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Cole officially resigns from ASM amid sexual assault allegations

ASM leaders Mariam Coker, Carmen Goséy and Katrina Morrison (left to right) were visibly upset while Representative Kenneth Cole addressed allegations of sexual assault against him as he resigned from the body. 

Image By: Ben Golden

Associated Students of Madison Representative Kenneth Cole officially resigned from the body Wednesday with a lengthy speech that referenced sexual assault allegations against him. 

No alleged victims have spoken publicly about the allegations or have been interviewed by The Daily Cardinal. According to ASM Representative Katrina Morrison, no alleged victims have reported Cole to the police or the university. 

Morrison, who said she knows someone who was sexually assaulted by Cole, explained why she has been adamant about Cole’s removal from ASM at an open forum during the Wednesday meeting. 

“I know they’re just allegations, I know there hasn’t been a trial,” Morrison said. “But by saying that we aren’t going to do anything until our messed-up criminal justice system does something, we are perpetuating rape culture, and I’m not going to stand for that.”

ASM Vice Chair Mariam Coker also said that a victim came forward in confidence to her and ASM Chair Carmen Goséy, and both said they have since individually been working to address the issue. 

Cole said he denied all of the accusations that have been brought up by members of ASM.

“Continuing throughout the summer, I tried to do everything that I could,” Cole said. “I met with Title IX, I met with various different people, I sat in a room and met with the chair and vice chair of ASM.” 

Coker said during the summer months, Goséy attempted to reach out to Cole but he would not return messages. Coker added that she and Goséy met with Cole near the beginning of October and asked him to step down from his role on ASM.

Cole said he did not refuse to resign, instead stating he wanted to think about it first.

Coker, visibly upset, left the room during Cole’s speech. When she returned Coker questioned Cole’s understanding of sexual assault, inciting a heated exchange between the two.

“There were multiple times throughout his statement where he invalidated survivors especially at the times where he was saying, ‘This was done to me,’” Morrison said. “There are also survivors of Kenneth Cole who feel unsafe and hurt that need to be heard as well.”

Cole’s resignation follows a petition started by Coker and Morrison two weeks ago calling for his removal from the group, which Morrison said had gathered around 450 signatures. While the petition did not directly mention the allegations, Morrison and Coker referenced them when sharing the petition on Facebook. 

Accusations emerge

Cole was initially confronted at an April 29 meeting of the organization BlindSide, a politically active student group, where they deliberated on who should run for leadership positions in ASM. Morrison brought forward the allegations at the meeting, stating that she had friends who had been assaulted by Cole and she did not feel comfortable with him in a leadership position.

“In that meeting, I was accused of sexual assault. At that meeting many of you were there,” Cole said. “I stood there and I explained what my character was and who I am as a person. I sat there and tried to explain, and I’m not going to convince anybody.” 

The allegations were also discussed at a spring meeting Morrison called the “women’s caucus,” which included a handful of women on ASM. 

Donale Richardson, a former leader of BlindSide, said he saw the way “women in general” were treated as members of the organization and concluded there wasn’t much of a concern for women’s health issues or promoting female leadership. 

“There were some women who really wanted to work together to solve sexual assault issues on campus, but they were the only ones,” Richardson said. “It wasn’t like everyone else on BlindSide was trying to do a lot to make that a more apparent issue on campus.” 

Following the accusations against Cole, BlindSide largely fell apart. Morrison, a former member of the group, immediately disaffiliated. 

Soon after, a letter was sent to some BlindSide members defending Cole by detailing “several contradictory pieces of information brought forth by accusers.” Richardson said many members quickly jumped to Cole’s defense. He cited the way the situation was handled as a main reason he also left the group.

Following the May 1 Student Council meeting where leadership for the upcoming year was elected, The Badger Herald, a student newspaper on campus, published an article naming Cole as the alleged assaulter. The article was later updated with his name removed. Cole addressed this article during his Wednesday speech, saying he has talked about possible “repercussions” from the article.

Continued concerns

The issue again publicly resurfaced at an Oct. 6 Student Council meeting in the body’s open forum, where UW-Madison student Garrett Pauli expressed his concern with Cole remaining a representative for students. Pauli later said in an interview with The Daily Cardinal that his context for the information he brought forward stemmed from The Badger Herald’s previously published article.

Pauli had shared his concerns about Cole with Coker that day, after which Coker recommended he speak at the open forum. Pauli was joined by UW-Madison students Cortez de la Cruz and Samantha Adams, who spoke more broadly about how ASM deals with issues of sexual assault on campus.  

“It set the stage for how we treat each other,” Coker said about how the allegations affected the council. “The way these situations were treated, the way that people were talking about it, the way the people were triggered in these spaces, the way opinions are completely disregarded in these spaces—that's affected how we treat each other.”

Student Council Representative Janelle Perez expressed disappointment in how ASM handled the situation. 

“As a representative for ASM, I believe that this issue at hand should have been addressed a while ago,” Perez said. “I’m not really sure why it dragged out this long. There’s not a lot of communication going on.”

Coker said that Cole’s resignation would allow the body to work more efficiently in addressing the problem of sexual assault. 

“I feel that now we can do sexual assault-related campaigns without people questioning whether or not we care about sexual assault,” Coker said. “Now that we have an alleged sexual assailant off of Student Council, work that we can do with PAVE, EVOC, Campus Women's Center around such issues will be taken seriously.”

Following Cole’s speech, UW-Madison student activist Brooke Evans announced her intent to run for Cole’s now vacant seat. 

After Cole left the meeting Wednesday, Goséy addressed the body.

“Men, hold yourselves accountable. Take some ownership. Take some damn ownership for your actions,” she said. “We want to play that all white people are racist? Men, take ownership and stop sexually assaulting women.”

UPDATE NOV. 3, 4:05 a.m.: This article was updated to include additional information. 

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