Editor’s Note: The following story has been updated to include comments from Tyler Conley and other students who responded to the email thread.
A controversial email, sent in reply to a request to complete a survey about the climate of sexual assault at Kent State, sparked critical student responses in the email chain and on social media.
The reply, sent by Tyler Conley, a 2020 technical and applied studies graduate of Kent’s Trumbull campus, said, “Sexual Misconduct and Crime around campus? Yeah that’s the problem with Kent. Rolls eyes. Idiots.”
Conley said in follow-up messages his response was intentional, and that Kent State does not challenge people to learn and grow. He said students should question their university and “ask for challenges.”
The request to fill out the survey originated with Kent State’s Center for Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Services. The results, according to earlier communications about the survey, will be used to help the university better respond to and prevent sexual and relationship violence, as well as identify needs for improved training, education, and support.
Kent State issued a statement that apologized to everyone on the listserv, calling the emailed reply “unauthorized,” and stating, “These messages are not in keeping with our values of respect and care in a safe community. We are working to disable the function that allowed these replies to be sent to the distribution list.”
In total, 11 emails were sent by students and faculty in response to Conley's email before the reply-all feature was disabled; however, other emails were sent to Conley directly. In the statement, the university recommended that anyone affected by the emails reach out to SRVSS directly.
Kent State students also responded to the situation by tweeting about sexual assault and creating memes about Conley’s responses. The traffic from Kent students on Twitter resulted in Conley's name becoming a trending topic in Ohio. Conley initially agreed to speak with KentWired, but is no longer responding to requests for comment.
CJ Venable, a graduate student in the College of Health and Human Services and a former academic advisor at Kent State, responded and said, “Sexual violence, in fact, affects one fifth of women college students and around 5% of men.”
Heather Eller, freshman photography major, replied to Conley and said, “That’s a really gross hot take Tyler.” She told KentWired this was out of anger and frustration.
“The statistics are not even on his side,” Eller said. “So instead of putting my time and effort into trying to educate this man who clearly did not want to be educated, I was kind of just like that's really gross.”
Tessa Hinson, sophomore Human Services major at Kent’s Ashtabula campus, also responded to Conley and said, “Why are you lowkey being rude and publicly sending that? Also, that topic is not a ‘rolls eyes.’ Thanks.” She told KentWired she felt compelled to speak up for people that felt invalidated by his emails.
“I just felt like somebody needed to say something because I read his emails a lot trying to figure out what his stance was [and] trying to understand where he was coming from,” Hinson said. “And he deserves to be upset but I don't think he deserves to downplay another issue, especially one like that.”
Kelly Premo, an education coordinator for the Julie Valentine Center, a rape crisis center in South Carolina, said in the email string the statistics Venable cited were true. She told KentWired Conley’s words made her feel angry because so many people are statistically survivors of sexual assault.
“I think that it is incredibly insensitive,” she said. “It is incredibly demeaning and degrading to survivors.”
Sexual assault awareness is important, especially in college, Premo said.
“If you’re a female on a college campus, the odds of you being sexually assaulted are four times the rate as a female of the same age [and the] same race [who is] not in college or on a college campus,” she said. “And a lot of it is because you’re in this party environment.”
Education on bystander intervention and the role alcohol can play in assault is valuable as well as changing the language we use about sex, she said.
“The more we learn, the better we do, and it won’t happen as much,” Premo said. “And it won’t be so taboo that people don’t talk about it anymore.”
Madisyn Woodring is a reporter. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.