It was hypocrisy at its finest.
At Tuesday’s town hall on sexual assault, one of the faculty coordinators used a phrase that is a favorite of the Kansas Leadership Center: “Leadership is disappointing people at a level they can tolerate.” The implied message, repeated over and over -- by platitudes, by body language, by the way in which microphones were jealously guarded -- was that it was more important for the university to give the appearance of giving a shit than actually having to do something about the serious gender and equality issues that face us.
The town hall was prompted by The Bulletin’s investigation into “Jane’s Story” in which Brian Schrader, tenured professor of psychology, took an undergraduate Korean student into a storage room, touched her inappropriately and tried to kiss her. That’s what Jane--not her real name--told us, and she backed it up with more than 150 pages of documentation. In some of that documentation, the university’s police and human resources departments concluded that a “preponderance of evidence” indicated that Schrader was likely guilty.
Yet, he still works here.
That fact is what brought most of the 250 students and faculty to the town hall.They wanted answers and demanded to be heard. Many also wanted to share their own stories of sexual harassment and disappointment with the university.
While the town hall was presented as a way to hear student’s perspectives and to discuss ways to fix the systemic problem of sexual assault and harassment, it ended up being a smoke screen for the administration to clean their hands of the problem and to put the fault back on the students and the victims. The phrase that was continuously repeated was, “No one can save us, but us.” That’s a nice sentiment, but it was also clearly coming from someone in a place of power and privilege, a white male faculty member in upper administration.
And a question a student asked in response really resonated with us.
“How are we supposed to save ourselves when victims like Jane are silenced and threatened with punishment for speaking out?”
Whitney Landreth, a nurse who graduated from ESU in 2016, shared her story about how she was sexually assaulted on campus and then, like Jane, was forced to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement that threatened her with discipline if she told anyone.
And, it was exactly what the university did not want to hear.
“Can you tie it into our observations of how sexual assault exists?” one of the faculty coordinators asked. The coordinator said she didn’t want to silence Whitney, but she didn’t seem to be interested in what she had to say either.
The faculty coordinators running the meeting kept trying to move the conversation to a more hypothetical space where we talked about the issue of sexual assault as a whole, instead of the very real issue of what is happening on our campus.
When a sophomore brought up that there seems to be a lag time with ESU investigating issues of any kind, the administrator who was running the meeting responded by saying “It’s easy to make it about administration, but what can you do?”
Time after time when asked what they could do, students kept saying that administration should be held accountable and sexual predators should be fired.
Instead, the faculty coordinators stuck to the “adaptive leadership” model they learned at the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita. They had a specific agenda in mind and it was not talking about Jane or about the firing of Brian Schrader.
But, the model broke down because of the student outrage over ‘Jane’s story.’ They were angry because all of them had experienced something similar, or they knew someone who had.
They were also angry because the administration sat in the back of the room and said nothing.
The truth is, the administration holds all the power here, and are the ones who should be held accountable.
Sexual assault is not a disappointment we will tolerate.