Photos: Zachary Linhares and Danielle Louis Lyons
Students enraged over the university’s response to recent allegations of rape in Johnson Hall marched into Vice Chancellor Mel Tyler’s office this afternoon. Despite the chants ringing out in front of the administration building only minutes prior, Tyler initially refused to talk with students.
Nevertheless, these sign-holding students pushed their way in and demanded answers.
When asked if he agreed that administration should be required to receive additional training and education about sexual violence, Tyler said no. When one student suggested that this response resulted from campus rape culture, Tyler again disagreed.
UMKC senior and co-founder of Squad of Siblings Helen Proctor countered Tyler’s statements.
“In the email we got from you and the email we got from the chancellor [Leo Morton]… it was suggested that we go to the Women’s Center or the Title IX office if we need those resources,” said Proctor, as shown in a Facebook live video of the event. “I think that you need those resources. I think that all of the administrators need those resources for educational purposes more than we do.”
“The entire administration system lacks knowledge about sexual violence, prevention and response,” Proctor said. “If [they’re] going to work at a university where 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted, it’s absolutely necessary that [they] understand rape.”
Some university employees expressed a desire to sit-in and protest with students, but feared for their jobs. Only one woman, a financial aid employee who wished to remain anonymous, joined students.
“I had to find out there had been an alleged rape on my campus when my TV news reported on it and when I read it the next day in the paper,” she recalled. “I hadn’t gotten any kind of alert from the university. As a woman, I felt like the university should have had a response immediately. A lot of times, I get an email if people break into cars. So the fact that I didn’t get anything for a week about a sexual assault on my campus was very concerning to me. I didn’t feel that was right.”
Other employees treated the protest with less sympathy.
One woman, walking to her office, said, “I didn’t rape anyone. It’s not my problem.”
Another employee played up the situation as “exciting,” telling protestors he wished he had a piece of paper big enough to collect all of their autographs.
These and Tyler’s comments, along with an earlier statement from Director of Media Relations John Martellaro, drew a strong reaction from rape survivors. Senior Danielle Lyons, senior Hilary Metzger and sophomore Catherine Cannon, all shared their stories at the event.
For Lyons, this lack of administrative response reinforces the intense struggles she faced while attending Kansas State University.
“My transfer to UMKC was no accident—I was physically and, later, sexually assaulted at K-State,” Lyons recounted. “I know firsthand how difficult the reporting experience can be. I was asked blame-ridden questions like, ‘Aren’t you guys friends?’ and ‘Are you sure you’re not being a little silly?’ I couldn’t deal with the process of reporting, and I had to drop out of that university.”
“There isn’t a day that I don’t think about my sexual assault,” said Lyons.
Similarly, Metzger and Cannon spoke about the long-stemming effects of rape, namely PTSD and dissociative identity disorders.
Though impactful, student protestors claim the event revolved around more than speeches and conversations — it strived for concrete action.
UMKC student and event coordinator Brennan Schartz laid out a list of student demands.
Students called for a retraining of university employees, creating a student-led accountability board and enacting new policies including a specific rape culture study program. The list of student demands also included expanding Title IX and ensuring it is covered at orientations.
Speakers also offered advice for fellow students. Senior John Conklin emphasized a specific message for men, focusing on how to be an ally and confront male sexual predators.
“It’s not like ‘you got a little too lit last night,’ it’s ‘you committed sexual assault last night,’” Conklin explained. “It’s not something you should cringe about and whisper about. It’s something that they need to be confronted about, and they probably need to be reported.”
Conklin’s comments reflected a wider message about the pervasive rape culture students tried to explain to Vice Chancellor Tyler. Senior Nathan Cho stressed that even daily conversations about “nights on the town” incorporate this type of dialogue.
Despite its commonality, students remain determined to expose and eradicate rape culture on campus.
“We will not let them treat what happened to the survivor this way,” Proctor insisted. “We will not let them sweep [her] under the rug, we will not let them treat another survivor this way ever again.”
Further protests regarding the university’s response to this rape are in the planning stages.
For free counseling related to sexual assault trauma, contact Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA).