OPINION: K-State has failed its students in investigating sexual assaults, rapes

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I need to start this article by stating Kansas State University has failed its students.

I do not mean fail as in a letter grade in a class. I mean fail as in neglecting to do something.

I have attended this university for six years, going into my seventh. I have completed two bachelor’s degrees with two minors and am halfway done with a master’s degree. I have seen how this university has failed its students in various capacities time and time again over the course of my college career.

I need to address how K-State has failed to protect its students who have experienced the most heinous and devastating crimes: sexual assault and rape.

According to National Sexual Violence Resource Center statistics, in 2015, one in five women are sexually assaulted while in college and about 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault. According to the Rape, Assault and Incest National Network, college-aged women do not report their assaults because they believe it was a personal matter, it was not important enough to report, did not want to get the perpetrator in trouble and police would not or could not do anything to help, among other reasons.

Additionally, the January 2016 Campus Climate Survey Validation Study conducted by the Bureau of Justice validated the frequency, repetition and severity of sexual assault and rape on college campuses. Christopher Krebs, lead author on the study, was quoted in a Jan. 26, 2016, Huffington Post article by Tyler Kingkade stating that Krebs did not think a single statistic did much to help existing efforts by colleges and universities that are already trying to combat sexual assault and rape, but rather that the report showed the range and variance of student experiences from the nine schools studied.

While these statistics might not mean much to some, they say nearly 20 percent of all women who are college students will be sexually assaulted or raped while in college. Of all of the women who are victims to these crimes, more than 90 percent will never report what happened to them for a plethora of reasons, most of which fall under the umbrella of blaming themselves for what happened or fear of not receiving help from others if they do report the assault.

This pattern is exactly what happens and has happened at K-State. Female students at K-State are sexually assaulted and raped. Either these students do not report, or the university does nothing.

An example of this is when Sara Weckhorst and Tessa Farmer came forward publicly in an April 20, 2016, New York Times article by Stephanie Saul describing the events that led up to and including their rapes. They both described getting raped at off-campus fraternity houses and reporting the incidents to K-State. K-State’s Office of Institutional Equity claimed it could not investigate sexual assaults and rapes that occurred off campus, even if the crimes involved K-State students.

This is absolutely false. K-State’s policy directly contradicts Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which is enforced by the Office of Civil Rights housed within the federal Department of Education. The university policy also allowed the perpetrator of these crimes, who is a repeat offender, to continue attending the university, even after multiple reports were filed against him in K-State’s Office of Institutional Equity.

According to a Jan. 24, 2017, New York Times article by Stephanie Saul, Crystal Stroup became another alleged victim of rape at the hands of Jared Gihring, who Weckhorst also cited as the perpetrator of the rape against her. K-State’s Office of Institutional Equity became aware of Gihring when Weckhorst and Farmer reported their cases and alleged him as the perpetrator.

K-State’s Office of Institutional Equity responded to the reports with ambivalence and refused to investigate them due to the crimes occurring off campus. Danielle Dempsey-Swopes, a former employee of K-State’s Office of Institutional Equity, stated in a Nov. 28, 2016, Buzzfeed News article by Tyler Kingkade that she was told not to investigate these instances. K-State’s policy dictated the university could not investigate rapes and sexual assaults that occurred off campus, even if the crime involved K-State students. She said in the article she was “shunned and marginalized” for opposing this university policy.

Gihring was found guilty of raping Weckhorst on May 26, but acquitted of the charge of raping Stroup in the same trial according to a May 27 Manhattan Mercury article. So far Gihring has been found guilty on only one charge in a court of law, but has not been held accountable from inside the institution of higher education where his victims were enrolled and these crimes committed.

K-State allowed Gihring to remain on campus along with the alleged victims for years before national headlines circulated about the case and K-State’s lack protective action for the victims which spurred Gihring to finally be expelled from the university. Gihring’s sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 17.

This brings me full circle: this university has failed its students, especially in the instances of rape and sexual assault.

The university turned its back on students because their stories could shatter the facade of the “K-State family.” There is actually no K-State family. That is a lie. We are not all one family. This university takes everything it possibly can from you including your money, dignity, pride and even emotional and mental well-being, then turns its back on you when you most need help.

If you are someone who has been sexually assaulted or raped while enrolled at K-State, the way the university has handled these cases justifies the reasons why 90 percent of victims never report these crimes. Victims of rape and sexual assault at K-State are met with ambivalence, lack of support and no investigation. Victims of these crimes at K-State are told they are liars, blamed for the crimes committed against them and told nothing will be done.

The Title IX investigations the Office of Civil Rights has opened against K-State, as well as dozens of other colleges and universities across the country, are rightfully warranted. K-State hides behind the guise of being a “family” and empty positivity rhetoric rather than combating these serious and sometimes life-threatening issues in productive and proactive ways.

If these cases have taught students anything about this university, it is that Kansas State University has failed its students.

Jakki Forester is a graduate student in communication studies. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to [email protected]

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  • bho

    “but has not been held accountable from inside the institution”

    Wasn’t he expelled according to the referenced Mercury article?