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.