NMU Alumna, sexual assault survivor, writes bill to establish college oversight committee

Justin Van't Hof

A bill soon to be introduced by Michigan representative John Riley in the next few months to Michigan officials called the “Oversight of Higher Education Act” hopes to create the office of a higher education ombudsman to oversee discrimination complaints.

The bill was written by 2018 NMU Alumna Kat Klawes with help from Riley about her own experience as a sexual assault survivor. The legislation would create a state-regulated office to oversee any case of sexual assault and discrimination at higher education institutions.

The office will also look into any previous case of assault or discrimination in hopes to offer help to sexual assault survivors and anyone facing rights issues. The office will also do a campus climate survey every three years on every Michigan college to – document what-types of cases happening to universities.

The bill will mandate looking into -what types of complaints and how many complaints were perused through legal matters. The bill also offers protection for whistleblowers to ensure full transparency.

“This is the first bill being introduced by a sexual assault survivor,” Klawes said.

In summer 2015 Klawes was sexually assaulted and during the following March of 2016 NMU Klawes said an NMU official sent her an email and told her to stop talking about thoughts of suicide or she will be expelled. Klawes was seeing someone for her previous sexual assault and said she never mentioned thoughts of suicide.

“I was always very open with the effects of the sexual assault had on me. After I got this email I felt it was a gag order keeping me from talking about my sexual assault experience,” Klawes said.

Through research, Klawes found that around 100 other NMU students have received similar emails with similar text. Along with a few other students she filed a complaint with the Department of Justice, worked with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and moved forward with a lawsuit. NMU was fined around $150,000 for violating students’ rights.

“I couldn’t imagine how spread it was but it is a pandemic. Universities were given unchecked power over students and staff and were frequently violating their rights,” Klawes said. 

Many survivors can’t afford to file a lawsuit forth with a lengthy trial so Klawes hopes by establishing a state-run office to oversee these claims more people will be able to get the help. Klawes founded the College Campus Oversight Advocates, a grassroots organization of around 200 members, which is also introducing the bill in Wisconsin as well.

College Campus Oversight Advocates can be reached to answer questions by emailing [email protected].

“This bill can help with a litany of issues. I spoke to a sexual assault survivor who reported her assault to 15 different administrators but was swept under the rug,” Klawes said. “She had no avenue to turn to and this bill would provide an avenue.”