What was planned to be a protest against ongoing complaints of sexual assault on college campuses turned into a closed-door conversation between University of Kansas students and administrators Tuesday night.
Around 30 students echoing sentiments from prior protests on KU’s handling of sexual violence gathered in front of Strong Hall to participate in an “Against Our Will” protest for rape-free college campuses. The protest was organized by Strip Your Letters, a grassroots movement formed last year at KU that pushes for reform in Greek life.
After speaking with KU administrators including Vice Provost of Student Affairs Tammara Durham at the protest, organizers shifted the protest to a dialogue between students and administrators in a classroom in Strong Hall. Because some conversation may have included personal accounts of students’ sexual assault experiences, media were not allowed inside.
“I think it says a lot that finally, after this being the fourth protest in the last couple of weeks, that a lot of [the administrators] are starting to show up and they’re ready to talk,” said Anissa Brantley, a member of Strip Your Letters. “I think that’s a step in the right direction. These are all the important people that need to be here and be a part of the conversation. Whether anything happens afterwards, that’s what we’re waiting on.”
The protest follows several others at KU after a student reported she was drugged and raped at a fraternity earlier this semester. The first protest, on Monday, Sept. 13, garnered hundreds of students on the lawn of Phi Kappa Psi to protest rape culture in Greek life. Another protest followed the next night in the fraternity lawn, and a sit-in was held Friday, Sept. 17 outside of KU administrative offices in Strong Hall.
After the recent protests started, KU Chancellor Douglas Girod sent a message to students, faculty and staff acknowledging the alleged sexual assault and announcing an investigation was underway. Lt. David Ernst of the Lawrence Police Department said Monday afternoon that there were no updates on LPD’s investigation into the report that inspired the initial protest.
Students and student leaders have demanded accountability and change from KU administrators for victims of sexual assault on college campuses.
“I wish KU would put more effort into preventing sexual assault on college campuses. I feel like they kind of pretend like they’re putting effort into it by making us do an online course at the beginning of the year or sending emails out, but I don’t really buy it,” said Lena Shelton, a KU junior who attended the protest outside of Strong Hall. “It’d be nice if they cared about us like they care about their basketball players.”
Strip Your Letters encouraged schools across the region to host “Against Our Will” protests to address what it said was not an isolated issue at KU. Students at Kansas State University, the University of Missouri and University of Missouri Kansas City were planning protests Tuesday night on their campuses, Strip Your Letters organizers said.
“The goal is to start making larger statements. We know this isn’t a problem that’s happening only on KU’s campus, it’s happening everywhere,” said Grace Reading, a member of Strip Your Letters.
The group submitted demands to KU, including ban student organizations and fraternities with a history of violence, and compile cases of hazing, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and alcohol/drug related complaints to create a well-rounded idea of the culture within that student organization.
Students and administrators entered Strong Hall around 7:45 p.m. It wasn’t immediately clear how long the conversation lasted.
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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.
For two nights this week, hundreds of outraged students showed up at a University of Kansas fraternity house, demanding answers. The scene, filled with palpable anger and frustration, demonstrated a shift in how students think about and respond to sexual violence that organizers say was a long time in the making.