Five Burning Questions is an Q&A series where The Collegian asks prominent professionals five questions that affect the University of Richmond.
Tyler Kingkade is a senior editor with The Huffington Post, and he covers higher education and millennials. Kingkade, originally from Des Moines, Iowa, previously covered politics for The Huffington Post and The Iowa Independent. Kingkade answered five questions for The Collegian regarding Title IX violations, the Clery act and what he has learned while covering higher education.
Jack Nicholson: The University of Richmond is currently facing a federal investigation for a Title IX violation. What does this investigation mean for both the university and for its students?
Tyler Kingkade: For the university, it means federal officials will be digging through a lot of their paper work and files relating to sexual violence, and combing through the sexual misconduct policy. The Education Department, in these cases, typically speaks with many administrators, and then holds events where students can come and voice their thoughts – positive or negative – about how the school handles sexual violence and harassment. The whole process might take six months, on the short end, but because of the backlog it’ll likely be more than a year before the investigation wraps up. At the end, the Department will release some sort of findings or resolution that says what the school is doing wrong, or doing right.
JN: When an investigation into Richmond’s Title IX procedures was launched, it was one of 76 universities under investigation. Now, more than 100 universities are under investigation. Why do you think the number has grown?
TK: The number keeps growing, in part, because of the White House task force on sexual assault. Before then, it was largely just students who knew something about Title IX, or students who got connected with activists who did. But then the White House released its report, “Not Alone,” that outlined how students could file a complaint. Because it was the White House, it got a lot more local media coverage, in addition to national outlets, so it was hard not to hear about it.
After that point, May 2014, a lot more complaints rolled in. To open an investigation, the Education Department would have determined two things: there was a potential violation of Title IX according to the complainant, and the department has the authority to investigate it.
JN: You recently wrote a story on a study that challenged the long-standing belief that serial rapists make up the bulk of sexual assaults on college campuses. “Serial rapists are not responsible for the [campus rape] problem,” said Kevin Swartout, a lead researcher in the study that found, using your words, “four out of five men who committed rape before graduating college were not repeat offenders.” How illuminating is this new study?
TK: Up until this point, the only research that looked at serial perpetration among students was from Dr. David Lisak in the early 90s. He’s a well-respected researcher, and the new study doesn’t prove him wrong. But the new study has more data, stretching over several years at two schools.
What I think is notable about the survey is that a lot of guys are committing rape in high school. Why don’t you know that? Well, because, it’s not something a lot of people are going to talk about, especially when many of their friends might’ve never had sex. There’s a total lack of understanding of sex at that age. We could fix that, if we started having more frank conversations about what is healthy sexual behavior with boys before they actually do have sex.
As for the serial perpetrators, it at least gives hope that men aren’t going to keep striking until they are caught. And if a college administrator is going to punish someone who is found responsible for sexual assault, then they can hopefully apply a punishment that helps ensure that guy never does it again, including after college.
JN: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and other members of congress have proposed a Campus Accountability and Safety Act. What would this act entail, and how could it impact the Clery Act?
TK: The bill, known shorthand as CASA, would allow the federal government to fine universities for Title IX violations in sexual assault cases, which the government currently can’t do. Another big thing students might notice is CASA proposes to require schools to disclose how many students are found responsible for sexual assault in the campus process, and what their punishments were. Some colleges already do this, and activists typically champion this as a transparency move.
As far as the Clery Act, I don’t think it would change too much about it, except raise the possible fines and hopefully clarify the conflicts between Clery and Title IX – but college administrators have said they still have a lot of questions about this, and insist they already have a lot of rules to follow that they are sorting through. So what’s in the bill now will not be what’s in the final product. CASA has a high likelihood of being incorporated into the larger Higher Education Act Reauthorization, which addresses a ton of other federal policies, including financial aid.
JN: As someone who has covered sexual assaults and the handling of sexual assault cases on college campuses for years, how have you seen this problem change over recent years?
TK: When I started covering it, it was a little unusual to have a sexual assault survivor speak publicly. The allegations they raised of schools misbehaving was shocking. I’m surprised at how quickly this became dull to some national media, and even local media, who acted as if “Oh, well we already heard that kind of story, so we’re not interested.” That’s of course, just paraphrasing their attitude. But I think now we’re somewhere between debating what actually should be the policies we put in place to deal with sexual assault, while remaining fair to everyone involved, and how much of this is a cultural problem.
I think it’s important to pay attention to campus sexual assault within the context of everything else in the news – there’s a lot of attention to domestic violence by NFL and MMA players, the Bill Cosby rape allegations, political fights about gender inequality and the wage gap, and a lot of online discussion about street harassment. It’s almost a perfect storm, where America was forced to deal with sexual assault. A lot of activists compare this to how the country started addressing domestic violence a couple of decades ago.
That said, there’s a lot of work left. A lot of people have genuine concerns about providing fair adjudication for accused college students. A lot of people are frustrated that no one is addressing rape culture for young teens. Some states still don’t classify same-sex rape as rape. And the criminal justice system doesn’t prosecute most rape cases. So while it’s possible that we’ll get on the right track with campus sexual assault within a few years, I think it’ll be much longer to address everything else going on.
To put it another way, don’t expect people to stop talking about this until it’s so rare for someone to actually be roofied, that people will need to Google the word “roofie” to figure out what it is.
Contact editor-in-chief Jack Nicholson at firstname.lastname@example.org