The University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., Missouri Science and Technology in Rolla, Mo., Kansas State University, and Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., are all on a list of over 70 colleges and universities under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for violations of sex discrimination.
The problem of violence on campuses has been under increasing scrutiny — plastered on the cover of news magazines, the front pages of papers and online blogs.
University Of Kansas under the microscope
Brothers of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Kansas wander downstairs to shoot some pool after dinner. A dapper and clean-cut assembly of young men, some shed their coats and ties required for the occasional dress dinners. Eventually, they amble over to sofas and chairs for a presentation by consultant Kristin Wing. She’s been asked to come to SAE, and a number of other fraternities, to give training sessions about sexual assault.
Her presentation begins with a video illustrating what is, and what is not, coercion. Wing follows up with a question and answer.
“So which of the following are examples of coercion?" she says. "‘Oh baby, if you loved me you would.’”
The guys answer “yes” in unison.
“I bought you dinner, you owe me,” she continues.
“Yes,” they respond.
One brother from the back says sarcastically “Maybe financially.”
But they all know the issue of sexual violence is no joke. Fraternities, in particular, have come under searing critique for some heinous behavior.
SAE is trying to change. It’s one of four frats on the KU campus that has gone dry in an effort to avoid the drunken debauchery that leads to sexual misconduct. And the young men of the SAE house know what’s at stake.
Their friends over at the Kappa Sigma House have been temporarily suspended as the Lawrence Police and the university investigate allegations of sexual assault at the Kappa Sigma House a few weeks ago.
Greeks are reluctant to malign other Greeks and SAE junior Dustin Truitt says no one yet knows what happened there. He will say this - the widespread coverage of the incident has polluted the reputation of the whole house.
“A lot of people are viewing their house as a group of men living pretty much as predators. They are not like that, I can guarantee you,” he says.
Sophmore Grant Stephens says he recently had an experience where he saw what might be a challenging situation for a female. He got involved.
"I didn't know if at first if it was the right thing to step in ... it was at the Jayhawk Cafe (and ) there was a girl not in the right state of mind ... so some guy started talking to her and I thought 'that is really weird because no one is talking to her except him,'" Stephens says.
They guy turned out to be the girl's brother, trying to get his sister to leave, but Stephens says he'd do the same thing again.
KU fraternities have been in the news the better part of a year. In October of 2013, a woman was raped in her college dorm following a raucous party at the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. The man confessed, but the district attorney decided not to file charges. But the University did hand down some consequences. The man was charged with “non-consensual sex,” put on probation, banned from university housing and asked to write an essay about alcohol and sexual activity, according to documents acquired by the Huffington Post.
Many felt the punishment was too lenient.
A student group produced and posted a video to YouTube called “KU- a Great Place To Be Unsafe.” In it, a woman looks into the camera and tells viewers she can’t recommend KU to students until it addresses the problem of sexual violence. Her statement is followed by a series of others listing specific demands they're asking for from the administration.
The Department of Justice reports one in five college women will be a victim of a rape or attempted rape over her college career. Fewer than 5 percent of those will be reported.
Jane McQueeny, director of the office that oversees sex discrimination policies at KU says the university takes all allegations seriously. She says two percent of the incidents are being reported at KU, but there has been a recent jump in the number of complaints.
McQueeny says this is a good thing — it means more people feel comfortable coming forward — however, she says, there need to be more.
"The two percent is consistent with the underreporting we see (and it remains) one of the major barriers to being able to address this issue on our campuses,” says McQueeny.
Emma Halling is a former student body president and one of the first to condemn KU for soft-pedaling the issue of sexual violence. She still believes the university isn’t doing enough.
“The offices at the University of Kansas have an obligation to protect the university and make sure it is run according to the rule and regulations," says Halling. "But even if a process is fully compliant, that doesn’t necessarily mean a victim ... won’t be more confused and won’t feel even more persecuted by the process.”
A problem around the country
The struggle at KU is being played out nationwide. California recently passed a Yes Means Yes policy, clarifying for University of California schools what consent means — not just that one party says "no," but that both say "yes."
The University of Missouri curators this month approved more than $1 million for sexual assault training at the request of President Tim Wolf. One of the system's universities, the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, is on the list of schools under federal investigation.
Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill has sponsored legislation that stiffens penalties, requires advocates for victims and mandates training of campus personnel among other things. On a recent visit to Avila College she told students and faculty she was shocked by one statistic.
“Forty percent of American colleges and universities said they had not done an investigation into sexual assault in five years,” she said. “That would be great if there was no sexual assault on those campuses, but we know that’s not the case.”
At the end of the training at the SAE house, the guys start horsing around in their sweats, and some retreat outside to play basketball.
As she prepares to leave the KU fraternity, consultant Kristin Wing wonders how much of her message is sinking in.
“When I asked if anyone knows what consent is, we saw all these heads bobbing and down. Now whether or not they understand the process of consent and how to have an adult conversation ... that is the ringer,” she says.
The Obama Administration created a task force earlier this year to study campus sexual assault. Colleges and universities are scrambling to beef up their policies. Now a voice has emerged to say they may have gone too far.
As if determining consent among inebriated young adults having sex in private wasn’t hard enough, some civil libertarians are protesting the new efforts. Prominent thinkers and publications are concerned that new policies may be violating the rights of those accused of rape, assault, or other gender-based violence, underscoring just what a complicated problem this is.