Two young women have dropped their federal lawsuit against Kansas State University, and in a limited sense that makes complete sense to us. Their case — which alleged that K-State should bear some of the blame for rapes that happened off-campus — never really added up, in legal terms.
But that doesn’t mean K-State can simply let the issue drop. Because in a broader sense, the women had a valid point.
Tessa Farmer and Sara Weckhorst had sued K-State in 2016 for violating Title IX, the federal law that bans discrimination in higher education on the basis of sex.
In their lawsuit, the women argued that K-State refused to investigate Weckhorst’s 2014 report that she was raped at a fraternity house, and that the university’s “deliberate indifference” and lack of action led to another rape in Manhattan committed by the same person. Weckhorst’s rapist was convicted and sent to prison, but he was found not guilty in another case.
K-State has held for many years that it is not obligated to police off-campus housing, including fraternities. We agree, and ultimately that’s why the lawsuit evaporated. If the women’s goal was actually to win in court, they failed, and probably never had much of a shot.
But we doubt that was their real goal. Their real goal, in connection with other similar lawsuits and campaigns around the country, was to raise the profile of the issue. On that, they certainly succeeded. The case made it to the front page of the New York Times, for instance.
And their point, in many ways, is valid. What happens in a fraternity house might not be legally the responsibility of the university, but common sense says that what happens in those places is intimately connected to the college experience of the young men who live there, and to the young women who visit.
The university can’t divorce itself from fraternities, and it shouldn’t. It simply needs to do everything it can to enforce standards of acceptable behavior, and it needs to make certain there are appropriate channels for handling complaints.
We’re confident that’s happening now, and we’re confident that it will get better as a result of this experience.
For that, we need to thank the two young women who had the guts to sue.