Hesston College adds task force to list of sexual abuse safety initiatives

By Billy Bass – Horizon News Editor & Kendra Burkey – Horizon Advisor

HESSTON, Kan.– For Dr. Stephanie Krehbiel, encounters like the following one are far too common: A few weeks ago, a female student on an unnamed Mennonite college campus told Krehbiel she had been sexually assaulted. Upon sharing the story and asking for help from a trusted faculty member, the student received neither advice nor support. In fact, she was scolded.

“Are you trying to destroy this college?” the instructor said.

That’s the very response that Krehbiel, who spoke in forum Friday, wants to see changed.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. Mennonite institutions, Krehbiel says, are no exception. Adding to the problem is the way in which church institutions have responded, often protecting institutional community over the well-being of the survivor.

That discovery has really bothered Krehbiel.

“My skin has gotten a little thicker,” she said. “I have heard the most hideous stories of abuse, but something about this one slipped a knife through my armor.”

Krehbiel, who founded the Mennonite chapter of SNAP, a sexualized violence support organization, has expert insight into ways that this type of abuse occurs within a church setting, particularly in the Mennonite Church and Mennonite institutions. Her experience as an ethnographer and survivor advocate gives her access to more stories than she can keep up with. One takeaway from her research: Mennonite institutions need to be doing more. 

And that’s exactly what Hesston intends to do.

As part of a push to increase safety and get a true picture of interpersonal experiences on campus, Hesston formed “The Task Force for Sexual Misconduct and Interpersonal Safety.”

Interim President Ben Sprunger, along with faculty and staff, formed the task force earlier this month to to evaluate current policies, gather data and stories from community members, and to identify holes in safety that currently exist. It’s meant to work independently from the college, evaluating the state of safety on campus without the interference or lack of trust in the survivor Krehbiel says is sometimes typical in Mennonite institutions.

“Our commitment, based on the Task Force’s assessment and recommendation, is to implement policies and best practices to promote healthy interpersonal relationships and create a culture that seeks to support and empower victims, providing a fair, safe and just resolution that makes our community and the campus as safe as possible from all forms of abusive and violent sexual misconduct,” said Sprunger.

Three on-campus and three off-campus members, along with a facilitator, form the task force.

On-campus members:

  • Julie Lehman, Campus Counselor
  • Hanna Eastin, Art Faculty
  • Kevin Wilder, Psychology Faculty

The off-campus members have been appointed, but have not yet been named.

Facilitating the task force is Dr. Jeanette Harder, social work professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Harder met with potential task force members in early November, assessing the culture, policies, and practices of the college in relation to sexual misconduct and interpersonal safety.

Based on recommendations from others doing similar work, Harder advised putting a separate safe, confidential, and professional group in place to listen and record the stories, and provide assistance and services as may be needed by those sharing their experiences.

Harvey County Safe House, now renamed SafeHope will provide that point of contact.

Other initiatives created to ensure campus safety:

  • Created an online confidential reporting system in fall of 2016.
  • Conducted an online training on sexual assault education among all students: Haven through vendor EverFi.
  • Conducted a “Campus Climate Survey,” an instrument for collecting and comparing data on student relationships and attitudes.
  • Added a non-retaliatory and good Samaritan policy to our Title IX program in collaboration with SafeHope.
  • Entered an agreement with SafeHope to hold on-campus office hours on Fridays for students who may have experienced violence, abuse, or misconduct.

Questions or feedback regarding the work of the Task Force may be directed to Harder at HesstonCollegeTaskForce@gmail.com.

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