Health

Anti-Rape Activists Tell Prospective Students To Stay Away From The University Of Kansas

CREDIT: National Organization for Women (NOW)

Students at the University of Kansas have a serious message for any high schoolers who may be considering joining them on campus: Think twice about coming here, because you might not be safe at this school.

“Before you sign that acceptance letter just yet, there are a few things we want you to know,” warns a new video released this week by the September Siblings, a sexual assault prevention group on campus that’s been working to update KU’s policies in this area. “The University of Kansas is currently under investigation for mishandling cases of sexual assault.”

KU is one of more than 70 colleges and universities currently facing a federal Title IX investigation. Students across the country have increasingly been filing complaints alleging that their administrations are failing to follow the gender equity law, which requires them to adequately respond to instances of sexual violence on campus.

At KU specifically, outrage over inadequate campus policies was reignited earlier this month, after a Huffington Post article detailed a case in which the university decided that community service was too “punitive” of a punishment for an undergraduate who sexually assaulted a classmate. Instead, he was charged with “nonconsensual sex” and banned from university housing.

“I was just so baffled at how little of a punishment he was getting,” the woman who was raped by that student told the Huffington Post. “People need to know how little attention this is being given when they do come forward to the university.”

Student activists on campus agree. That’s why they decided to release an “anti-recruitment video” to dissuade people from choosing to attend KU. Playing off the university’s tagline “A Great Place to Be,” the new video is called “A Great Place to Be Unsafe.” They explain they can’t recommend the school until the administration meets some demands — like hiring a survivor advocate to assist in the adjudication process, increasing the budget for the women’s center on campus, instituting mandatory sexual assault training for all KU students, updating the school’s policies so that the minimum punishment for sexual assault exceeds the punishment for plagiarism, and eliminating the use of the term “nonconsensual sex” in place of “rape.”

“We decided as a group that we couldn’t in good faith encourage students to come to KU if the administration won’t protect us as students,” Liz James, a member of the September Siblings group, told ThinkProgress. “We thought we should be truthful and honest, and tell prospective students that KU is unsafe. Until the administration does something about it, we can’t stand behind it, even though we love KU so much. We’re doing this because we care about our university.”

James explained that students are frustrated by what they see as KU administrators seeking to sweep rape under the rug. “I would rather that universities owned up to it and tried to address the issue, instead of trying to pretend that sexual assaults don’t happen,” she said.

The KU activists aren’t the first to make that point. As the campus sexual assault crisis has been put in the national spotlight over the past year, members of Congress have urged schools to become more transparent about what exactly they’re doing to address violence on campus. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who are leading the effect to pass legislation in this area, are counting on the fact that publicly shaming colleges will spur them to improve. The feminist group UltraViolet recently ran ads warning prospective students against attending several prominent schools that, like KU, are currently subject to Title IX investigations.

Advocates have also pushed to update college ranking systems to include more information about sexual assault, arguing that every prospective college student deserves to know whether their future schools are safe. That position is actually popular among schools, too. A poll released this week found that 61 percent of admissions officers believe that information about rape policies should be included in the influential U.S. News & World Report rankings.

“We’re not going to back down until we get our demands,” James said. “These are important things that affect every student on campus. We want KU to be a great place to be — not a great place to be unsafe.”