For the first time, anyone at Kansas University who becomes a victim of discrimination or harassment has one central place to call.
That would be the university’s office of Institutional Opportunity and Access, which opened at the beginning of the fall semester. And the number to call is 864-6414.
Before this year, reports of sexual harassment or racial discrimination from students, faculty or staff would have been directed to the university’s Department of Human Resources, or they may have been handled internally by an academic department, said Jane McQueeny, the director of the new IOA office.
“Now we have an office where this is what we do,” McQueeny said. “This is our passion.”
The office first made its presence known to many people at KU with a mandatory online sexual harassment training course, sent out early this month to all students, faculty and staff at KU’s Lawrence campus and the Edwards Campus in Overland Park. That’s more than 30,000 people altogether.
It’s the first-ever universitywide training course of any kind for KU, said Fred Rodriguez, KU’s vice provost for diversity and equity.
The measure was prompted partly by a letter last April from the U.S. Department of Education urging colleges and universities to take more action in response to sexual harassment and sexual violence, McQueeny said.
And, of course, such issues on college campuses have received more attention since the football scandal at Penn State University broke last year, Rodriguez noted.
The course addresses the definition of sexual harassment and sexual violence, relationships between students and faculty and where incidents of sexual harassment should be reported: to IOA.
So far, McQueeny said, 5,870 students of the 20,240 who were notified of the course have completed it, and 4,679 of 9,788 staff members have finished. During the first week since people were notified, about 8,000 took the course, she said. The course must be completed by Oct. 5.
“That’s really a pretty high response rate,” McQueeny said.
KU sophomore Miranda Wagner said Monday that she had taken the course a few days before, and it took her about 30 minutes to finish.
“I think it has really good intentions behind it,” Wagner said, “but I’m just not sure how much an online course is going to do.”
She said she doubted the course would change the mind of anyone who doesn’t take sexual harassment seriously already. But she said it succeeded in teaching her whom to contact in case of sexual harassment or violence.
McQueeny said the office would decide next year whether to continue to require the course of all students or just incoming students, based on its success this year. Incoming students are currently required to take an alcohol education course, as well.
The IOA office will handle and investigate complaints from all KU campuses, including the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., related to harassment, discrimination or accessibility for people with disabilities.
Another online training course, about accommodating students with disabilities, is required of all KU faculty members and some other staff members this fall. And one IOA staff member, McQueeny said, is working on a map of wheelchair-accessible routes between all the buildings on the Lawrence campus — a difficult task considering the hill- and stair-filled terrain.
“We’re looking broadly at how do we make our campus inclusive,” McQueeny said, “not just enforcing the law but making sure everybody understands their responsibilities under the law.”
The total cost to create the new IOA office, including the addition of two new employee positions, came to about $75,000, Rodriguez said.
People can file complaints with the office by calling 864-6414, or by visiting the website ioa.ku.edu.