KU task force suggests reforms to how school handles sexual assault

Kansas University’s Sexual Assault Task Force on Friday suggested big changes to the way KU handles campus rape.

Among them: Create an on-campus center for sexual assault prevention and education, require all freshmen — including fraternity members — to live in residence halls, and clarify in the student code that KU can discipline students for sexual violence that occurred off-campus if the victim was also a student.

The task force presented a total of 27 recommendations in its final report to KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.

Task force members heard from hundreds of people and did a large amount of research since convening last fall, said co-chairwoman Alesha Doan, associate professor of political science and chairwoman of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Recommendations range from short- to long-term and are anchored by prevention, Doan said. The center is the biggest priority because, under its umbrella, other recommendations could be implemented, overseen and evaluated, she said.

“Without a doubt it is the most important,” Doan said. She added that such a center should be independent of sexual assault investigators or gender-specific departments on campus.

Gray-Little repeatedly stressed the need for follow-through.

To guide KU’s next steps, the chancellor and Provost Jeff Vitter asked task force members to prioritize their recommendations, indicating their level of effectiveness and ease of implementation.

When it comes to Title IX — the federal law that, among other things, requires universities to ensure a safe learning environment by addressing and preventing sexual violence on campus — law requires much of universities. Gray-Little said they must be enforcers, resources to victims and quasi-legal bodies all at once.

That is a complex challenge, Gray-Little said.

“We cannot let our legal obligations prevent us from doing what is the best thing for our community,” Gray-Little said. “We need to figure out a way.”

Vitter asked how much the task force considered alcohol abuse.

“We grappled with it a lot,” Doan said. She said that while alcohol correlates with sexual assault it does not cause it, therefore it does not permeate the recommendations.

“Getting rid of alcohol does not get rid of the issue,” she said.

The campus housing suggestion is one that is linked to alcohol. Task force members said that’s in part because statistics indicate higher rates of sexual assault among fraternity men, most of whom live in chapter houses where alcohol is readily available their freshman year.

Requiring all freshmen to live in campus housing would help their transition from high school into college life, the report says. It would reinforce KU’s first-year programming by helping freshmen learn values such as respect and consent and learn about campus and community resources, the report said.

The task force’s full report is online at sataskforce.ku.edu.

The group’s recommendations are in the categories of policy, prevention, victim support and student code revisions.

Other recommendations cited as priorities by the task force include clarifying procedures for making a sexual assault complaint, as well as changing protocols to ensure that victims who report sexual or intimate partner violence to faculty or others at KU are immediately connected with a trained advocate, such as those at Lawrence’s GaDuGi SafeCenter and Willow Domestic Violence Center.

“The problems associated with rape and sexual assault at KU did not emerge overnight, nor will they be resolved in a similar time frame,” the task force’s conclusion says. “Consequently, a long-term, continual commitment by the University of Kansas is needed.”