led I think there will be very few challenges with implementation.”

Kappa Sigma remains on interim suspension after a Nov. 24 hearing to determine the fraternity’s status. The investigation of the Sept. 28 incident is ongoing because the fraternity is not fully cooperating with the University, Caboni said.

Two men, one a University student, who were charged with rape on Oct. 9, have a scheduled hearing through the District Court on Dec. 16 to move forward with the case.

The Kansan submitted an Open Records Act requesting a tabulation of policies violated and sanctions implemented from IOA and Student Conduct since IOA’s creation in 2012. The Kansan is waiting to hear back from the records custodian with a clear fee estimate.

Doan said there is no quick fix and that solutions will have to address multiple aspects of the issue of sexual assault in the University community.

“An adequate solution and an adequate response involves multiple levels,” Doan said. “It involves institutional change. It involves education and prevention. It involves cultural changes.”

— Edited by Paige Lytle

Recommended for you