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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.

Just days removed from large campus protests over an alleged sexual assault at KU’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, the quiet reorganization of the office responsible for investigating sexual misconduct and violence raises new questions of how it is handling such claims.

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KU did not publicly share information about the director change, nor did it inform prominent constituents in the process. The student body president, one of KU’s top spokespeople, and an entity that KU is partnering with to overhaul its investigative process were all unaware of the director’s departure — which happened just more than a month ago — until the Times informed them of it this week.

The lack of communication surrounding changes to the office, which top university officials have regularly cited as a resource in response to campus outrage, concerned Student Body President Niya McAdoo. Even before, some students were “unaware of how they can use this office in the first place,” they said. 

“This can be a good opportunity for us as a campus to finally reconcile that we do have this issue [of sexual violence] and we need the Title IX office to be more purposeful in informing students on how they can use this resource on campus,” McAdoo said. 

Joshua Jones started serving as the director of KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access in 2018. Jones was a longtime member of the institution’s Title IX Office, joining in 2015 — just three years after the office was created on campus.

But according to an automated response from Jones’ KU email address Monday, he hasn’t worked at KU since Aug. 20. The response directed anyone with questions to contact the newly named Office of Civil Rights and Title IX. 

KU published a news release on Sept. 9 announcing the office’s new name, but did not mention that its director of three years left weeks earlier. 

In addition to Jones’ departure, KU’s Office of Civil Rights and Title IX also appears to have lost all but one of its previous five staff members since May. The office’s website now lists five employees, including a new interim director — most of whom are so new to the university they don’t yet have photos on the online staff page

University spokesperson Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, when reached Monday afternoon, was unaware that Jones was no longer in his position and that new employees had been hired in the office. 

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Demetrius Peterson, an attorney at the Husch Blackwell firm in Kansas City, Missouri, is currently listed as the office’s interim director. Peterson served as the interim director of the equivalent office at Kansas State University from January to March, and before that served as in-house legal counsel for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Barcomb-Peterson said in an email that Peterson is serving as a “bridge leader” for the office as the university searches for a new director to be in place by Jan. 1, 2022.

Two new Title IX investigators are undergoing internal training for KU’s Title IX procedures and external training modules from the State University of New York’s Student Conduct Institute, as KU continues investigating the alleged fraternity sexual assault. The university announced it launched an investigation after a protest outside of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity amassed hundreds of demonstrators on Monday, Sept. 13.

The office is also in the process of hiring a senior investigator to oversee the team of four, which comprises Peterson and three investigators, Barcomb-Peterson said.

Despite the high turnover the office has faced since its formation, Barcomb-Peterson said KU is confident in its investigation processes and “for years have been investing resources in the office that undertakes Title IX investigations,” she said.

“Nationally, Title IX offices are challenged by a shortage of investigators, but we are fortunate to have our four investigator roles filled,” Barcomb-Peterson said in an email.

As director, Jones also led KU’s Culture of Respect Collective initiative, a national program working to evaluate the internal policies on sexual violence at over 100 universities. The program takes two years, and university officials leading the initiative are supposed to periodically meet with Jennifer Henkle, the project director with the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, to report their findings.

Henkle reached out to Jones at the beginning of the school year, but had not heard back, she said.

“Well, that explains a lot,” Henkle said when told Jones left the university a month ago.

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Although he was the main point of contact for the Culture of Respect project, universities typically have a second contact person, Henkle said. KU, however, did not.

Barcomb-Peterson said in a follow-up email Tuesday that Louisiana State University had recruited Jones to work as its Title IX coordinator. LSU has made national headlines in recent months for its alleged mishandling of sexual misconduct cases.

LSU’s mishandling of sexual violence reports — according to national news reports and an extensive outside investigation by the nationally recognized Husch Blackwell law firm —  extended into the school’s athletic department, and included past complaints lodged against former LSU and KU football coach Les Miles. After those allegations surfaced, Miles and KU mutually agreed to part ways earlier this year.

McAdoo, KU’s student body president, only recently learned of Jones’ departure after trying to set up mandatory reporting training for their administration, they said. McAdoo did not know KU hired four new employees in the office. 

“It makes sense now that we couldn’t schedule that training,” McAdoo said. “It’s frustrating that transparency is not coming out of that office. Why weren’t students, why weren’t faculty, why weren’t staff told that individuals in this office are new to KU?”

— Conner Mitchell contributed to this report.

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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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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.
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