As Title IX lawsuits against Kansas State continue to develop and after student organizations voiced their frustration with the responses they have seen from university administration and student body leaders, Jessica Van Ranken, student body president and senior in political science, and Trenton Kennedy, student body vice president and junior in entrepreneurship, sat down with the Collegian to clear up misconceptions the student body may have about their stance on Title IX issues.
“We’ve been advocating for the same thing since day one, which is a policy change,” Kennedy said. “But where I think it gets convoluted is that there could be a court decision that brings in nuances on how the university acts on sexual assault investigation policies and so after that court decision we will be obviously waiting and ready to help steward a new policy and advocate for a new policy if that were to happen.”
At the April 22 Student Senate meeting, Van Ranken and Kennedy said they do believe the university should investigate off-campus sexual assaults and they believe the current policy is insufficient.
Van Ranken said they have been advocating since that day, but depending on the court decision, it could be an even stronger opportunity to continue doing so.
“We’re saying that once the court decision is decided, that will be another opportunity to advocate,” Van Ranken said. “I don’t think it means that we’re waiting, I think it means that will be another time when it’s very important that we need to advocate for students and that if the court decision says that a change needs to be made or we need to alter a path in a different direction as a university, then we want to be there through those meetings advocating for students.”
Power of student body leaders
At the same meeting, Kennedy told senators that he and Van Ranken are deeply committed and compelled to seeing the policy change by doing everything in their power.
“Our power lies mostly in the fact that we have opportunities to talk with administration regularly and advocate for what students believe in,” Van Ranken said. “(We) have meetings with them where we can explain this is what a lot of students are pointing to us as a concern and this is what we believe, as student leaders, because we stand by that stance that we had in April, the policy being changed.”
Van Ranken said she and Kennedy do not have the power to change the university policy.
“If it were to be changed, I think our power lies strongly in that advocacy piece because we don’t have the power to actually change university policy, but we have the power to be a strong voice for what students think about that policy,” Van Ranken said.
Working with administration
Kennedy said they have been using the power they do have by working with administration, particularly over the summer break.
“When we talk about the access we have, a big part of that access was over summer break because Jessica and I were still here and on campus multiple times a week, meeting with administrators and that was an advocacy priority of ours in making sure we really spent that summer time where it might have been off the hearts and minds of students, but we were still talking about it in engaging conversations,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy also said a lot of the work they do is working in tandem with university administration.
“When we work with administration and when we are in those meetings with them, I find my role in those meetings a lot of time is constantly being that voice for students and representing students because administration really cares what students think and I never feel like they are trying to drag me into a position just to go along with university administration,” Van Ranken said. “The question we constantly hear is, ‘Well what do the students think?’”
Van Ranken said she would support a policy change at any time, but as she understands it, she does not believe the university administration will make any changes before a court decision.
“So while I would support a change at any time, the information I want to provide to the student body, I don’t want it to be misleading,” Van Ranken said. “I don’t want them to kind of think (a change) is coming before that because the university wants to receive all the legal context they can in this situation and the court decisions are really important to that.”
Action plan, platform integration
In the meantime, Van Ranken and Kennedy said they encourage students to continue to advocate and have their voices heard by joining organizations and campaigns such as Wildcats Against Sexual Violence or the “It’s On Us” campaign or even by just being a resource to their living communities or social groups.
Van Ranken said it is not just about policy change, but about prevention and awareness as well.
“Administration finds that voice very important in this process and I think that lawmakers who represent students at K-State need to hear those voices and need to hear the thoughts of students at universities who are around these issues and who deal with them in their lives as university students,” Van Ranken said.
On the executive end, Kennedy said it has been difficult to tie sexual assault policies into political advocacy, one of the three platforms the pair ran on.
“It’s difficult when we think about political advocacy because advocating on the federal level is just logistically harder than state level and a lot of our political advocacies have been at the state level to secure funding and those sorts of things,” Kennedy said.
However, Kennedy said they have found a way to integrate their advocacy for a policy change into both their political advocacy and mental wellness platforms.
“One thing I think where we fit sexual assault into those two (platforms) is with our peer education program because it will be those advocates of mental wellness going into the community,” Kennedy said. “It’s about letting people know about the resources that they have and I think that’s great just to spread that message because a lot of people have been affected by sexual assault and a lot of people may have friends or family who have been affected by sexual assault.”
“Having access to that support for both survivors and supporters is really important and something our platform is going to achieve,” Kennedy continued.
Kennedy said for him, mostly when he steps away from his role as a student leader, he tries to analyze and study how Title IX is interpreted across the country.
“We’re not the only university in this situation and I think part of my motivation comes from the directive all universities will receive and this will be a complex issue after we get court decisions across the nation,” Kennedy said. “We’ll have to collectively come together as students at universities on what’s the best way forward after a court mandate or Legislative mandate.”