Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Letter to the Editor From KU English Department

Letter to the Editor: Faculty has the responsibility to address sexual assault

Posted: Monday, October 6, 2014 4:38 pm | Updated: 5:01 pm, Mon Oct 6, 2014. 
Dear KU Community,
The Department of English wishes to take up the challenge issued by the September Siblings and other students to examine the institutional climate in which sexual violence has been able to cause widespread and too-often unacknowledged suffering. Specifically, we wish to answer the call made by Alesha Doan, Chair of WGSS and co-chair of the Sexual Assault Task Force to follow these students’ courageous example and continue to speak out. It is our responsibility as a community to keep breaking the silence, to draw attention to the pervasive patterns of sexual violence which our culture tolerates, to call for and actively support changes in policy and implementation that prevent and punish such violence, and to make ourselves and others accountable for seeing that such changes become permanent.
In our role as an academic unit, we can best address this through teaching and research. We often witness the impact of sexual violence on the lives of our students. In our classrooms, we need to practice structuring inclusive conversations about systemic violence and sexual assault and the pain and damage they cause. There are many ways we can do this — through the texts we teach, in discussion of current events and by using language that respects the seriousness of sexual violence. These conversations can connect students with one another and with their teachers in ways that produce powerful learning experiences, even as they raise consciousness about a pervasive and deadly problem. Teachers need to be trained in leading discussion around these issues as well as in how to best provide first-response support. As instructors, we need to be ready to direct students who confide in us to resources that can provide the strongest forms of survivor advocacy (e.g. the Emily Taylor Resource Center and Lawrence-based GaDuGi). As an institution we need to act to ensure that those resources are truly robust.

The task force has been charged by our chancellor with examining KU policy, practices and sanctions, the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities, and the adequacy of survivor services and prevention programs. Even as members began working on these immediate goals, their first meeting also powerfully highlighted our responsibility and our opportunity as a research institution to become a national leader in prevention and survival. Two of our Bold Aspirations strategic initiatives, “Promoting Wellbeing” and “Building Communities,” invite us to link research opportunities with prevention programs, to generate and analyze data and to open up critical conversations that together can drive decisions about prevention, safety and survivor needs.

We are proud of our students for speaking out and we take their demands seriously. We are grateful to the task force members who have taken on this crucial work. We need to help put their recommendations into action through our teaching, our research, and our service as citizens of KU and the larger community beyond the campus. In these ways, we can help uproot norms that enable sexual pressure and assault on campus even as we make meaningful contributions to a nationwide conversation whose urgency must not be allowed to fade.

Anna Neill
Professor and Chair
Department of English

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

KU continues to brag about sexual assault numbers

At Chancellor Gray-Little’s Panel on Sexual Assault on September 19, 2014, Provost Jeffrey Vitter bragged about the numbers of plagiarism versus sexual assault expulsions at KU in an effort to diminish the demands of the September Siblings.  These stats have been picked up and repeated in the local and national media:

"Out of 309 incidents of academic misconduct, including cheating and plagiarism, only two students were expelled and three were suspended by the university during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years at KU. By comparison, KU officials noted, 12 sexual assault investigations over a similar period resulted in six suspensions or expulsions.”  See HuffPost article from September 24, 2014.

As part of our original demands, the September Siblings seek a minimum punishment for sexual assault that exceeds the punishment of plagiarism — This demand stands.  We are less-interested in the previous two-year's ratio of expelled plagiarizers to the ratio of expelled rapists because they are different crimes — one an academic integrity violation, another a violation of a human body and of power over the oppressed.  We hold true that sexual assault crimes require a harsher punishment than violations of academic integrity as a matter of policy, and that this policy is enforced.  Whereas a plagiarizer most likely copy-and-pasted a paper from the internet, sexual assault inflicts force, abuse, and trauma on a person (typically with a status of less-power in society), thus altering the trajectory of the victim’s lives, and their overall success and access at KU.

Based on information from the Huffington Post article on September 2, 2014, the September Siblings, the larger KU community, and the nation saw that an admitted rapist was required to write a reflection essay as punishment, but community service was deemed “too punitive” —this is not the same punishment of a guilty plagiarizer, and the September Siblings demand more.

Also, comparing and touting the university numbers of plagiarizers to rapists, fails to recognize that a majority of sexual assault cases go unreported.  The ridiculously small number of reported cases at KU were likely by some informed victims certain they could establish a “preponderance” of evidence because data show that a far greater number of sexual assaults likely occurred. Given that perhaps as many as 2,766 women out of 13,831 (1 in 5) and 788 men out of 13,137 (6%) from the 2013-2014 KU student population will be assaulted over a four-year period based on national estimates from the Campus Sexual Assault study; in other words, that’s about 889 victims per year. These are not numbers to brag about.

In fact, because of all of the recent attention on the issue of sexual assault on campuses, 19 new cases of sexual assault and harassment at KU were reported in the month of September -- that’s more cases in one month than were reported over the span of two years -- and those numbers would certainly outpace the numbers for academic misconduct.  Now, IOA says they will launch a new 2014 student survey to gauge sexual assault occurrences, which should give us all a better understanding of how prevalent and pervasive the problem is at KU.

Finally, the September Siblings wish to call attention to the fact that there is no set standard procedure or punishment at KU for sexual assault crimes unlike many universities, although KU is certainly not alone in it’s failures. In fact, it is likely that students found guilty of sexual assault by their universities can rest assured there's a good chance they won’t be kicked out of school.”  Thus, we request that the task force works to suggest a better and strong procedure with harsher punishments in place that, at minimum, exceed standard punishments for academic misconduct.  In the meantime, the September Siblings will continue to raise awareness and work for a culture where sexual aggression is no longer idealized on our campuses and in our communities. Our safety and futures depend on it.  Until then, KU remains #aGreatPlaceToBeUnsafe.

Friday, September 26, 2014


KU Students Continue To Protest Sexual Assault Policies Despite Panels, Promises Of Change

Posted: Updated:
The administration at the University of Kansas has not had an easy month.

For the second time in less than a week, Jane McQueeny, a KU administrator in charge of sexual assault investigations at the university, spoke to students Tuesday afternoon about how the school handles reports of rape on campus. Just a few days earlier, McQueeny joined KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and other officials at a Sept. 18 panel to answer questions from students on the same topic.

Student activism on campus and online over how the university handles sexual violence has put continued pressure on the administration, and helped to prompt Gray-Little to announce on Sept. 11 that the university would create a task force of students, faculty and staff to review policies around sexual misconduct on campus.

"Every member of the KU community has an obligation to help shape the climate in which we work and study," Gray-Little said in an email outlining the task force and panel. "I look forward to us all working together as we make sure that KU is a safe place for every member of our community. A single instance of sexual assault is one too many."

Leaders of colleges facing criticism over sexual assault do not frequently field questions from students on the topic in public. But attendance at the Sept. 18 panel was less than half of the turnout for a student-organized forum the week before, on Sept. 9, according to students who attended both events.

The administration's actions and student activism follow a Huffington Post report earlier this month that the university considered community service too "punitive" as a punishment for "nonconsensual sex." Students reacted by creating a video -- which included one anonymous survivor's account of her sexual assault -- to warn people the campus was not safe.

KU's handling of the case has led to a federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

More sexual assault survivors have come forward since the launch of the investigation. One unnamed student told the University Daily Kansan, a student newspaper, that when the university determined a male student who forced himself on her while she was drunk was responsible for "non-consensual contact," ‎Director of Student Conduct & Community Standards Nick Kehrwald determined no punishment would be levied since the perpetrator hadn't actually violated the sexual harassment policy.

Acting student body president Emma Halling told The Huffington Post that she has referred other survivors directly to federal investigators.

"My biggest concern right now is while, yes, our policies on face look like they're compliant, in the actual process students are so alienated and disserved that they end up feeling worse about the process than when they went in," Halling said.

Students have staged demonstrations on campus, and condemned the university for its penalties for sexual assault, saying punishments such as having to write a "reflection paper" are "as easy as passing a class": 

Hobbes Entrikin, a student activist with anti-sexual assault group September Siblings, said staffers at the university's student affairs office have asked students why they continue to organize protests since the chancellor's email announced the review of university policies.

"[The university] is clearly not listening now, and they have clearly not been listening in the past," Entrikin said. "How are students expected to have faith in this new student-faculty task force when committees like this have traditionally been unproductive?"

Overall, Entrikin said, university officials seem more concerned with complying with Title IX, the gender equity law that requires colleges to address sexual violence and harassment, than with stopping sexual assault altogether. Ze noted KU's administration has still not responded to a list of specific demands from the September Siblings.

"I do not know what it will take for the administration to accept their students’ demands," Entrikin said. "We want to be proud of our school, but I cannot be proud of a university that pretends to protect victims of sexual violence, when they are really only protecting themselves."

One of the group's demands calls for the university to ensure the punishment for sexual assault is more severe than sanctions for plagiarism.

However, according to information supplied by the university to HuffPost, out of 309 incidents of academic misconduct, including cheating and plagiarism, only two students were expelled and three were suspended by the university during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years at KU. By comparison, KU officials noted, 12 sexual assault investigations over a similar period resulted in six suspensions or expulsions.

More than 1,200 people have signed a petition calling for, among other changes, a process to allow students to appeal the judgments in sexual assault and harassment complaints since 2012.

Hobbes Entrikin requested The Huffington Post use the pronoun "ze" to reflect Entrikin's non-binary gender identity.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Student Senate resolution condemns University of Kansas sexual assault policies

Posted: Wednesday, September 10, 2014 11:54 pm | Updated: 2:33 pm, Fri Sep 12, 2014.
Student Senate unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday that condemns the University for its handling of reported sexual assaults. It was written and presented by Emma Halling, interim student body president.
“If you are a victim of rape at this University, you are treated like a liability and not a human being,” Halling said.
In the middle of her speech about the resolution, Halling, a senior from Elkhart, Ind., held back tears as she told senators and present administrators of her own sexual assault story.

She said she was sexually assaulted in high school, but coping as a survivor has been difficult for her on campus.

“For people who don’t think sexual assault and rape are traumatizing, let me tell you what it looks like,” Halling said. “It looks like walking down the boulevard and thinking you see someone who looks like your assailant, and being immediately transported back to that situation.”

Halling has been vocal in her condemnation of the University since The Huffington Post article detailing how the University handled one sexual assault case was published. On Wednesday she was not only one of the loudest critics of the University, but spoke as a survivor.

She said she wants people to realize the breadth and depth of the subject. Halling said she knows it can really impede a student’s ability to succeed at the University, and it’s something she can speak to personally.

“It is traumatic,” Halling said. “It inhibits your ability to pursue an education, and we are not doing a damn thing about it.”

It was clear that those who spoke about the sexual assault situation were ready for a change. Halling and Angela Murphy, Student Senate graduate affairs director, have been serving on the Title IX Roundtable since its creation last fall.

Murphy, who is the treasurer and development director for the roundtable, said she hasn’t felt like student policy change suggestions have been taken seriously.

Halling, Murphy and Interim Student Body Vice President Tyler Childress sat down Friday afternoon with the Chancellor and the provost.

Halling said she was inspired by the conversations at the meeting. She said the Chancellor was interested in every detail of the process and that the three students were able to provide a lot of input.
Murphy said she is optimistic and believes that this is the right climate for the University to set a standard for sexual assault policies.

“This is a great time for KU to set a national standard for how sexual assault is addressed at institutions of higher education,” Murphy said. “I think we have the momentum, we have the right people in place, especially in the student body and I do think we have an administration who is open to hearing these things.”

Morgan Said, a senior from Kansas City, Mo., and student body president elect, said she plans to continue working with Halling and administration on Title IX initiatives.

“Student Senate acted quickly and very directly, something that I don’t think we can say about the University administration at this point in time,” Said said.

Said said she and Natalie Parker, a senior from Overland Park and vice chair of Rights Committee, sat down with Jane Tuttle, assistant vice provost of Student Affairs, on Tuesday to discuss concerns. The pair also urged Tuttle to have someone from Student Affairs attend the open forum on sexual assault at the ECM that night. No one from the office attended, Halling said.

Tuttle, who was in attendance at Wednesday’s full Senate meeting, declined to comment when approached by The Kansan.

— Edited by Emily Brown

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

University Daily Kansan: Strong Hall protest aims to keep sexual assault policies in the spotlight


Strong Hall protest aims to keep sexual assault policies in the spotlight

Posted: Tuesday, September 16, 2014 8:03 pm | Updated: 8:41 pm, Tue Sep 16, 2014. 
Connor Bowman was one of two men sitting among a growing crowd of women on the lawn of Strong Hall on Tuesday afternoon. He held a sign that read, "Parking Violation = $$, RAPE = ...?" Women were there to protest sexual assault policies, and Bowman was right there alongside them to show his support. "I think the gender gap speaks to a larger issue here," Bowman said. "Maybe it's a sign that there should be an effort to change that about our culture." Bowman has noticed many sexual assault awareness training sessions focus on steps women can take in order to avoid putting themselves in those situations. However, he noted, people don't often take into consideration the man’s actions and how we should address them.

"Everyone always says that women shouldn’t let themselves get drunk enough to put themselves in that situation, which is true,” Bowman said. “But at the same time, they should be able to feel safe no matter what.”

Bowman and several other students voiced their opinions at the Sit Down to Stand Up protest Tuesday afternoon. Dozens of supporters sat on the lawn of Strong Hall holding signs that read, “Our bodies are not learning experiences for rapists” and “Only yes means yes,” among several others.
Zoe Fincher, a sophomore from Lawrence, organized the protest. After she made the event on Facebook, Hobbes Entrikin, a member of September Siblings, messaged her and asked if September Siblings could join her cause.

Fincher wasn’t shocked by the article published in the Huffington Post or by the scrutiny the University has been under in the past two weeks. She said she hopes this protest will combine with other similar protests across the country to create a national discussion. She said her main goal in organizing the protest was to spread the word and gain media attention.

“KU doesn’t want the attention, but it’s what we need if we are going to fix this,” Fincher said.
Fincher specifically planned the protest a couple weeks after the article came out so people wouldn’t forget it after a couple days and move on.

“If we stop talking about it, then it will just get pushed back under the rug and nothing will get fixed,” Fincher said.

Both students and alumni were present at the protest. Among the crowd were CJ Brune and Christine Smith, two women who were part of February Sisters, a women’s rights group on campus in the 70s. Brune and Smith were both part of a similar protest in February 1972 when they were fighting for affirmative action and a daycare at the University.

“It’s been a problem for years,” Brune said. “And the worst part was that they made the woman feel like the perpetrator, like it was her fault.”

Neither of them are surprised by the problems.

“When we were in college, they would essentially just tell girls just to ‘relax and enjoy it,’ and apparently that’s still their attitude,” Smith said.

The September Siblings gave a list of demands to the Institutional Opportunity and Access and the University they would like to see the administration adhere to. They requested the demands be met by spring 2015, but have yet to hear from administration.

Last week Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little formed a sexual assault task force that will review current policies and practices, and provide recommendations on how they can be improved. Since this announcement, no recognizable changes have been made.

Emma Halling, student body president, showed her support at the protest. The last contact with IOA or the University she had was almost two weeks ago. She said she is concerned the task force was created just to pacify the people so scrutiny will go away and no changes will be made.
“They’re aware that the spotlight is on them,” Halling said. “The fact that this is occurring after the task force was created shows that more needs to be done.”

Until those demands are met, students like Fincher and members of the September Siblings will continue to rally support and raise awareness on campus. By using hashtags like #AGreatPlaceToBeUnsafe and #dontexploreku, they hope to convince the University to change its policies.

“KU has a great opportunity to become a national leader from all of this,” Bowman said. “The students recognize that there’s a problem, and they should be mad. But the overall message is a positive one.”

— Edited by Casey Hutchins