University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little promised Thursday to review how the school handles sexual assault cases, following a report by The Huffington Post that a student found guilty of "nonconsensual sex" by KU was only slapped with probation and a four-page paper to write as sanctions. Since that story came out Tuesday, students have been loudly criticizing their school's failure to take stronger action.
"If you feel unsafe, then I and the rest of the university leadership have a responsibility to do what we can to make changes so you do feel safe," Gray-Little said in a statement.
The Lawrence, Kansas, university is under federal investigation in response to a complaint filed by a student, now a sophomore, who had reported she was raped as a freshman in October 2013. The accused student told KU campus police that he continued sexual intercourse with her for 15 minutes after she said "no" and "stop," until he reached orgasm. Following a university investigation, he was punished with probation, a ban on student housing and a so-called reflection paper. The school considered adding community service, but decided against it because that would be "strictly punitive."
After the HuffPost report, students unleashed a hail of angry tweets under the hashtag #aGreatPlaceToBeUnsafe -- a play on the KU slogan, "A great place to be ..." (Examples of those tweets are embedded below.)
On Wednesday, during the first student senate meeting of the year, a committee unanimously passed a resolution condemning the university's handling of sexual violence. Interim student body president Emma Halling said she expects it to sail through the full senate in the coming days.
"As a campus, when we see students not getting substantial consequences for raping other students, people who may be deterred by sanctions see and learn they can do that and pretty much get away scot-free," she told The Huffington Post Thursday. "And victims learn it's not worth it to go through the process."
Since the HuffPost story, Halling said, a number of sexual assault survivors have reached out to her, knowing of her work on sexual assault issues last year, and said they, too, were failed by the university's adjudication of their cases. She directed them to officials from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which is running the federal investigation.
The student newspaper, The University Daily Kansan, reported Thursday that school administrators declined to say anything when the paper reached out for comment. Al Jazeera experienced similar stonewalling.
The Kansan's editorial board condemned the university's handling of such cases, saying the administration "should be ashamed."
Meanwhile, outrage erupted on Twitter.
According to one tweet, a professor responded to the university's insistence that the student conduct disciplinary process is meant to be educational with a message on his white board: "Our bodies are not here to provide learning experiences for rapists."
In answer to a suggestion by the offender's lawyer that the victim's decision to use birth control implied that she had intended to have sex that night, students began tweeting about their own contraceptive use:
I get a birth control shot every three months. Tell me how long that consent lasts? #aGreatPlaceToBeUnsafe
— Glynis Thompson (@glynisht) September 4, 2014
— Emily Jones (@shmemilyj) September 3, 2014
The victim, who requested anonymity, told HuffPost on Thursday that she's "thrilled" with the support from her fellow students, who don't even know her name.
"I couldn't be happier that people are reacting the way they are," she said. "It makes me feel like I'm finally getting the justice I deserve because people are finally paying attention -- not only to me, but to the corrupt system we victims have to go through. I'm so proud to have so many people on my side."
In her statement, Gray-Little asked students to take part in an upcoming sexual assault awareness week, sponsored by a student feminist group and the Emily Taylor Center for Women & Gender Equity.
More from angry and disappointed students:
I've always been extremely proud to be a KU student. Right now I'm extremely embarrassed. #aGreatPlaceToBeUnsafe
— Matt Trussell (@trussellsprouts) September 4, 2014
Having helped review policies to protect student rights, I'm enraged about KU's disgusting handling of blatant rape. #aGreatPlaceToBeUnsafe
— Natalie Parker (@natkparker) September 4, 2014
Main image via Flickr: Tristan Bowersox