Somewhere in the United States, a person is raped every two minutes, according to data from the Department of Justice. That’s a shocking — but undeniable — statistic.
Over the past several years, many colleges and universities across the country have recognized that part of their mission must be to provide training to stop sexual crimes in a world where it’s all too common to blame the victim. For years, UMKC has continued to have staff and resources dedicated to stopping these assaults and ensuring that victims have the full support of the university behind them, but I recognize that we can always do more.
As many are aware, on Feb. 25, a UMKC student reported that she was sexually assaulted on campus.
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When I learned of this horrific news, my first and primary concern was for the health, safety and welfare of our student. Once I was confident that she was receiving the proper treatment, support and counseling, my focus shifted to broader campus safety. The police investigation resulted in a quick arrest, and the suspect was arraigned on March 1 on charges of first-degree rape. UMKC will continue to work closely with law enforcement to provide whatever support is needed to ensure that this person is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
While I am confident in how we responded to the incident, I also recognize that there are a number of areas where we can improve and strengthen our policies and procedures. First, we missed an opportunity to better communicate vital information to our students and our campus and alleviate concerns about campus safety. Some of our communications, regrettably, also created a false impression that UMKC doesn’t care about victims of sexual assault. And we discovered that our residence hall security policies need to be strengthened with additional training for all staff to ensure absolute compliance. We have committed to making improvements in each of these areas and, as an important step, we held a listening session to gather more ideas from our campus community to help us as we move forward.
While we can’t and shouldn’t erase these missteps, I am proud of the efforts undertaken by UMKC to create a culture of caring and activism around this issue. Rape is never the fault of the victim, and I believe strongly in UMKC’s survivor-centered approach to sexual violence, supported by our track record of providing resources and counseling for people who have suffered sexual assault or interpersonal violence.
I take pride in the work of the UMKC Women’s Center, which advocates, educates and provides support services for the advancement of women’s equity on campus and within the community. The center organizes events on campus that address gender equity such as Equal Pay Day, Body Image, Women in STEM, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, Take Back the Night Rally, Her Art Project and Healing Arts Workshops. I believe what center director Brenda Bethman often says: Systems of oppression such as sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia are the environment that allows gender violence to flourish. You have to end sexism to end gender violence.
In the last year, we launched UMKC Green Dot, which trains bystanders to intervene in situations where people may be at risk of sexual assault. We can schedule facilitators to go to classrooms or meet with student groups about how to become active in ending violence. Green Dot, which is a national movement, empowers them to create safer communities.
Since 2014, all students have been offered the national “Not Anymore” online video training program that features bystander intervention.
The UMKC Violence Prevention & Response Program strengthens the university and community response to gender-based and sexual violence through survivor-support services, advocacy, training, education and outreach to the campus and community.
The university strengthened its UMKC Title IX Office in late 2014 and has additional strong supports in student counseling, student health services, campus police and human resources training.
But even with all that I’ve mentioned, UMKC must do better. And we will.
Leo E. Morton has served as chancellor of the University of Missouri-Kansas City since 2008.