Students rally about Title IX investigation

By Dan Bodden

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Students rallied Friday outside Patterson Office Tower while holding signs and posters with messages like “End Rape Culture” in reaction to an ongoing Title IX sexual assault investigation at UK.

The investigation began April 14 and was launched by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to look into the possiblility of mishandling sexual violence cases.

The student group Support|Peer|Activism|Resources|Connection organized the event. SPARC formed this year within the Violence Intervention and Prevention Center.

People chanted “We see you, UK” and “What do we want? A rape-free campus.” The event began around noon and lasted about 10 minutes.

“Our goal today is to kick off a series of student activism and also to show solidarity for sexual assault survivors on campus to let them know that we see them and we hear them and that we’re trying to create space for them to feel safe on campus,” said Lynsey Bates, a SPARC member and psychology and criminology senior.

Marketing sophomore Cesar Barraza spoke on behalf of Theta Chi fraternity during the rally.

“I feel like rape culture is very prominent on this campus, but sometimes we tend to push it away,” Barraza said. “Also, I feel like it’s good for a fraternity to come and do this because many times fraternities get a very bad (reputation) on campus and in society for some of the bad things other fraternities might do.

“Not all of us are like that. Most of us are here to promote a good campus and to help people.”

UK spokesman Jay Blanton said he believes the rally sent a message to the campus community.

“The message is that UK is a place that treasures and values free speech and dialogue about the toughest of issues,” Blanton said. “It’s only through dialogue and openly grappling with issues that change and awareness happen.”

Related: Campus-wide survey reports on sexual assault

Posters advertising the event listed all colleges under investigation by the OCR with UK highlighted in green and the message “#WeSeeYouUK” boldly printed across the list.

According to U.S. Department of Education Spokesman Jim Bradshaw, there are currently 146 postsecondary institutions with pending Title IX sexual violence investigations by the OCR. UK is the only Kentucky school on the list. There are, however, other flagship universities under investigation across the U.S.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity receiving federal funding. Under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment, rape and sexual assault.

“Honestly, although I feel like we’re in a pretty poor position, a lot of other universities are too, which is why the list of people getting investigated is over 100 deep,” said Charly Hyden, a SPARC member and psychology junior. “The girl at Columbia who carried her mattress around because the university didn’t take her seriously or the girl at Florida who was sexually assaulted and people accused her of trying to ruin their football program ­— I mean, that hasn’t happened at UK, but I still feel like we could do better and colleges in general could do better.”

The details of the case that prompted the investigation of UK on April 14 have been kept confidential.

According to an article in the Lexington Herald-Leader, a high profile sexual assault case led to another plaintiff filing a second federal civil rights complaint against UK in September.

That case involved an ex-football player who has been granted multiple appeals after already being found responsible for sexual misconduct by three UK panels. The case is not included in the OCR’s list of investigations as of Oct. 28, but members of SPARC also cited this case as a reason for the rally.

Blanton said UK is confident the university will be found to be compliant and acting in accordance with the guidelines that the Office of Civil Rights has provided.

UK has spent more than $5 million to improve campus safety, from upgrades to technology, cameras and lighting to increases in staff such as public safety officers and counselors. The university also implemented the campus-wide Lexington Herald-Leader survey last year.

“Students speaking out as they did today, and as they should in the future, is a critical part of the process of education and change,” Blanton said. “That’s why President Capilouto started, and is funding, five years of a mandatory, campus-wide survey. It should foster dialogue, education and change where it is needed.”

The preliminary results of the first year of the CATS survey were emailed to students Aug. 31. The survey was conducted from March 2 to May 31 during the 2015 spring semester and surveyed 24,382 students — 81 percent of the student population. Of total respondents, nearly five-percent of students reported unwanted sexual experiences that qualify as sexual assault.

“We always have work to do,” Blanton said. “We can always do better, but this is an area where UK has been a leader, creating the nationally renowned Green Dot training program as well as our VIP Center that provides a safe and welcoming place for our students.”