New Allegations Regarding Sexual Assault at KU

New+Allegations+Regarding+Sexual+Assault+at+KU

We, the September Siblings, are a group of KU students disappointed in the university administration’s mishandling of sexual assault.

We cannot in good conscience encourage prospective students to attend KU until the following demands are met:

1) Immediate investigation by the Provost’s Office into the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access and Office of Student Affairs.

2) Install a victim’s advocate within the University Judicial Process, utilizing GaDuGi Safecenter.

3) Immediate budget increase to $35,000 for the Emily Taylor Center for Women & Gender Equity.

4) Mandatory sexual assault training for all KU students that is comparatively rigorous to AlcoholEdu.

5) The minimum punishment for sexual assault and harassment must exceed the punishment for plagiarism.

6) Revision of KU’s sexual assault and harassment adjudication and sanctioning policies, to be completed before 2015.

7) Performance of said revisions by a committee of at least 51% students, and final approval by the Student Senate

8) Re-investigating cases of professors, admin and students still at KU who were accused of sexual assault and harassment.

9) Allow for filers from 2012-present to appeal IOA decisions to a new panel.

10) Elimination of the term “non-consensual sex.” It’s rape.”

Demands of the September Siblings, a group advocating for victims of sexual assault, as seen in their video “KU- A Great Place to Be Unsafe.” – September 9th, 2014.

 

“You have two here in the dorms that nothing came of, another one across the street, the two from Kappa Sigma, that’s five,” Adamson says. “Then there’s the ones that go unreported which were the girls who got, like, date-rape drugged. So that’s seven. Those are just the ones that I know of. That’s just in the past couple of months.”

Sitting across a wooden table in a small study room positioned at the end of her dormitory floor, freshman Jane Adamson* calmly recounts the number of sexual assaults she alone has heard of during her short stay at the University of Kansas. Adamson recalls a particular night where a girl from her dorm was allegedly raped during a party.

“I was at a party here in the dorm and a girl was really drunk and I was kind of around her and I didn’t really see her for a while,” Adamson said. “The next morning she woke and said she was raped. So KU came in, they interviewed all of us, and we were like ‘well what happened?’ and they say, ‘We don’t know. We didn’t see it, we weren’t there, we have no idea.’”

When asked if she herself feels safe on campus, her answer is clear.

“No, I don’t. I feel safe within certain contexts. Would I go walking through a neighborhood by myself at night? Absolutely not. Bad things happen, and you’re not safe if you’re by yourself and it’s by the middle of the night. And you have to be careful,” Adamson said.

Even if they believe the university is committed to their safety, Adamson says students are raising concerns that there are still inherent issues associated with trusting KU’s administration.

“When you think of these administrations, it’s made up of people, right? So you’ll have people at the first level talk to you and they care and they want something to be done, but the higher up the chain you go, the more of a concern there is for the university reputation or the repercussions that would follow,” Adamson said. “What are you weighing? You’re weighing a sexual assault lawsuit versus a wrongful expulsion lawsuit. So, no, I don’t necessarily trust the university to go to the fullest extent. The problem is that the criminal process is not by any means easier, and it’s just as difficult to get anything done that way. I think that as a culture it’s very hard to get these things prosecuted and get people punished for their actions.”

Adamson’s sentiment seems to be echoed across the nation as increasing numbers of complaints of sexual assault on college campuses have prompted the federal government’s Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, or OCR, to place over 86 universities under investigation for their policies and practices. The University of Kansas, one of the 86, has recently come under fire after the Huffington Post published an article criticising the administration’s handling of a recent case of sexual assault on their campus. To combat the issue, the university has established the Sexual Assault Task Force, a group of students, faculty and administrators appointed by the chancellor. Co-Chair of the task force and the university’s graduate affairs director Angela Murphy explains:

“With the negative press of the Huffington post article and the pushback from the student body the chancellors initial response so then there was just a discussion about ‘we need to do something more substantive’ and so then the decision was made,” Murphy said. “There are four key goals for the task force; one is student policy, the second is KU policy, the third is survivor support services, and the fourth is prevention and research.”

 

The History

In order to understand the task force, it’s important to explore some history. About two years prior to the creation of the task force, the university established the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access, or IOA. The IOA, in compliance with federal standards established by equal access legislation called Title IX, investigates and handles all cases of sexual assault.

Jack Martin, the University of Kansas’ Director of Strategic Communications and university spokesperson, explains the current process, as established with the IOA, that occurs when the university receives a report of sexual assault.

“Employees at the university, when we hear of a report of sexual assault or sexual harassment, we are required to report the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access. So, when that office receives word of or even a report or just even a suspicion that an assault has occurred, they will gather as much information as they can and reach out to the victim both for an interview to find out what happened but also to offer services like counseling,” Martin said. “Victims in the system are called complainants, they are the ones making the complaint and those who are accused are called respondents and if they both, for example, live in the same residence, then housing changes can be made so that that respondent is not in that same hall anymore. If they are in the same class, then changes can be made so the class schedule to ensure that that’s not the case– all designed even while the investigation is on going to ensure that access education at the same time as the university has this process.”

In terms of criminal charges, Martin indicates that there are multiple avenues a victim can take with either campus police, local law enforcement or both.

“If a victim wants to pursue the case through the criminal justice system and the crime occurs on campus, then they would work with the KU police force to conduct the investigation. That could include arresting the suspect and presenting the evidence they have to the Douglas County district attorney,” Martin said. “If it is something that had happened off campus, that would be the Lawrence police department, but our investigation would also take place from the university standpoint so there is the law enforcement side and there is the university side and either of those can be pursued both of them or sometimes victims chose not to pursue either.”

The legal process at KU, if the victim chooses to pursue the investigation through the university, has unique standards in terms of evidence and punishment.

“We have a standard of evidence that is called a preponderance of the evidence and that means that it is more likely than not that this occurred. So, it is a lowered standard. IOA would conduct the investigation then present that evidence to the Office of Student Affairs who then have student conduct officers who then take that case and act as the prosecutors and will present [the case],” Martin said. “If it is a sexual assault then that would warrant a suspension or an expulsion, then there would be a hearing before a panel. The university would present the evidence that this occurred and the respondent would have the opportunity to present his or her evidence as to why it did not occur or did not occur as stated and then that panel would determine whether the preponderance of the evidence shows that an assault occurred or not.”

  About a year ago, months prior to the article in the Huffington Post, the university received criticism from an article published in Al Jazeera regarding the drinking culture at universities across the nation. This prompted the university to establish its initial task force of sorts called the Title IX Roundtable, an entity tasked with reforming the IOA process and improving sexual assault policies. Murphy, the treasurer and one of the development coordinators of the round table, explains the group and why it ultimately did not meet its goals.

“The goal of the Title IX Roundtable was really to look at what KU was doing on the whole, so it was essentially [comprised of] any entity on campus that had a buy in to sexual assault and sexual harassment and violence and we sat down at this table said ‘Okay, these are the resources we have going and how can we make this better,’” said Murphy. “They were looking at policy, they were looking at some other issues, student involvement, education pieces, but that was a very slow process and not particularly helpful process. If you look at the quotes in the UDK [University Daily Kansan] article from students who had been involved previously, they were not pleased with [the Roundtable].”

Following the Roundtable and the publication of the Huffington Post article mentioned above, the administration established the aforementioned Sexual Assault Task Force and established what is called the C.A.R.E advocate, a specialist hired to guide victims through the process and ensure accountability. Although steps have been taken to combat the problem, some still believe there exists structural problems with the process and the culture at the university and nationwide.

 

Criticism

“I don’t necessarily think it’s just KU that has a problem,” Adamson clarified. “I think the way institutions handle it, in general, is problematic. Generally, they present it as if you have three options: you can file a criminal complaint with the police, or there are two ways you can handle it in the university, you can have a hearing or an informal resolution. They pretend that these all have equal weight. I don’t think that’s true. What happens often is that you can get expelled for cheating or something like that, but if someone rapes another person on campus they might get a year’s suspension. Expulsion is extremely uncommon. To me, it doesn’t really make sense to expel someone for cheating, but not to expel them for rape.”

Adamson’s statements are similar to claims made by students attending universities across the nation. In an article published by Rolling Stone just this past November, a mother of a sexual assault victim attending the University of Virginia expressed a similar criticism when reflecting upon the fact that while 183 students had been expelled for being found in violation of the honor code since 1998, not a single student had been expelled for committing sexual assault. In her exact words, “In what world do you get kicked out for cheating, but if you rape someone, you can stay?” These criticisms come at a time when, according to statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 1 of every 5 women attending a university will be sexually assaulted during their time in college.

It would therefore seem logical that finding the solution to the problem of sexual assault, which has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., would be a top priority for any major university. Jack Martin made this clear in his statements regarding KU’s adopting of new preventative policies, aimed at stopping sexual assault before it occurs, and less so on punishment of a perpetrator after the fact.

“I think if we can take away one thing, it’s that absolutely we must have processes in place to respond to these assaults. We should be striving even more so, though, to be preventing them in the first place. Because no matter how good the response, someone has still been sexually assaulted,” Martin said.

Martin further elaborated on specific ways in ways in which preventative education at the university level can be used as a tool to stop sexual assault from occurring on the campus.

“We have a saying that Jayhawks step up. If you see somebody who is in trouble, who you think could be taken advantage of, get them home safely. That sometimes requires people to really intervene and to say “No, she’s coming home with me and I’m going to get her home,” and that’s not something that’s always comfortable for some folks to do. So training and education on how to do that and to do that effectively is something that absolutely we’re looking at, and that the Chancellor has really charged the task force with. Of those, she is very interested in hearing from them on prevention and how we can stop these assaults from happening in the first place,” Martin said.

On top of new programs which have been recently instituted by the University, Martin believes that the University has done a superior job of committing itself to working to solve the issue of sexual assault.

“I think that if you look at the whole picture in terms of the measures we have in place to protect students,” Martin said, “if you look at the training, the mandatory sexual assault training, the other resources we have if an assault does occur, I think that you will find that the University compares very well against other peer institutions. Both here in the region and nationally, in terms of how we are seeking to prevent and respond to sexual assault.”

There are others in the university setting who do not think so positively about the administration’s handling of reports of sexual assault or of preventative policies which have been set in place by the administration. Angela Murphy has played a vital role in advocating for change in the handling of sexual assault cases which have been brought up on the campus, and carries a different opinion concerning why a decent amount of change has not been seen among universities across the nation relating to the issue surrounding sexual assault.

“I think it’s an image issue,” said Murphy. “But as a student, as a freshman coming here, we’re hard into recruiting right now. You’ve got campus tours and everything. I mean, there are scripts they write for that, and that’s not part of the script. I know parents want to send their children to a safe school, and I know students want to go to a safe school, but if we don’t have these difficult conversations, nothing is going to change.”

There are also students who feel that, in some ways, the administration has avoided a completely open discussion about the issue in an effort to defend the image of the university. Jane Adamson reiterated that view by pointing to the fact that universities have only started to make changes because of more recent pressure from federal institutions like the OCR.

“I would think that they would try to sweep things under the rug, but with things like the federal pressure of review of Title XIV I’d think it would be less common now,” Adamson said.

 

Fraternities

Along with a focus on the university setting as a whole, there have also been urges from the student populace to keep a tighter grip on fraternities, given several more recent incidents which have caught the public eye and certainly granted the youth groups a fair amount of notoriety. Jane Adamson, herself a member of a sorority, described one frat tradition in detail.

“It’s called Brozarks,” Adamson said. “They go down to Lake of the Ozarks, bring a date, and there’s just a different culture of pressure. If you agree to go you share a bed with your date for, like, three days. I went to a fraternity formal. We shared a hotel room, we shared a bed, and in our hotel room there was also another couple.”

Though the gathering may appear harmless at first glance, there are actually rather serious problems which have arisen out of the event.

“Two girls claimed they were raped on the trip this year,” Adamson said.

When asked whether or not this was a typical result, Adamson said, “I’m not sure, but did it come as a surprise to any of us? Not really.”

Both members of the administration, as well as individuals in the student body, however, clearly still believe that Greek life is capable to step up to the challenge and face the issue head-on.

“I think that’s also something that the Greek task force is looking at,” Jack Martin said. “I know that’s something that they are definitely focused on. For change to be lasting it needs to be heart-felt and it needs to oftentimes come from within a community. I think that there are ways that we can address this issue that will help in that area, but I also think that there needs to be, which we’re seeing from the Greek task force, is a commitment to make changes within a community from within that community.”

 

A Deeper Problem

   The dialogue regarding sexual assault, as Murphy points out, seems to be currently focused on the wrong place. According to Murphy, society and universities nationwide need to combine their efforts to combat the systemic problem inherent in our culture, rather than being reactive.

“Especially from the perspective of the task force we’re looking at prevention and research. So a lot of the dialogue right now is focused on what happens after an assault we need to be six football fields in front of that conversation and we’re not,” Murphy said. “So I think the way to get at this systemic issue is to look at preventative measures for the entire body of people who are involved and to continue to conduct research on what methods are effective, because we don’t know, we have almost no preventative education in this country about what consent is, what appropriate sexual behavior is.

Murphy maintains the one the main factors contributing to the systemic culture of objectification and assault is the lack of sex education across the nation.

“Our sex education is among some of the worst and when you lack that education it is hard to set boundaries and to know what to do in those situations,” Murphy said. “So I think for especially our part at KU and on the task force specifically we are looking at ok what preventative education do we need, who do we pilot it out to, how do we change it for specific populations.”

Martin agrees, indicating that the informed discussion about sexual assault and harassment  have to start early, especially at the high school level and with local communities.

“I think there is absolutely a role for high schools I think there is absolutely a role for families I think there is a role for faith communities, this is not something that should only be heard about for the first time at freshman orientation this needs to be something that is part of the culture more broadly than just when you set foot on campus,” Martin said. “So I think if there are ways that universities can use research to inform the discussion and then can share that research with local schools that would be an absolute positive I think that there would need to be conversations with all the schools and school boards in the state and beyond as to how best to include this in existing programs or whether or not new programs need to be created.”

In addition to increasing education across the nation regarding sexual assault, Murphy points out that the dialogue must also focus on another area of substantial sexual assault and harassment with large amounts of underreporting that often doesn’t get the needed attention: the graduate community.

“I’m a graduate student there’s also a very high number of faculty to student as in within the graduate community and instructor to student and student to student sexual harassment cases that go unreported. It’s not necessarily assault but the harassment goes unreported because when you’re an undergraduate there’s a social stigma right, if you look at the article in the Rolling Stone, people were weighing their social capital against reporting and identifying as a survivor because it was equated in that article to social condemnation it was terrible,” Murphy said “In the graduate community, when you speak out or report against somebody who is faculty or an advisor they can blackball your entire career. So yes, undergraduate and student to students misconduct is an issue but it is much greater than that it goes far beyond that and that’s something that I have to remember every day.”

When asked why a professor would even think about committing such a crime and why professors are often not convicted, Murphy illustrates that it is again another result of an enduring, systemic culture.

“This is so hard. I mean, by the time you get to grad school and you’re a professor you would think that somebody would know the difference between right and wrong. Because of how gender is constructed and viewed in society, it is reflected in the behaviors of people in the institutions, faculty to graduate student interaction. One: reporting is huge, and it’s just not reported in my community. And there’s a reason it’s not reported. Because there are situations, and you can see this anywhere, where somebody has come forward and said “this has happened to me,” “he or she is harassing me,” and the alleged perpetrator is found not in violation.”

The issue of underreporting, Murphy says, is due to apprehension stemmed from the victim’s fear of losing their career and from empirically the low number of punishments given to alleged perpetrators.

“Victims of sexual harassment, peer-to-peer or faculty-to-student, especially in the graduate community, we don’t report because there’s been very few cases where a report has been successful in removing the perpetrator from that person’s environment. And that’s pretty much across the board,” Murphy said. “Which is unfortunate, as far as, like, the tone within the graduate community, not that there’s statistical data that I could pull up right now, but, the tone in the graduate community is “it is safer for me not to report because even if I do, it will not make me any safer, and it has the potential to ruin my career.’”

Martin, although he maintains that the university specifically addresses and takes care of all cases of assault whether they be in the graduate or undergraduate community, does indicate the task force has a chance to engage in a meaningful discussion regarding supervisor or faculty related sexual assault.

“I think under-reporting is a problem with sexual assault just in general. In terms of if there it is a faculty to graduate student (issue), IOA investigates all reports of sexual assault regardless of whether the person being accused of committing the act is student, faculty or staff.” Martin said.  “It is not something that is tolerated by anyone and there are protections in place to prevent retaliation and to hopefully address some of the specific issues that come into if it’s a supervisor relationship or something like that/ I think that the fact that one of our co-chairs of our task force is a graduate student will bring that issue into the discussion.”

As a member of the task force in the graduate program, Murphy believes she can spark meaningful dialogue and create lasting change in an area she believes systemically needs reform across the nation.

“I don’t think, as a whole, universities focus a whole lot on their graduate population, and that is becoming more apparent with other issues. They’re kind of marginalized in other ways already. I am very lucky because I’m the co-chair of the task force, so there’s a student voice there,” Murphy said. “So, for my part, I’m not letting them forget about it. Not that the people sitting in that room had forgotten about it, and not that they would because they had brought it up in other conversations, but, for me, as part of what’s going on within the task force and the people that I work with there, we are all very cognisant that this is not a one-sided issue.”

 

Solutions Ahead

So what lies ahead in the future of the institution? One cannot be too sure of the changes that will take place as the university moves forward, however, the hopeful attitude was best summarized by the closing statement made by Angela Murphy.

“We, as a community, need to know what’s happening in our community. And if that’s ugly, at least we know and we can try to fix it. But if we keep pretending like everything is unicorns and butterflies hanging out at potter lake, then we are doing a disservice to the most valuable members of our community, and that’s everyone here. So I would say we need to know what’s going on, and then we need to work together to fix it. If that’s scary, tough.”

 

*a pseudonym was used to protect the identity of the student

– Corey Minkoff and Vijay Ramasamy