Zachary Linhares, Distribution Manager
Samuel Danley, News Editor
Esmie Tseng, Managing Editor
Student reaction erupted last week after reports emerged that a UMKC student was allegedly raped on campus after being carried unconscious through the lobby of Johnson Hall at 5000 Oak St.
The suspect’s easy entry into the dorm also raised concerns among the UMKC community about security, protocol, and staff training at Johnson Hall as well as other dorms.
The alleged crime occurred early the morning of Friday, Feb. 24. UMKC police and administration were notified by the hospital Saturday, Feb. 25. Local news broke the story several days later on Wednesday, March 1.
The alleged attack occurred after the suspect entered the dorm, carrying the unconscious victim, who was missing a shoe, at about 1 a.m. Two witnesses entered the dorm with him.
The suspect is in custody and has been charged with felony rape.
Mikah Thompson, UMKC’s Title IX Coordinator and Director of Office of Affirmative Action, said she was informed Monday by UMKC police and has been in contact with the victim and talked to her about the resources available on campus.
“She’s explicitly told me that she was very pleased with the response, not just from the police department, but the various offices on campus who have stepped in to help her,” said Thompson. “Her perception is that things have gone well in terms of the university’s response.”
Did the University Do Enough?
Many students expressed disappointment they did not know of the incident until the reports by local news outlets came out. Others acknowledged the sensitivity of the issue and the ongoing Title IX investigation as reason for the university’s silence and also commended the many resources on campus.
Freshman and pre-med student Danielle Lonero, who lives at Johnson Hall, said she heard about it only after watching a news clip Wednesday evening, almost six days after the alleged attack.
“I almost cried because we couldn’t believe it,” Lonero said. “You know everyone here, and you don’t want something bad to happen to anyone.”
Another student who lives in Johnson Hall, Samantha Capkovic, said students had a right to know about the assault.
“The fact that I found out that someone who lives just a few doors down from me was raped — while I was home — and I had to find out about it from Fox 4 News instead of from the school, is messed up,” she said.
Director of Media Relations John Martellaro said because the suspect was known and not on campus, the university did not consider it an emergency situation and, therefore, did not issue a broad notification to students and staff.
Thompson said notifying all students was complicated by timing and the ongoing criminal investigation. The university did not want to release a statement before an arrest was made, she said.
“I know that we issued a statement that went to the media following the arrest of the individual that highlighted the Title IX office and the university’s process and that kind of thing,” Thompson said.
Many students have said they want administration to simply condemn sexual violence when it occurs and felt unhappy with the few statements that were released last Thursday.
“I never got an email, text, or any notification about this, but y’all will blast out ‘suspicious people’ alerts of black and brown [people] all day long,” said Elie Hudson, who graduated from UMKC in December, in a post on Facebook last Friday.
Thompson said the UMKC police department has issued campus-wide notifications when robberies or other crime have occurred because these are high-alert situations. Sexual assault, she said, is a little different because the victim generally knows the attacker and the threat to other students is not immediate.
Other students pointed out that administration issued a response to all students and faculty within 24 hours of the recent shooting in Olathe and within 48 hours to the president’s executive order barring entry from selected countries.
“The case in Olathe was one that had very serious racial and diversity overtones,” said Martellaro. “It’s being investigated as a hate crime. In that situation, we have a large population of international students here on campus. There was an atmosphere of concern, if not fear, and we felt it was important to make a statement to our community.”
‘We have not been silent on women’s issues’
Martellaro said UMKC addresses sexual assault through its many resources, such as the Women’s Center programming and Green Dot training program, which trains bystanders to intervene into situations at risk of sexual assault.
“We have not been silent on women’s issues or rape culture,” Martellaro said. “We have programming throughout the year to remind p eople of how important that is. So there was no, I don’t think, silence on that issue that needed to be broken.”
When asked if this was a missed opportunity to speak out about consent and rape culture and for the administration to bridge a perceived distance from its programs on campus, Martellaro said it was something worth considering.
“If there is more that we can be doing — that is a legitimate question,” Martellaro said.
Dr. Brenda Bethman, director of the UMKC Women’s Center, said while she understands students’ criticism, she also sees why administrators did not initially inform students.
“I think it’s a really hard balance,” she said. “I think we have to talk about it, at least the issue in general. If we don’t how are going to get people to stop it?”
Bethman stressed the importance of educating students, providing support and holding perpetrators accountable. Beyond that, she believes further communication about specific events puts administrators in a delicate balance.
“That’s where it gets complicated,” she said. “The victim’s right to privacy, [the suspect] charged but not proven guilty, what’s the imminent threat? All of those questions get tied up and they’re not always easy to navigate.”
Bethman encourages students to continue the dialogue on sexual assault.
“In this particular case, that victim has been referred to the right agencies and support,” said Bethman. “And you don’t want to hash that out to death, make a big deal about it, and make her feel bad or traumatize her.”
Referring to the suspect’s entry into the dorm, Bentham said, “I think it gets tricky there as well. Then you’re kind of bringing personnel questions into it. If I had issues with staff — and I don’t know if that’s even the case here — and people wanted to know what happened, I couldn’t tell them.”
Did ResLife Follow Security Protocol?
Director of Residential Life Sean Grube said ResLife protocol for front desk staff, who are student employees, is that “any time we have an unconscious person enter the building, the desk attendant should immediately call the UMKC Police Department.”
ResLife is still investigating whether staff followed protocol for non-resident visitors and for unconscious residents on the night in question Grube said.
“The protocol for non-residents is to present their ID,” Grube said. “Their ID is left at the front desk. They have to be checked in by a resident at the facility.”
A UNews reporter, a white male, went to Johnson hall a week after the alleged crime, entering last Friday morning at 12:50 a.m., around the same time as Contreras, the victim, and the witnesses would have entered the morning of the alleged attack. The front desk assistant unlocked the front door for him, and the reporter was able to enter and go to the fourth floor.
The reporter was not asked to produce any identification, and the attendant did not ask him any questions.
“That’s something that is certainly concerning,” Grube said about this second example of non-residents entering the dorm easily. Both Grube and Martellaro said they would investigate this.
Lonero, Johnson Hall resident, said some front desk assistants are better about checking IDs than others, but she is still surprised the suspect seems to have entered without providing ID.
“The fact that she was carried in — that should be a red flag,” Lonero said.
Earlier in the year, someone came in extremely drunk and the front desk did call a higher staff member and the police, Lonero said. She often returns to the dorm late and says she has never been able to just walk in freely.
Lonero said that Johnson Hall has a reputation for being safer than the other dorms, especially Oak Place, where people can often go in through the side door without swiping.
ResLife sent a notification to students who live at Johnson Hall last Friday morning about the ongoing investigation of the alleged assault. ResLife sent another notification Friday afternoon stating residents would now need to swipe their card at the door and then a second time at the desk.
“I can’t tell you just how many times I’ve seen girls drunk or passed out come through the lobby with someone and never once did the person working the desk ask if the person escorting the girl actually knew her or got help from higher up,” said Brianna Gantt, who graduated last May and lived at Johnson during her freshman year and Oak Apartments her sophomore and senior year.
UMKC alumni Annelissa Taylor said in a post on the Facebook event page for an upcoming rally she knows both RAs and desk attendants are trained to do better.
“I can’t imagine what they are going through right now,” Taylor said. “Procedures are in place, and he never should have made it through the lobby.”
Students Critical of Response
In an email sent to the entire UMKC community last Friday evening, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Mel Tyler said, “First, we should have communicated with the community in a timelier manner. We hope there is no ‘next time,’ but if there is, we will do better.”
“Additionally,” she said, “we are initiating a complete, top-to-bottom review of all of our procedures and intensive training for all Residential Life staff. The safety of our students is our top priority. We are committed to providing a safe and secure environment for all of our all students and we pledge to take all available actions to meet that commitment.”
Tyler acknowledged many members of the UMKC community had expressed disappointment they were notified of the incident several days afterward — first through local news.
“I understand these feelings, and I would like to apologize that I did not communicate with our campus community earlier in the week,” she said.
Some students took issue with the language used by Martellaro, who said in a Thursday statement to UNews, “This is not necessarily a security issue because the victim went out willingly with the suspect. It was after socializing that she was taken advantage of, or raped, whatever you might call it.”
Screenshots of the paragraph circulated around social media, and student reaction to the statement was swift, including the organization of a UMKC Rally against Rape and Rape Culture Facebook event scheduled for March 8 at noon and even a petition for Martellaro’s suspension or removal.
“So UMKC, do you all also participate in victim shaming/blaming and rape culture, or just employ people who do so?” Gantt said in the caption of her post of the screenshot. “Her going out is not what caused the rape, a man taking advantage and no one— even those whose job it was— intervening is what caused it.”
“UMKC, fix your statement and hold people accountable,” Hudson said in a Facebook post last Friday, referring to what she saw as victim-blaming and themes of rape culture in Martellaro’s statement.
Martellaro issued an apology Friday afternoon in a Letter to the Editor.
“In the midst of my conversation with the reporter I used the phrase ‘taken advantage of’ to describe what happened to her,” he wrote. “I realized immediately that was an inadequate phrase, and I wanted to be sure to use the proper term, ‘rape.’ But in attempting to correct myself in mid-sentence, I only made things worse with the inappropriate wording that followed. Let me be clear: rape is rape, and it is a terrible crime.”
“A big part of what we have to provide here is not just a great education, but an environment in which you can get that education,” said Chancellor Leo Morton last Friday morning, a week after the alleged assault. “That means keeping it as safe as we can possibly make it for every student. We’re going to investigate everything that occurs here and find ways to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
In her safety message, Tyler pointed to a number of resources available to UMKC students, through the UMKC Women’s Center and the Violence Prevention and Response Office. Other community partners include the Rose Brooks Center and the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault.
“We have a strong and dedicated network of people working to support our students,” Tyler said. “Students who have experienced any form of sex discrimination, including sexual assault or sexual misconduct, on or off campus, are encouraged to report the incident as soon as possible to UMKC’s Title IX Coordinator or the UMKC Police Department.”