Many students who attended the Emporia State town hall meeting on sexual harassment Tuesday demanded the firing of a tenured professor who had a sexual misconduct case filed against them by an undergraduate student and demanded answers from the administration.
About 250 people, including students, faculty, staff, administrators and community members, attended the meeting.
The town hall was organized by Kansas Leadership Center Faculty-in-Residence Gary Wyatt, associate provost and dean of the Honors College, Amy Sage Webb, professor of English, modern language and journalism and Mallory Koci, clinical instructor in the Honors College and interdisciplinary studies.
The event was prompted by stories published in The Bulletin about “Jane,” the student who reported a professor for sexual misconduct, according to Wyatt.
Several women in attendance shared their own stories, including Whitney Landreth, who graduated in 2016. During the town hall, she spoke about her disappointment with the handling of her sexual assault at ESU.
“I was sexually assault seven years and one month ago,” Landreth said.
When she turned in her case, Landreth was told there would be a campus trial, she said. The student who assaulted her confessed, and she was unable to share the result of the trial. Landreth said she was then stalked by the perpetrator and followed to class.
“I was told that if I told anyone the results of that... the campus and the perpetrator would be at grounds to sue me for exploitation,” Landreth said. “Every time I went to go up to the administration, he was there talking to them as if they were working together and nothing...ever happened. I called the campus police several times, I had to get a restraining order for five years, and when I went to the judge to get an extension on the restraining order, the perpetrator told the judge that he had been places that I had been and I didn’t even know it because he was allowed to on this campus.”
According to Landreth, administration at ESU “failed” her.
“I feel like administration failed me, I did not feel safe on this campus,” Landreth said.
Administration’s role in sexual harassment cases, their responses, and the lack of answers students have received from them continued to be a theme of discussion throughout the rest of the nearly two-hour town hall meeting.
Wyatt, Webb and Koci intended the town hall discussion to focus on adaptive change, using the “adaptive leadership principles”, while addressing the recent sexual assault story on campus.
“We have been disturbed about recent events on our campus,” Webb said. “We wanted to step into that disquiet and see if we could create some form of conversation that could help to move us forward toward meaningful change, future conversations and action.”
Webb, Wyatt and Koci attempted to steer the discussion towards a predetermined format using the adaptive leadership principles. They asked for people to follow the leadership model and place their questions and comments into three categories: observations, interpretation and possible solutions.
Students resisted having their comments moderated and insisted on telling their own stories, holding administration accountable and demanding the firing of Brian Schrader, a tenured professor of psychology. Schrader is still employed at ESU as of yesterday, according to the department of Human Resources.
No administrators spoke
Sixteen administrators attended the town hall, with the majority of them sitting in the back of the room. President Allison Garrett, David Cordle, provost, Kevin Johnson, general counsel, Ray Lauber, director of Human Resources, Affirmative Action and Title IX coordinator and Lisa Moritz, associate Affirmative Action Officer and Title IX Deputy coordinator, were in attendance, among others. None of the administrators spoke during the town hall.
In an email sent out to students on Feb. 21, Megan McReynolds, ASG president junior sociology major, encouraged students to wear black in support of the Time’s Up movement.
“As we enter a time of unprecedented opportunity to support student success, it is time to rally against the inequalities before us,” McReynolds wrote. “In the face of challenging perceptions and important conversations, we stand in solidarity with the ‘Time’s Up’ movement and once again encourage all Emporia State University students to wear black.”
Of the students, faculty, staff, administrators and community members in attendance, approximately 40 percent wore black. Garrett, Johnson and Moritz wore black, along with several other administrators. Gwen Larson, assistant director of media relations, also wore black.
McReynolds and Jacob Miller, ASG vice president and sophomore communication major, were also in attendance, wearing black in support of the movement.
During the meeting, students spoke about the issues that contribute to a climate that allows sexual harassment, such as shame and fear and lack of administration support.
Students also expressed their disappointment in the format of the forum and the conversation being steered towards the culture of sexual harassment, rather than addressing the issue of sexual harassment on ESU’s campus.
“I know that we’re not trying to focus on a lot of quick fixes, it is a community issue and it is a societal problem and something that is going to keep popping up...at the same time, I don’t think it’s a bad start to have this discussion,” said Caitlyn Price, sophomore psychology major. “Is Brian Schrader still employed on this campus? Are we still employing a sexual predator? That issue specifically has really been avoided today and...personally, I’m very disappointed in that.”
As a psychology major, Price said that if Schrader continues to be employed by ESU, he is someone she will have to work with.
“I’m also a sexual assault survivor,” Price said. “I’m a rape survivor. Is that someone you all are telling me that I’m going to have to work with for my time here at ESU?”
Kayla Gilmore, a senior political science major, agreed, saying that the issue was that they weren’t discussing the “actual problem on hand.”
“When we say time’s up, we mean time’s up,” Gilmore said. “Time’s up on bad hiring practices, time’s up on administration not being transparent with their process, it means time’s up on finding information out from The Bulletin rather than from the people that we work with or the people who supervise us or advise us. It means time’s up on sexual assault on campus. Time’s up on silencing victims.”
Wyatt and Webb intended the town hall to focus on making a change, without relying on “authority to save us,” according to the email sent out about the meeting.
“It is easy to make it about the administration and one of the things we want to do here is make it about us and what can we do,” Wyatt said.
Students resisted this, calling for ESU to hold administration accountable and for Schrader to be fired.
“Let’s say we fire him, let’s say we fire them all, let’s say we fire all the bad apples,” Webb said. “We’re going to get them again if we don’t address what gave rise to them in the first place.”
Webb said that it is important to focus on adaptive solutions, instead of only technical solutions, such as punishment or discipline.
“I don’t say that technical solutions don’t make progress but if you simply get rid of one individual and you do not address the systemic problem that made it possible in the first place, you will get the same thing over again,” Webb said.
Throughout the event, Webb, Wyatt and Koci encouraged students to think of solutions and what they could do to make a change, without focusing on technical solutions.
“I feel like we’re skipping a process here,” Gilmore said. “Without ever having discussed the technical issue, we’re skipping to the adaptive issue and I think that’s why we’re having a hard time transitioning into that...Expecting us to talk about what we can do is difficult when we aren’t even discussing why we are here in the first place.”
Wyatt disagreed and asked students to continue to focus on the larger picture, especially the system.
“We were saying just a minute ago that the technical problem needs to be fixed first and I don’t think so,” Wyatt said. “I think systems are really huge and until we do what needs to be done to change them, then the technical problems will never go away.”
Elle Jorgensen, freshman elementary education major, identified herself as a sexual assault victim and questioned the usage of using adaptive leadership principles.
“You, the Kansas Leadership Center Faculty-in-Residence, stated in the email sent to all of ESU students that...‘a pivotal principal of the adaptive leadership model that we aspire to is that we do not look to authority to save us, we save ourselves,” Jorgensen said. “You have given us no option but to save ourselves now. My question to that statement, though, is how are we supposed to save ourselves when victims like Jane have been silenced and are threatened punishment for speaking out? When the person involved in this incident reported it, like she should have, the university shut her out and threatened punishment. To this I say, ‘shame on you.’ ...Time is up ESU.”