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UMKC listening session follows campus rape and criticism

Reported by:
Chelsea Emuakhagbon, Staff Writer
Ryan Hennessy, Sports Editor
Justin Longmeyer, Staff Writer
Esmie Tseng, Managing Editor
(Cover photo | Kyle Womelduff)

Following an alleged campus rape last month and an aftermath of heavy criticism against the university, a Listening Session this past Monday provided an opportunity for students, faculty and administrators to voice their concerns through a microphone.

It is unclear what impact the session will have or how administration will proceed directly following the discussion.

The Listening Session lasted from noon until 1:30 p.m. in Pierson Auditorium. Speakers touched on issues of security and Residential Life protocol, university procedure in the context of rape culture, Title IX and other resources on campus and students’ frustrations with policy and administration. The projector screen had a PowerPoint on which questions, answers and comments were summarized and transcribed. In response to a U-News request for the file, the chancellor’s office said it would be available next Monday.

Public Relations Specialist Bridget Koan and Chancellor Leo Morton asked U-News and other media to refrain from any audio or video recording to provide a safe space for students and others to speak.

Morton and Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Jennifer DeHaemers began the session with an update. Morton said supporting the victim of the alleged assault was first priority and catching the perpetrator second. He said addressing processes and training was the current and final step.

DeHaemers said following any report of an assault, two processes are immediately underway without public knowledge: the counseling and violence prevention programs on campus for the victim and the related police investigation. She repeated previous statements that there would be a top-to-bottom review of security protocols by the university.

Associate Director of Residential Life Katie Garey said all ResLife desk assistants, who are students, received “individual, one-on-one training” about security expectations. Garey also said these ResLife student employees signed agreements regarding disciplinary processes following failure to adhere to protocols.

Garey did not specify whether non-student or supervisory employees will be subject to any re-training, disciplinary action or assessment related to training shortfalls.

Some students repeated criticisms of administration’s silence for a week after the attack, which occurred early Friday morning, Feb. 24. According to these students, this inaction and subsequent comments to media perpetuated rape culture. The first official statement from the university came Friday evening, March 3, after many people in the UMKC community already heard the news from local media on Wednesday, March 1.

Some students called for the Green Dot program, which trains bystanders to become active in preventing assault, to be required for all students or even faculty and staff. Other students said their fellow students were previously inactive in issues related to gender and diversity, pointing to lack of attendance and interest on campus before recent weeks. Representatives from the Women’s Center said the many events and activities held by the Women’s Center and Violence Prevention Program struggle to garner student attendance.

A few faculty members said they do not feel safe on this campus and spoke about their past experiences with harassment and lack of university responsiveness. After she reported being stalked and threatened by a student, one faculty member said she was “basically just told to ‘man up.’” Another discussed the difficulty she faced in removing a disruptive student, pointing out the lack of clear protocol in these situations.

One student pointed out how understaffed the Women’s Center is, with only a few employees for the entire campus, and called for more volunteers and a work-study program.

The discussion also turned to how to define rape culture as both a broader, societal phenomenon and as one requiring attention and action on the UMKC campus.

One staff member said that silence surrounding rape and rape culture “allows it to flourish.”

Some students perceived a disconnect: there are the many resources in the Title IX office, the Women’s Center and the Violence Prevention Program who provided immediate support for the victim, and then there was a perceived indifference coming from the administration building.

One student called for her fellow students to hold themselves accountable and “own this” when it comes to staying engaged, acting through existing avenues with administrators, and making the university campus safe for everyone.

Another student said many of her peers who criticized the administration were less focused on the victim’s well-being and more on themselves and their own demands. Faculty members noted the low attendance for violence awareness events and urged professors to invite these types of programs into their classrooms.

At the end of the listening session, Morton promised his door was always open. He advised people to call the chancellor help line at 816-235-2222 or email him at Morton speculated that a university response to the listening session would be made after spring break.

Some students called for the formation of a “student accountability board,” which was included in the list of demands from protesters last Wednesday.

A meeting between administrators and student representatives to further discuss the nature and viability of the student accountability board followed the listening session. 

“Students come up with the most effective policies for themselves,” said Brennan Deckard, a student and member of the Progressive Youth Organization.

Given at Accountability Board Meeting

Vice Chancellor Mel Tyler, whose office was occupied during last week’s protest, proposed that the group continue to meet to discuss demands. Tyler also presented a compromise in offering to appoint some of the students present to his already existing personal advisory committee. 

Some attendees of the listening session expressed that efforts would be better spent towards existing organizations such as the Associated Students of the University of Missouri (ASUM), a group that lobbies at the state legislature.

As of now, the possibility of such a board remains uncertain. Sybil Wyatt, a faculty senator, said that the legality of the board will need to determined through “a conversation with HR.”

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