Last week, Student Senate reconvened a sexual assault prevention ad hoc committee with the intention of finding solutions to the systemic issue plaguing campuses nationwide. However, no solutions were found. And because of a lack of sensitivity and understanding of the issues, more problems were created.
When I attended last week’s ad hoc meeting, the first order of business was Student Body Vice President Grant Daily explaining the meeting was a safe space for survivors. However, moments later, two members of the press — one reporter from the Lawrence Journal-World and one reporter from the University Daily Kansan — introduced themselves to the group.
No disclaimers or expectations were set with the press or the group to ensure the privacy or safety of survivors of sexual violence should they choose to identify themselves. It was only when pointed questions arose that Student Senate leadership considered why the lack of expectations was potentially dangerous for survivors.
Only at the end of the meeting, after survivors had come forward and shared their experiences, did Daily and the leadership team in the Senate committee inform the group they were acting in their capacity as mandatory reporters. It was not made clear to participants that this forum was open to the public, or that leaders had tweeted out the Zoom link and password so anyone could join.
Survivors’ needs were forgotten.
In sexual violence advocacy, the language we use matters. Survivors have an expectation that safe spaces are planned with attention to their needs, and that there have been safeguards put in place to ensure their emotional and physical safety. All aspects from who is in the meeting to the way a space is physically laid out need to be considered.
It is not enough to say that it is a safe space. We must do the work to make it one.
In the University Daily Kansan story last week, Daily said, “The reporting process at KU is horribly broken. It really, really is in terms of the University’s response time, in terms of fairness of these so called conduct hearings, if you even want to call them that.”
Graduate Student Body Vice President Hollie Hall was quoted by the Kansan saying, “[The Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access] should be in the victim’s corner, and time and time again they’re in the perpetrators corner.”
What Daily and Hall fail to understand is that the student misconduct process must follow Title IX. As a public institution, KU cannot violate a student’s Fifth or 14th Amendment rights. Furthermore, the reporting process follows the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities set by Senate. If Senate is interested in changing the conduct process, they need to look no further than themselves.
The words of the student body vice presidents have weight. They are viewed as knowledgeable individuals on campus. To make such daunting accusations that KU does not support survivors puts up one more barrier of fear for survivors to feel comfortable accessing Student Affairs and IOA — the only institutions on campus that can put sanctions on the perpetrator.
Nobody can deny there are improvements that need to be made on campus to prevent sexual violence. However, it was clear from the first meeting this ad hoc committee is not trauma-informed or prepared to have a conversation about sexual violence on our campus in a way that centers survivors. They do not have the knowledge or the care to be the leaders of this conversation without putting more survivors at risk.
Grace Reading is a senior from Kansas City, Missouri, studying marketing.