- Officials at a small Mennonite college in Kansas pressured sexual assault survivors to forgive their alleged abusers and generally mismanaged reports of sexual violence, according to a recent audit conducted by law firm Cozen O’Connor.
- The review that Hesston College initiated late last year revealed systemic failings on the college’s part. The audit involved interviews with more than 50 students, alumni, employees and others.
- After its release last month, college leaders pledged to revamp their sexual violence reporting procedures and train employees in Title IX, the federal law banning sex-based discrimination, including rape, in federally funded schools.
Hesston is a tiny institution based in rural Kansas, only enrolling about 330 students in fall 2021, according to the most recently available federal data.
The audit offers a rare, deep look into Title IX workings at a religious college, which as a private institution has no obligation to share the findings.
In some Title IX cases involving small, underresourced colleges, like Hesston, few employees have been trained how to properly investigate sexual violence without retraumatizing survivors. And they may be stretched thin, charged with handling many reports without much assistance.
Concerns with Hesston emerged in September 2022, when allegations of bungled Title IX reports were made public. Two months later, college officials ordered the Cozen O’Connor audit.
Sexual violence survivors told investigators they were urged to meet with their alleged abusers and practice forgiveness, a key tenent of the Mennonite religion.
Some survivors said administrators seemed to place blame on them. College officials reportedly advised students to not be out of their room late or wear “flashy” clothing to avoid harassment.
Only three out of the 35 Title IX cases auditors reviewed were formally investigated, according to the law firm. And many times, the institution didn’t meet their Title IX obligations whatsoever.
“To our students who were impacted by the college’s failures, we extend our own and the college’s most sincere apologies,” the college’s president and governing board chair said in a joint statement. “We commit to doing all that we can to earn back your trust in the college.”