For the Safety of Students: Five Questions for Mary Koss

Mary P. Koss, Ph.D.

With close to 300 peer-reviewed publications and a number of academic awards to her name, it’s hard to believe that University of Arizona Regents’ Professor Mary P. Koss once had to fight her way into the doctoral program in psychology at the University of Minnesota. Her test scores put her head and shoulders above other applicants, but it took a tense meeting with the department head — in which she let a bit of profanity slip out — to finally get accepted into their graduate school. Clinical psychology was a very male-dominated field in the early 1980s, when she was starting her career, and that was all too clear when a colleague shared his idea for a study that would explore male undergraduates’ attitudes toward rape — by having models pose in varying sizes of padded bras and be rated for their desirability and culpability if raped.


The term date rape was first used in the news media 35 years ago this month.


From that conversation, though, came the seed of an idea that would soon set Dr. Koss apart from her peers. At that time, Dr. Koss was at Kent State in Ohio, still years before she joined the University of Arizona. She made a name for herself studying campus sexual assault by developing a survey that revolutionized efforts to gauge respondents’ experiences of sexual aggression and victimization, revealing a higher prevalence than previously thought. Her initial study was publicized 35 years ago this month, in Ms. Magazine’s September 1982 issue, in an article that also marked the first time a national news publication used the term date rape. Both Dr. Koss’ research and the introduction of that term to the national conversation were game-changers in many ways.

At the time the article was published, most rape-prevention programs on college campuses were relatively new and narrowly focused on the danger posed by strangers — the assailants waiting in alleyways, rather than the familiar faces in classrooms or dorms. Dr. Koss’ research, as well as the stories writer Karen Barrett reported from Stanford University and the University of Connecticut for the Ms. article, revealed that many cases of rape, especially those committed by the victims’ peers and acquaintances, were often ignored, denied, or misunderstood as something other than rape. The concept of date rape helped many people recognize rape — their own or others’ — that had been perpetrated by people known to the victims.

Greater awareness and understanding of the problem of campus sexual assault soon followed, but the 35 years since then have seen both progress and setbacks. In fact, as the anniversary of that historic Ms. article approached, news began coming from the Department of Education that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos vowed to revisit Obama-era policies that addressed campus sexual assault. A series of information-gathering meetings included a group that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, seeks “to roll back services for victims of domestic abuse and penalties for their tormentors.” Continue reading

No Sporting Chance: LGBTQ Inequality Under Gov. Ducey

For many Arizonans, Gov. Doug Ducey’s State of the State address on January 11 suggested that with the new year, we would be seeing a new, more compassionate course of action from the state’s executive branch. His address before a joint legislative session had the boilerplate promises of a conservative stump speech, including deregulation and lower taxes, but he also promised funding for a backlog of untested rape kits and improved access to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It was hardly a 180-degree turn, but it was a gesture of even-handedness.


If Arizona’s governor won’t fight for LGBTQ rights, it’s time for citizens to put pressure on their legislators.


Hopes, though, were quickly dashed. Two weeks later, Gov. Ducey gave dismissive responses to the media about Arizona’s legal protections for members of the LGBTQ community. Questions were prompted by Ducey’s comments at a kickoff event for college basketball’s NCAA Men’s Final Four tournament, which Glendale will host in April. Last year, the NCAA withdrew events from North Carolina in response the state’s notorious “bathroom bill,” which required transgender people at government facilities to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex ascribed at birth, not the sex with which they identify. The law, House Bill 2, also blocked cities and other jurisdictions from passing anti-discrimination laws that exceed the protections offered by the state.

While Arizona has never passed a law modeled quite like North Carolina’s House Bill 2, the state has had its own controversial bills that were hostile to LGBTQ rights. In 2013, the Arizona Legislature considered a bathroom bill of its own — one that ultimately didn’t pass — which would have granted businesses the power to deny bathroom access to people based on their gender identity or expression. In 2014, Gov. Jan Brewer responded to pressure and vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ customers, as long as they claimed their actions were motivated by religious beliefs. The Human Rights Campaign gives Arizona a mixed review on its scorecard, noting support for same-sex marriage licenses and gender changes on government-issued identification, but not for transgender health care and other important policy matters. In fact, a bill currently under consideration, House Bill 2294, would remove coverage for gender-affirming medical procedures from AHCCCS, Arizona’s Medicaid program. Continue reading