Members of a Student Senate ad hoc committee designed to investigate the University of Kansas’ processes for handling sexual assault agreed Friday evening to dissolve the committee after its second meeting of the semester.
The committee dissolved in its second week after disputes among its members over how open the meeting should be, how to host the meetings in compliance with the law and how to protect survivors’ personal stories.
Chancellor Douglas Girod declined to reopen a KU task force in February dedicated to reviewing the University’s policies and procedures on evaluating and adjudicating claims of sexual violence. The student-centric committee took place of the KU task force, which Student Senate requested in December.
Questions arose from those in attendance of whether or not Senate’s sexual assault ad hoc committee is a safe space. Last week, participants determined the committee could not be considered a “safe space” due to Student Senate employees being legally required to report instances of sexual violence and the meeting’s openness to the public, per the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
“I think the intentions of this resolution [which established the committee] were good, despite what some of the outcomes have been,” said Student Body Vice President Grant Daily.
Initially, Daily and other committee leaders intended to step down from their positions and elect new leaders to chair the committee. Then, they planned to potentially create bylaws to follow within committee meetings.
But the first discussion point shifted to whether the press should be present at the meeting. Committee members considered whether they should vote on whether reporters should be allowed to attend the ad hoc committee meetings.
During that discussion, Daily noted he asked reporters from the University Daily Kansan not to attend the committee meeting because individuals requested privacy while the committee voted on new leadership. Daily said he did not feel comfortable sharing the names of those who made the request.
The Kansas Open Meetings Act requires meetings held by public agencies, such as KU’s student government, must be open to the public if there is the potential of action being taken that could impact public businesses. It also requires those officers provide the public with information on those meetings when requested.
Committee attendee Grace Reading suggested because there could be no guarantee the meetings could be called a “safe space,” the committee could be altered so it is not under Senate’s control. It would then remove mandates from the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
She also referenced the Culture of Respect Collective, which Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access director Josh Jones is leading at KU. Over 100 universities are collaborating to assess their internal policies to addressing sexual violence, according to the Collective’s website.
“I just think that in the terms and the scope that you’re trying to do it, I just don’t think that that’s going to be a productive use of time or that you all have really the capability to do that,” Reading said.
Reading said she felt there were ultimately other offices and organizations on campus capable of making similar changes, as were the goals of the ad hoc committee, while maintaining more privacy for survivors.
Reading also suggested Senate use its time to revise the Student Code of Rights and Responsibilities to make change within its own office, rather than working at an institutional level. Daily said this would not be possible until next school year, as the code is only open to be revised once every two years, per the Student Senate Rules and Regulations.
Former Student Body President Tiara Floyd, who was in attendance on the Zoom call, said this could be changed through an amendment to SSRR. The code still has to be approved by the chancellor following any revisions.
In fact, according to Senate's rules and regulations, the subcommittee that amends the student code is mandated to address it every two years, but the subcommittee can convene at any point and at the discretion of Senate.
With no one voicing opposition to the decision, Daily chose to close the committee without a vote, per Senate’s bylaws.
“This is still going to be an issue that’s really important to me so I think I’m going to self-evaluate on how I can help on these sorts of things," Daily said. "And people who want to have that conversation with me, I’d love to have it, and people who don’t, that’s fine too."