COMS Statement on Recent Campus Incidents

Over the past couple weeks, several incidents here at the University of Kansas have made it clear that KU’s administration must do more to protect our current students and create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for future Jayhawks. 
  • On Saturday, September 4, 2021, two individuals damaged four pieces of Native art at  KU’s Spencer Museum of Art. Three days later, KU Public Safety released images of two individuals thought to be responsible for this act of violence. This act, regardless of intention, targeted the KU Common work of art Native Host by KU alumnus Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne, Arapaho). This artwork served many functions, including honoring the Native people who occupied this land before Lawrence or KU existed. KU’s administration remained silent until September 13, 2021, the day after a protest was held on KU’s campus by the First Nations Student Association. 
  • On Thursday, September 9, 2021, Chancellor Girod released a public statement expressing disappointment and concern “regarding a recent Twitter post by our student body president.” While both noting that the post is clearly protected by the First Amendment and refusing to actually name KU’s Student Body President, Niya McAdoo. Chancellor Girod nevertheless felt compelled to add, “I strongly disagree with the sentiment of her retweet, and I want to make clear that she does not speak for the university on this or any other matter.” 
  • On Saturday, September 11, 2021, police were alerted about an alleged sexual assault that occurred in the Phi Kappa Psi chapter fraternity house at KU. The following Monday and Tuesday, after no arrests had been made, protesters gathered on the lawn of Phi Kappa Psi’s fraternity house. Protestors then followed those demonstrations with a sit-in at Strong Hall three days later, demanding KU’s administration respond to these allegations with public actions. On Tuesday, September 14, 2021, in response to the protests, the Chancellor’s office released a statement condemning sexual assault in “our society,” reaffirming Title IX, and providing links to campus resources. This response comes just two years after the release of KU data from 2018 showing that 26% of undergraduate women at KU “said they have been sexually assaulted since entering college.” (There are resources on and off campus to support individuals who have experienced sexual assault.)

The Department of Communication Studies finds these incidents deeply troubling. It should not take a full week and a student-led protest for KU’s administration to condemn in the strongest terms an act of violence that targeted Native artwork. It should not ever be the case that KU’s Chancellor publicly condemn the views of one of over 27,000 current Jayhawk students because of a re-tweet.  Furthermore, it should not fall on the shoulders of KU students to seek justice for a sexual assault victim when the severity of the problem on and around campus has been made repeatedly clear. It should not be the responsibility of marginalized and vulnerable students to make KU a better, more inclusive, welcoming, and safe community. 

Therefore, we call on KU’s administration to act now. 

We ask KU’s administrators to join with the First Nations Student Association and the KU Native Faculty and Staff Council in demanding justice for the racially-related act of violence against the Native community. Violence against Native people has persisted for far too long—especially on a campus which espouses values of diversity, equity, inclusivity, and belonging. 

We ask KU’s administrators to unequivocally support students’ right to free speech and not give in to partisan pressure to condemn views that some find uncomfortable. Singling out the views of underrepresented and historically marginalized students, especially those who engage in dissent, completely fails to ensure that KU is a supportive and inclusive place for all people.

We ask KU’s administrators to enact meaningful changes to fight sexual assault, which include consistent and enforceable penalties for such acts, increasing the speed at which cases are heard, investigated and resolved, and creating concrete mechanisms to ensure the safety of students who have been assaulted. We also call for stronger measures to proactively prevent sexual assault and rape culture from thriving at KU.

Ultimately, we call on KU’s administrators to realize that it is well past time for concrete action. If it is truly part of KU’s mission “to lift students and society by…building healthy communities,” then KU’s leaders must do a better job here at home, especially for people who continue to be marginalized. All Jayhawks deserve better and we deserve better now.  

Why Communication Studies?

In Communication Studies, we explore the ways in which human communication can help build communities, bridge cultures, organize people, and strengthen relationships.  Our award-winning faculty both research and teach in two major areas: Relationships & Social Interaction and Rhetoric & Political Communication.  With nearly 400 undergraduate majors and 70 graduate students, we are committed to offering a welcoming educational environment and maintaining the highest standards in both undergraduate and graduate teaching.

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