Group of KU greeks form task force to respond to sexual assault allegations

Kappa Sigma fraternity at 1045 Emery Road on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014.

A group of Kansas University fraternity and sorority members have formed a new task force addressing sexual assault within the greek community following recent sexual assault allegations concerning two campus fraternities.

Just after midnight Monday, a KU student reported, a rape had occurred at a party at Kappa Sigma fraternity, 1045 Emery Road, while the victim was “impaired,” Lawrence Police Department spokesman Sgt. Trent McKinley said.

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little approved placing the fraternity on interim suspension Tuesday night, and the fraternity was notified Wednesday.

The Lawrence Police Department and KU are conducting separate investigations into the sexual assault allegations, which Gray-Little described as “serious and disturbing.”

Nearly a week after the most recent assault is alleged to have occurred, police have not made an arrest, nor have they released any further information about the incident and those involved.

Gray-Little said Wednesday that there were multiple allegations, while McKinley mentioned only one sexual assault was reported at Kappa Sigma in a Wednesday press release. McKinley said he announced only one assault had occurred because the incident is still under review.

“In our investigation, we have not released the names, ages or number of victims, witnesses or suspects involved due to the investigation being ongoing,” McKinley said. “The investigation will likely continue for some time and those numbers continue to change, so I did not want to be that specific.”

The national Kappa Sigma organization also suspended the KU chapter’s membership. A KU Kappa Sigma member told a reporter who went to the house Wednesday that the group would have no comment and told the reporter to leave and not come back.

In September, the Journal-World reported that a woman said she was assaulted after drinking at an off-campus fraternity party in October 2013 and later filed a complaint with the KU Interfraternity Council about the party.

Kevin Simpson, IFC president, said that Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, which hosted the party, was found responsible for holding the event improperly and received sanctions from the IFC judicial board for violating social policy. The issue of a possible sexual assault committed by a fraternity pledge was not addressed, but passed on to an administrative office.

Lambda Chi Alpha refused to speak on the matter.

On Thursday, a group of greek men and women released a video challenging the greek community to address sexual consent in response to the allegations. The video, made by the newly formed “KU Greek Task Force,” is composed of greek members from nearly all organizations — including Kappa Sigma — calling for a change in how the campus subculture treats sex, KU Greek Task Force and Beta Theta Pi member Colin Thomas said.

“It’s time to have an honest discussion about sexual assault, consent and responsibility,” task force members said in the video. “We pledge to educate our members about what sexual assault is and how it impacts the victims, their friends, family and the community at large.”

KU student health educator Jenny McKee said the way young people talk about rape needs to be altered if sexual assault statistics are to shrink. McKee said many college students are simply uninformed about what constitutes sexual assault.

“If you start asking, ‘Have you ever talked someone into having sex?’ or ‘Have you every had sex while your partner was drunk?’ instead of ‘Have you raped someone?’ effectiveness is going to improve,” McKee said.

McKee said in order to make changes, groups need to first address the “hookup culture” that persists not only in the greek community, but on campus as a whole.

“There’s a significant culture on campuses of people going out with expectations of drinking and hooking up,” McKee said. “How can we explain to someone that it’s illegal to have sex when they’re drunk when that’s the pre-existing culture?”

The tasks force hopes to change that culture, starting with the greek community, said Morgan Said, student body president and Pi Beta Phi sorority member.

“The conversation has to begin in order for the greek community to be a safe and welcoming environment,” Said said.

While the task force is made up of fraternity and sorority members, it is entirely separate from the governing bodies of greek life, Said said.

According to a 2007 government-funded study of campus sexual assault by the U.S. Department of Justice, sorority membership is a risk factor for sexual assault because members are more apt to associate with fraternity men. The study said fraternity men are more likely to commit sexual assault or aggression than non-greek men.

“Almost a quarter of sexual assault victims are sorority members. Students living in sorority houses are three times as likely to be victims of sexual assault than nonsorority women,” Said said. “These statistics should not be reflective of our campus.”

Said said one of the reasons why sexual assault persists in the greek community is refusal to address the topic.

“There is a total lack of education in the greek system,” Said said. “The lack of action-oriented support the greek system receives is why we didn’t take that avenue (of going through the councils.)”

Instead, the task force stands separate from any official organization, calling itself a coalition of concerned individuals who happen to be leaders in the greek community. Members include Simpson, Panhellenic president Maggie Young and other IFC and Panhellenic executive board members.

“It’s crucial we start to address these issues. We want chapters to have conversations and hold members accountable,” Simpson said. “There’s no other option at this point.