Four Years Later
In 2014, national criticism led to a sexual assault task force at KU. Almost four years later, 21 of the 27 recommendations made by the task force have been enacted by KU, which has either refused to or scarcely implemented others.
Editor’s Note: This story is the second in the Kansan’s series on sexual assault at the University in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Every Monday in April, there will be a new story on the topic.
Almost four years ago, dozens of students occupied the lawn outside Strong Hall holding signs condemning the University for its handling of a recent rape on campus. The week prior, the rape — as well as the lenient punishment levied by the Student Affairs office — had been described in detail by the Huffington Post in an article that brought the University national attention.
In the four years since then, and three years since a Sexual Assault Task Force made recommendations for how to correct the sexual assault systems on campus, the University has acted swiftly, implementing some policy changes and consistently declining to implement others. Key University administrators involved in that case have also either seen promotions at the University, remained in their roles, or have gone on to be accused of mishandling cases at other institutions.
In that time, however, new offices have been created, mandatory sexual assault trainings have been instituted and an entire generation of students have come and gone — likely leaving a new generation oblivious to the insufficient system that came before them.
On Sept. 2, 2014, the Huffington Post article told the story of an anonymous KU student who, after attending a fraternity party in October 2013, was helped back to her dorm and raped by another student. She reported the incident to the KU Public Safety Office two days after it occurred. It then underwent investigation from the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access, which is responsible for investigating reports of sexual assault at the University.
During the IOA investigation, the student admitted to having non-consensual sex — saying he had sex with her even after she said “stop,” “no” and “I can’t do this.” As punishment, the Office of Student Affairs assigned him a reflection paper and counseling, banned him from University housing and placed him on probation.
After feeling that the sanctions levied by the University were too lenient, the female student appealed. In a statement approximately two weeks after the appeal was filed, Rachel Rolf — who was KU associate general counsel at the time — denied the appeal. According to documents included in the Huffington Post article, Rolf felt punishments from the University should be “educational” and not “punitive.” Rolf now serves as the interim head of KU’s general counsel.
The Lawrence Police Department and District Attorney Charles Branson also refused to investigate or prosecute the case further and as a result, the student filed a federal complaint against KU.
Following the Huffington Post article and reaction from students, then-Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little created a Sexual Assault Task Force charged with examining the University’s sexual assault policy and procedures.
Over the course of seven months, the 11-member task force investigated four main areas of sexual assault at the University: policy and process improvement, prevention practices, support and advocacy for student victims of crimes, and evaluation of Student Code of Rights and Responsibilities. In its final report, published May 1, 2015, the task force made 27 recommendations and by September 2015, the University said it had or was in the process of implementing 22 of those.
Alesha Doan, who currently works as a professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at the University, was the chair of the task force. Despite the fact that not all the recommendations were implemented, Doan described the shift from where the University was in 2014 to where it is now as a “success story.”
Doan credits a large part of this shift to the University’s implementation of one recommendation in particular: to create a central prevention and education resource center. Out of this recommendation came the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center which opened in 2016. In the two years since it opened, the office has, among other things, implemented several individual and group trainings and created consent-focused promotional materials.
In the almost four years since the Huffington Post article, the IOA has not seen an increase in funding from University administration. They have remained with a staff of five individuals: three investigators, a case manager and a director. Shane McCreery, current IOA director, took over in September 2016 after interim Director Josh Jones, who still works in the IOA as the deputy Title IX Investigator. Jones served as interim director following the resignation of Jane McQueeny — the woman in charge of the office at the time of the Huffington Post article.
“When I came on board, I put in some personal preferences, but I was not a change agent,” McCreery said. “[IOA] didn’t need to be rebuilt or anything.”
The IOA was a large part of many of the recommendations made in 2015 by the task force. One of these was to more clearly outline the process of making a complaint to the IOA. In 2017, the IOA received 25 sexual assault complaints, according to data obtained by the Kansan. This was the most received in a year since the office first opened in 2012 and is still much lower than statistics reported by organizations such as the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
In another recommendation, the University was encouraged to regularly publish data and information regarding sexual assault investigations for the public. The University listed this recommendation as “implemented” in its 2015 press release saying they would release updated information “at regularly scheduled intervals.” With the exception of results from a 2017 student survey over sexual assault and violence, the IOA has published no data.
According to McCreery, some sexual assault data is included in the annual Clery safety report, but since it only covers crimes occurring on-campus, it may not include all reported assaults. The office on campus that compiles data for the Clery report is the Office of Student Affairs.
During the mishandled rape allegations, Nick Kehrwald worked in the student affairs office as the director of Student Conduct and Community Standards. Two months after the publication of the Huffington Post article and the federal investigation into the University began, Kehrwald announced he was leaving KU to serve as the associate dean of Student Affairs at the University of Kentucky.
Since moving, Kehrwald has become the center of a separate federal investigation into the University of Kentucky. The lawsuit, which names Kehrwald specifically, was filed in August 2017. He has since been promoted to interim dean of students at the University of Kentucky.
The federal investigations into KU that began in 2014 have since closed. According to Jim Bradshaw, in the U.S. Department of Education Press Office, the Office for Civil Rights updates its website on the first Wednesday of every month with all of its current pending investigations. As of Wednesday, April 4, the website shows two pending investigations into the University.
These investigations, both opened Feb. 4, 2015, are listed as Title IX retaliation and sexual harassment cases. The details of these investigations, Bradshaw said, cannot be discussed by the Office for Civil Rights currently because they are ongoing.
The University remains staunch in not implementing some of the recommendations made by the task force almost three years ago. Some, according to Director of News and Media Relations Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, the University is still not considering. Others, the University listed in their 2015 press release as in the process of being implemented, saying they required cooperation from Student Senate or members of the greek community. Most of these do not appear to have been fully realized.
The 27 Recommendations
The following are the 27 recommendations made by the task force on May 1, 2015, and where the University currently stands on the implementation of each.
Charge 1: Policy and Procedures Improvement
In her first charge, former Chancellor Gray-Little asked the task force to review University policies related to sexual assault, as well as the way reports of sexual assault and harassment are investigated. The task force made eight recommendations in this area. The University has implemented four of these since then. In order to satisfy these four recommendations, the University revised the definition of “jurisdiction” in the student code, allowing for off-campus behavior to be included. The University also made information on how to report incidents more available and became a part of city-wide teams that address sexual violence.
The following are the four recommendations in this charge that have been implemented:
- Make procedures for filing a sexual assault complaint clear to public
- Develop an on-campus team for responding to sexual assault
- Encourage reporting of sexual assault to police
- Refine and specify definitions of sexual harassment and sexual assault
A majority of the recommendations in this charge, both implemented and not, involved the IOA. Several of the ones the University refused to implement in this charge had to do with modifications to IOA investigations. In a 2015 press release, the University said they didn’t need to require things such as hearings in all cases, or two investigators determining guilt based on evidence, because such things would be excessive or posed too many “logistical challenges.”
Current IOA Director Shane McCreery said implementing things such as the two-investigator model would be “aspirational,” but the office currently lacks the bandwidth. Although the University said the recommendation to provide information and data was implemented in its 2015 press release, the IOA currently has no original data available. The “Information and Data” section on the IOA website only has the results of the 2017 KU Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence survey conducted by several task force members, including chair Alesha Doan. McCreery said some data is included in “decentralized” in reports like the Clery Act, which reports annual crime statistics that occur on campus-owned property.
The following are the four recommendations in this charge that have not been implemented, or the University said it is in the process of implementing:
- Consistently provide information and data on sexual assault to public
- Separate investigation of sexual assault and sexual harassment among investigative staff members
- Require more than one investigator in review and final determination of complaints
- Allow student conduct hearings in all cases, not just those with potentially egregious sanctions
Charge 2: Prevention Practices
In their second charge, the task force addressed the University’s preventative practices and came up with 11 recommendations. Nine of these have been implemented. The implementation of several recommendations made in this area led to the creation of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center and development of trainings mandatory for all undergraduate and graduate students at the University.
The task force also encouraged the University to create a consistent message regarding sexual assault across all departments and offices, including communities such as fraternities and sororities in the development of this message.
The following are the nine recommendations that have been implemented in this charge:
- Create a central prevention and education research center
- Create prevention programs and trainings to all first-year students
- Make trainings and resources inclusive of all genders and sexualities
- Create a list of community resources and distribute it publicly
- Conduct further and more effective studies on preventing sexual assault
- Create and require prevention-focused training course for student leaders
- Develop comprehensive university messaging
- Create a sexual violence prevention advisory board
- Involve the greek community in developing prevention programming
One recommendation in this area that, according to News and Media Relations Director Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, the University is not considering is requiring that all first-year students live in University housing. According to the 2015 University press release, a lack of adequate housing was one reason this recommendation wasn’t possible. Barcomb-Peterson declined to specify why the University isn’t considering it currently.
Another recommendation in this charge was to modify the ways in which sororities and fraternities recruited members. In the 2015 press release, the University said it was in the process of implementing this, but the greek community had “opted to not change its practices.” The Kansan reached out to the Interfraternity Council, KU Panhellenic Council, and Director for Fraternity/Sorority Life Amy Long several times without response.
The following are the two recommendations in this charge that either haven’t been implemented or the University said it is in the process of implementing:
- Require all first-year students to live in campus housing
- Eliminating fraternity recruitment of high school students and considering moving all freshman recruitment to the spring semester
Charge 3: Support and Advocacy for Student Victims of Crime
The task force’s third charge was to look into resources and information available for sexual assault survivors at the University. The University has implemented five of the six recommendations made in this area by the task force. These recommendations included better educating and training individuals at the University who were mandatory reporters of sexual assault and, similarly to recommendations in the first charge, making resources more available to students and faculty. The task force also encouraged a better system for billing students for medical services at Watkins Health Center. Billing has been streamlined with offices like Counseling and Psychological Services and Watkins operating on the same billing system.
The following are the five recommendations that have been implemented in this charge:
- Establish partnerships with resources in the Lawrence community
- Increase visibility and expand publicity of resources available to students and employees
- Add statements about resources to existing message at bottom of all KU websites
- Require administrators to educate employees regarding their mandatory reporter status
- Streamline the billing for medical services
There is only one recommendation in this charge that the University has not implemented: Establishing a protocol for mandated reporters at the University. In this recommendation, the task force urged the University to implement a “consistent” protocol for University employees who are required to report instances of sexual assault or harassment to the IOA. The University said this would not be implemented because, according to the 2015 press release, it was an unnecessary step they felt would create confusion and possibly slow down investigations.
The following is the one recommendation that has not been implemented in this charge:
- Establish a consistent protocol for mandated reporters
Charge 4: Evaluation of Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities
The University has implemented both recommendations in this charge that asked the task force to review the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities. In its recommendations, the task force suggested the University revise two specific sections in the code. The University’s power to hear cases involving sexual assault and harassment, as well as intimate partner violence, the task force said, should extend to non-University properties. The recommendations were implemented in 2016 when the definition of “jurisdiction” in the code was amended to include off-campus behavior.
The following are the two recommendations made in this charge that have been implemented:
- Clarify the sexual violence and sexual harassment portion of Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities by incorporating off-campus jurisdiction
- Clarify the intimate partner violence portion of the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities by incorporating off-campus jurisdiction