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Protests at KU continue with sit-in outside chancellor’s office

University of Kansas students, continuing calls for justice for a student who said she was drugged and sexually assaulted at a fraternity house last weekend, held a sit-in Friday afternoon at Strong Hall.

Demonstrators sitting just outside administrative offices called on Chancellor Douglas Girod to ban the fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, and crack down on what many said was a chronic issue of sexual assault in KU Greek life. 

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The sit-in followed two nights of protests earlier this week that amassed hundreds of students at the fraternity house on behalf of “Jane Doe,” a KU student who said one of the members had sexually assaulted her. 

“[Sexual assault] is a known issue, particularly in Greek life. A lot of sorority women have brought this forward year after year, and I teach a lot of them. Those women are my students,” said Kelsey Carls, a graduate student pursuing a PhD in women, gender and sexuality studies. “KU wants to keep treating every time something like this happens like it’s an isolated event and it’s not, it’s a pattern and they’ve done nothing to address it.”

KU launched a formal investigation into the alleged sexual assault, Girod announced in a message to campus Tuesday, after the first night of protests at the fraternity. Phi Kappa Psi leaders were cooperative and Lawrence Police Department officials were aware of the report, Girod said.

Lucy Peterson / The Lawrence Times KU students gather outside administrative offices in Strong Hall for a sit-in, Sept. 17, 2021.

But demonstrators occupying the second floor of Strong Hall demanded more. They chanted “Ban Phi Psi” and “We believe her,” outside of the locked chancellor’s office.

“We need to send a message to Chancellor Girod firsthand that it’s his responsibility to take action, and to believe survivors and to suspend the fraternities that have proven that they have a culture of sexual violence,” said Emma Hopkins, a senior studying women, gender and sexuality studies.

The crowd grew to about 70 people after the protest began at 1 p.m. Friday, some finishing homework and missing classes to be present at the protest. Organizers of the protest, who remain anonymous on an Instagram account called @fckpkp, were planning to hold the sit-in until 1 a.m. Saturday. 

KU Student Affairs staff members were present at the protest speaking with students, but were not discussing details of the investigations “to ensure the health, welfare and rights of all individuals involved,” KU spokesperson Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said in an email to the Times.

Tejaswi Nimmagadda, a freshman from Overland Park studying biology, attended the sit-in and the two protests at Phi Kappa Psi on Monday and Tuesday. Although she was encouraged by her fellow students to protest for change, she said she hopes KU will protect survivors of sexual assault so protests aren’t necessary in the future.

“Holding people accountable for something like this is really important because, right now, they’re just getting away with it,” Nimmagadda said. “I hope that changes in the future to stop encouraging this to happen again and again.”

Lucy Peterson / The Lawrence Times KU students gather outside administrative offices in Strong Hall for a sit-in, Sept. 17, 2021.

University governance leaders joined students in offering their support for the survivor in a message to campus Thursday.

“We know that the recent incidents of sexual assault are still under investigation, but while we believe in due process, we also believe survivors and stand with the young woman whose college career was disrupted in this horrific way last weekend,” the message said. “We are all thinking of you, Jane Doe; you have a community on this campus that will be here to support you, and peers that are fearlessly seeking justice for you.”

The letter was signed by faculty, senate and student leaders of university governance.

KU has received public scrutiny for its handling of sexual violence on campus in the past. In 2014, the Huffington Post reported that after a student accused of sexual assault allegedly admitted to it, KU did not require any community service because it was “too punitive.”

In years that followed, KU faced two Title IX lawsuits that said the university had retaliated against two rowers who reported that they were sexually assaulted by football players. The lawsuits were settled in 2017.

In his message to campus addressing the recent protests, Girod said KU was committed to continue educating its students on sexual assault prevention and bystander intervention. But demonstrators Friday afternoon said they want action to make KU a safe space for everyone.

“Saying KU is not a space for [sexual assault] when it clearly is doesn’t do anything for students,” Hopkins said. “Ultimately, we’re here to show solidarity and support for Jane Doe and advocate for whatever the survivor thinks justice looks like.”

Lucy Peterson / The Lawrence Times KU students gather outside administrative offices in Strong Hall for a sit-in, Sept. 17, 2021.

Resources for survivors

If you have experienced sexual violence or trauma, please seek the help that’s right for you. There are many options available, and you don’t have to file a police report if you don’t want to.

Get 24/7 help in Lawrence: The Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center
  • Call 785-843-8985 to reach an advocate, 24/7. (Consider saving that number in your phone in case you or someone you know ever needs it.)
  • After an assault: What are my options? Check this page for detailed information about
    • talking to an advocate,
    • going to the hospital,
    • making a police report,
    • and/or talking to a counselor or therapist.
  • On campus? Check this page for specific resources for the University of Kansas, Haskell Indian Nations University, Baker University, Ottawa University and more.
Resources on KU’s campus:
  • Contact CARE (Campus Assistance, Resource, and Education) Coordinator Merrill Evans: Make an appointment with Merrill by email, care@ku.edu, or by calling 785-864-9255.
  • Direct message KU CARE Sisters on Instagram. You don’t need to be affiliated with Greek Life to reach out and/or receive assistance.
  • Find more KU campus resources at this link.
Domestic violence situations: The Willow Domestic Violence Center
  • Reach the Willow for help 24/7 at 785-843-3333.
  • Find more resources on the Willow’s website at this link.
  • National hotline: Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text “START” to 88788, and/or visit thehotline.org to chat and learn more, 24/7.

Related coverage:

Lucy Peterson / The Lawrence Times

KU quietly reorganizes office that investigates sexual violence; longest-serving director left a month ago

In less than four months, the office at the University of Kansas that receives and investigates reports of sexual and gender-based violence has undergone a rebranding and replaced all but one of its staff members — including the former director — unbeknownst to most of the KU community.

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