By Tina Czaplinska
The handling of sexual assault on college campuses has become the focus of a national dialogue.
Consequently, Lawrence’s own policy has currently been a subject of scrutiny amongst students as accusations about the hockey team and a returning alleged rapist surface.
Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Nancy Truesdell believes that most frustration comes from the confidentiality of these issues.
Senior Kayla Storm holds this sentiment.
“Mainly, I am asking for more transparency from authority figures on campus. Students deserve to know if and how these issues are being handled since it is students who are most affected by the behavior,” said Storm.
Therefore, Storm is meeting with Truesdell to “bring to attention the sexually violent and inappropriate behavior exhibited by a group of individuals” in hopes of “making the sexual assault policy more accessible and approachable.”
Storm specifically noted personal experiences with members of the hockey team. “In my four years here, I have had too many friends and acquaintances feel victimized by unwanted and unwarranted sexual advances or comments by a group that seems to be invincible.”
“I want to be clear that I am not asking for this meeting to say ‘all hockey players are bad,’ because I do not believe that to be true. However, there have been individuals within that group that have made other members of the Lawrence community feel unsafe or uncomfortable with seemingly no repercussions, and this is unacceptable,” Storm continued.
Truesdell recognizes the struggles of handling these cases with utmost sensitivity to all parties involved.
“It is really difficult to know fully what is happening in these cases because they are confidential,” began Truesdell. “So those not directly involved often have only partial information, which is not enough to really understand the full story.”
As a result, rumors spread about the integrity of the system as a whole. Truesdell, however, emphasizes the thought-out structure of this policy.
“What we have learned over the years is that control has been taken from the victims of sexual assault, so the most important thing is to re-center the control and help them through whatever they decide to do,” said Truesdell.
Through this, the sexual assault policy is not static. Truesdell highlights that “each case is handled individually” and can result in a multitude of outcomes.
“A student can go to the police and only the police, they can come to campus authorities, or they can do both,” said Truesdell.
“One of the aspects of our policy that really works is the use of an outside investigator,” added Truesdell. “This eliminates the bias of the process since this person is an outside attorney and not otherwise involved on campus.”
Lawrence’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Resource Board (SHARB) consists of student, faculty and staff members, and works to advise the university on matters related to sexual violence. SHARB helps students realize their multitude of options, from change of classes to filing a formal report. Truesdell stresses that some students choose not to act.
Storm also hopes to aid students in realizing their available resources.
“When a large group of generally older men appear to be above the rules, it can be difficult and scary for someone to come forward alone. I want to provide a voice for people who may not feel as if they have one. I will be recommending a panel discussion. My main goal is to make sure we as students are an active part of the conversation surrounding a campus safety concern,” said Storm.
With the increasing needs of students, Truesdell notes that this policy is open to changes and modifications.
“This year, SHARB has been talking about whether or not they want to recommend that there is an automatic expulsion at a certain degree of sexual assault, probably the degree that involves penetration,” said Truesdell. “It is one of the things that is being talked about nationally.”
“We very much want to empower the student to make decision on what they want to do,” concluded Truesdell.