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