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

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.