By Danielle Cook & Jason Tidd
Two K-State students filed Title IX lawsuits Wednesday against K-State on allegations that the university denied responsibility to investigate accusations of rapes that occurred at two fraternity houses.
The lawsuits accuse K-State of deliberate indifference to plaintiffs’ reports of rape, deceptive acts and practices in violation of the Kansas Consumer Protection Act, and negligence.
One lawsuit said Sara Weckhorst, junior in social work, was raped at a fraternity party on April 26, 2014. The other lawsuit said Tessa Farmer, junior in social work, was raped at a fraternity party on March 6, 2015.
While neither fraternity was named in the lawsuits, The New York Times reported Wednesday that the two fraternities were Phi Delta Theta and allegedly Sigma Nu. Sigma Nu was suspended and lost recognition from the university on May 19, 2014, according to the “Fraternity and Sorority Life” page of K-State’s website.
The news comes after CNN published “The untold financial cost of rape” on Nov. 20, 2015, in which K-State was accused of not adequately responding to allegations of rape. K-State is also under investigation by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for “possible violations of the federal law on the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints,” according to CNN.
Attempts to reach out to former members of K-State’s chapter of Sigma Nu were unsuccessful.
Upon contacting K-State’s chapter of Phi Delta Theta, Kansas Gamma, the fraternity responded with a written statement.
“After being made aware of the alleged sexual assault involving chapter membership, we worked with alumni leadership to take internal disciplinary action in March 2015. The chapter and alumni leadership have cooperated with investigations both by the Kansas State Interfraternity Council and our General Headquarters. These investigations have determined this incident to be isolated and an individual act. Phi Delta Theta is a values-based organization and any sexual assault is appalling and incongruent with who we are as a chapter and what we represent here at K-State.
Both lawsuits allege, “K-State refused to investigate the rapes committed by its students.”
Jennifer Tidball, writer and editor for K-State Division of Communications and Marketing, sent The Collegian the university’s official statement on the lawsuits via email after a request for comment.
“Kansas State University does not discuss litigation matters in the media, nor do we publicly discuss individual reports of discrimination, including sexual violence,” the statement said. “The university has a strong policy prohibiting discrimination, including sexual violence, and provides a multitude of resources and assistance to students and employees.”
According to the policy, K-State only investigates complaints if they occurred on campus or are related to an on-campus occurrence. Fraternities are not considered to be on campus.
“Off campus occurrences that are not related to University-sponsored programs or activities are investigated under this Policy only if those occurrences relate to discrimination, harassment or retaliation alleged on campus,” the policy said.
While the university’s policy is to not investigate off-campus allegations of rape, even at a fraternity house, “The Education Department has advised universities that they are required under Title IX to investigate accusations of off-campus rapes of students, specifically citing off-campus fraternity houses,” according to the New York Times.
Title IX is a federal statute that protects against sex-based discrimination at federally-funded education institutions.
According to Title IX, “a school must process all complaints of sexual violence, regardless of where the conduct occurred, to determine whether the conduct occurred in the context of an education program or activity or had continuing effects on campus or in an off-campus education program or activity.”
According to an April 4, 2011, Department of Education Dear Colleague Letter, “If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence and address its effects.”
Lt. Jessica Brooks, coordinator of administrative services for the K-State Police Department, said the department neither investigated nor charged anyone in relation to the alleged rapes because the department did not have primary jurisdiction.
“We don’t have primary jurisdiction over fraternities and sororities,” Brooks said. “That would be Riley County Police Department.”
Mat Droge, public information officer for RCPD, said he could not provide specific information on the lawsuits because he was unfamiliar with them. Additionally, depending on the case, he said he may be prohibited from releasing certain information.
The Collegian’s attempts to contact Weckhorst and Farmer were unsuccessful.
Reaching out to the attorney The Collegian was referred to the lawsuit which was provided by Cari Simon, a lawyer from Washington D.C.
“Sara and Tessa are bringing this Title IX suit against K-State because they don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” Simon said in an email.
The hashtag #KStateInvestigate was started Wednesday by the group End Rape on Campus in support of Weckhorst and Farmer.
Trenton Kennedy, student body vice president and sophomore in entrepreneurship, said he and Jessica Van Ranken, student body president and junior in political science, are trying to find out more information on the situation.
“We’re still waiting to find out more, but we can assure students that we are fighting for their best interests and we are dedicated, committed to working toward a solution to this and doing what we can for the future of K-State and the future of K-Staters to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Kennedy said.