Rape culture at the University of Missouri-Kansas City was again the central topic Monday when students told administrators about ongoing concerns and that many don’t feel safe on the campus.
UMKC administrators called a listening session to hear from students, faculty and staff after frustrations erupted last week over the lack of communication that followed an alleged raped in a campus dorm last month.
At the session, Chancellor Leo Morton said he was disappointed in the way students had to find out about the alleged rape and pledged a series of improvements in the university’s security and notification process.
It’s what some students said they wanted to hear.
“I came today because I’m a female, and I want to know what is being done to protect me as I walk on this campus,” Sabrina Norris, a junior studio art major, said leaving the session.
Rakeem Golden, a UMKC senior and known campus activist, said while many students remain upset over the alleged rape and university response, he felt confident school administrators would follow through with promises to try to make the campus and dormitories safer.
University officials barred news media from Monday’s meeting, saying the session was a “safe space” for students to speak freely about their concerns.
From exit interviews, The Kansas City Star learned that several faculty members also spoke up about fears they have for their safety on campus. Students also said they want to be included in campus discussions about how the university can do a better job dealing with sexual violence there.
A group of select students were set to meet with Vice Chancellor Mel Tyler following the listening session and talk about establishing a student accountability board that would monitor whether sexual violence policy is followed.
The alleged rape of a female student occurred Feb. 23 at Johnson Hall on the UMKC campus. A 22-year-old man, who was not a UMKC student, has been charged with raping the woman. UMKC officials said the investigation is ongoing.
According to court documents, surveillance video from the night of the reported rape showed the man carrying the woman, who after drinking alcohol at a club in Lawrence was unable to walk into the dorm.
When the woman woke up, she noticed some of her clothing had been removed. Court documents said that when the woman asked the man — identified by police as Juan Contreras of Colorado — what happened, he reportedly told her that he had sex with her.
UMKC did not immediately notify students and faculty about the alleged rape.
“I found out on Facebook,” said Zoe Rickman, a freshman from Lee’s Summit who lives in the residence hall across from the one where the rape allegedly took place.
Last week, sign-toting students marched across campus, calling for the university to do more to protect students against sexual violence on campus. They stormed into Tyler’s office, complaining that the university had failed to alert students about the incident and that a university spokesman later downplayed the assault and said a security alert to students was not needed because the accused male had been apprehended and was no longer a threat.
Chancellor Morton apologized to students because the university was slow in reporting the alleged rape.
On Monday, according to those who attended the session, Morton said the university’s response was not an example of something he wanted to see happening again. He said students should not have to hear about sexual violence on campus from the media. And he agreed with students that rape culture impacts a university system.
Morton acknowledged in a statement last week “that some training and education gaps exist, in particular for faculty and staff.”
A residence life administrator told attendees Monday that university-employed students assigned to 24-hour monitoring of the check-in desks in the dorms, since the rape, have been talked to about the expectations of their job.
The university released a statement Monday, before the listening session, outlining security protocol in the dormitories. Students must swipe a key card to enter the building and again at the front desk when entering areas where dorm rooms are located.
Visitors are required to show identification to the dorm desk attendant when entering and “if a desk attendant sees a student entering the building not under their own power, the attended is expected to retain the person and call campus police,” the statement says. UMKC is investigating to see if proper protocol was followed.
Tyler said last week the university would conduct a “top-to-bottom review” of security around residence halls and said he is committed to getting additional cameras to supplement the ones that are on the outside entrances to the buildings.