“I see students going about business as usual, as if there’s not something so grossly and monumentally messed up with the state of Wesleyan University.”
In middle school, I distinctly remember having to say, in a classroom full of my peers, that Holocaust jokes are not okay. That my grandmom was a Holocaust survivor. That so many of my family members died.
I also remember the uncomfortable silence that followed. Afterwards, people would stop making those “jokes” around me, or at least made them knowing that I would call them on it, that they couldn’t get away with being that awful. I remember a lot of uncomfortable silences after that.
I also remember wondering what happened when I was not in the room. I remember wondering if the people I spent all of my time with—in classes, in activities, in the community at large—ever made a Holocaust joke when they knew I wasn’t there to make them feel guilty for it.
I remember thinking a lot about the word “integrity.” What you do when nobody’s watching. I remember feeling like I did not trust the integrity of the people who stopped making Holocaust “jokes” around me because I saw them make other hurtful comments that targeted other groups, and passing it off as humor. I remember wanting to say something, but not wanting to be the buzzkill, the girl who took everything too seriously.
I’ve thought about that a lot this week.
The recent news that a Wesleyan student is suing Psi U due to rape allegations has sparked debate over the role of fraternities in sexual assault, and their presence on college campuses. Zach Schonfeld ’13 has written two in-depth articles on the matter. The first explores the history of various universities that have decided to get rid of their fraternities, and the follow-up wondering if Wesleyan will be the next to do the same.
A recent piece in The Nation explores the worrying fate of publically engaged academic intellectuals in the university system, reflecting on the recent firings of two Columbia professors.
This past October, a former Wesleyan student filed a lawsuit against the University. The student, who has used the pseudonym Jane Doe in court proceedings to maintain her anonymity, says that she was raped in a locked room during the fraternity’s 2010 Halloween party by John O’Neill, 21, of Yorktown, NY. O’Neill was a guest of the fraternity and not a Wesleyan student. He was charged with first-degree sexual assault, pleaded no contest to lesser charges of third-degree assault and first-degree unlawful restraint a little over a year ago, and is now serving a 15-month prison sentence, from which he will be released next month.
According to The Hartford Courant, “The woman’s lawsuit, filed last October, charges Wesleyan with violating Title IX, the federal gender-equity law, by failing “to supervise, discipline, warn or take other corrective action” against the fraternity, actions that it says could have prevented the assault.” Wesleyan warned students in an email in March 2010 to avoid Beta due to safety concerns. Jane Doe says that, as she was not aware of that warning, she went to the frat’s Halloween party, where she was raped.
Fast-forward to the present. Lawyers for the Wesleyan chapter of Beta Theta Pi (which is also a defendant in the case) filed papers this week arguing that Jane Doe should not be able to use the pseudonym in the federal lawsuit. The Hartford Courant summarizes their motion as follows:
Lawyers for the Mu Epsilon chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Wesleyan said the woman should not be allowed to proceed with her lawsuit under the pseudonym “Jane Doe” because “it allows her to make defamatory statements against” the fraternity and Wesleyan “behind a cloak of anonymity,” according to a motion filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court.
If you’ve followed the Steubenville trial in recent weeks, you may have found some of the media responses disconcerting. Instead of providing support for sexual survivors, popular media outlets like CNN lamented that the conviction will impact the once-bright futures of the rapists. In these comments, CNN did not detail how Jane Doe was harassed online and slut-shamed by her community (and America at large) for reporting the crime and pressing charges. CNN did not lament how rape culture creates an environment that renders survivors of sexual assault afraid to talk about their experiences and ashamed of something that isn’t their fault. One in five women in the United States is sexually assaulted and 60% of these attacks go unreported to the police. It seems like there’s something wrong with the common discourse of sexual assault.
The unceasingly inspirational Lena Solow ’12 wants to provide messages of hope and positivity for survivors that were so lacking from many Steubenville responses. This blog is not just for Jane Doe—it’s for any survivor who seeks affirmation and encouragement. Solow writes, “This is a place to consolidate messages of hope and encouragement and affirmation for sexual assault survivors. Created in response to the backlash, victim blaming, and all-around horrifying language about the Steubenville rape case. If Jane Doe, the Steubenville survivor, searches for messages, there should be something else available for her, and for all survivors of assault.”
Here is a link to the blog, “Messages for Survivors.” You should definitely check it out and even contribute if you feel so inclined.
Last week, we posted about the Sexual Assault Survivors Support Group (SASS), but it seems the previously posted time didn’t work out for folks. So, Alysha Warren writes in this week with a new and improved time that will hopefully enable more people to benefit from the group.
The SASS will be held on Wednesdays beginning February 27th and running through May 1st from 3:45-5:00pm. SASS is open to survivors of childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault and rape. Meetings will follow an open support group format and participants determine group topics each week. Contact Alysha B. Warren, LPC, Therapist/Sexual Violence Resource Coordinator, for more information at awarren[at]wesleyan[dot]edu. Reference “Support Group” in the subject line. The deadline to sign-up is Tuesday, February 26th at 12pm.
Deadline: Tuesday, February 26th at 12pm
Meets: Wednesdays, 3:45-5:00pm
A few days ago, I wrote a lengthy post on the subject of sexual assault and its roots. Another of our writers, the venerable BZOD, wrote me a very lucid and compelling response which I wanted to share with you all. In addition, I’ve included some bits and pieces from our rather lengthy conversation that followed.
I’ve never experienced sexual assault, but I was sexually harassed in late August by a creepy middle-aged man in my neighborhood. There was no physical contact, he made no motions to pursue me as I excused myself from the conversation, and did not know anything about me except my first name, but nevertheless I found myself paranoid after the encounter. For the next few weeks, every time I passed an older, overweight guy in sunglasses on the way to the bus, I found myself wondering whether it was him, and whether he was following me. Given how uncomfortable I felt after only 10 minutes of conversation and how unreasonably paranoid the whole interaction made me for a time, I cannot even fathom what it must be like for someone who was actually sexually assaulted, who actually DOES see their attacker again, or even regularly.
I think that this is one of the biggest problems: as a society, we downplay the emotional impact of rape. We think of it as a purely sexual act, in which someone may be bruised, pushed around, and is forced to have sex. But in truth, while the physical rape hurts, it’s not the part that does the most harm; after all, a fight between couples could easily yield more damage if we look purely at the physical level. What destroys people is the emotional aspect. Rape is, in many ways, the most thorough form of violence. It forces a person into the most submissive state possible, in which they are forced to do something to which our society attaches great meaning with someone with whom they do not want to do it. It can leave survivors with a fear that, as they were violated in such a thorough way once, it could always happen again. The barrier between reality and horror stories has been broken and all of a sudden anything is possible. There are no longer “unthinkable acts” but only acts that haven’t happened yet.
“We believe it is is not ethically responsible at this time for us as alumni to financially support an institution that is not willing to properly ensure the safety and respect of its student body.”
Confirming reports from Homecoming Weekend that a significant number of alumni are aware of and unhappy about recent campus controversies surrounding sexual assault and need-blind admissions, Wesleying received the following letter from members of the class of 2010. The note has been circulating via email among recent alums. In it, Anonymous ’10 expresses “serious concerns regarding two recent, unsettling missteps taken by Wesleyan University” and asks hir classmates to pledge not to donate. No doubt this suggestion will be controversial on campus (particularly in the arena of need-blind, where Wesleyan’s meager alumni giving rate is especially pertinent). No doubt it will also grab attention.
Some alumni have already defended their unwillingness to donate in the comments section of recent posts. Wesleying is interested in following up with a longer feature. If you’re an alumnus who won’t donate to the school and want to talk about it—or a caller for Red & Black—please contact us at staff(at)wesleying(dot)org.
Here’s the letter:
A few weeks ago, a former Wesleyan student filed suit against the University, as well as the national Beta Theta Pi Fraternity, its Mu Epsilon chapter here at Wesleyan, and the Baird Society that owns the building and grounds occupied by Mu Epsilon. In a nutshell, the suit alleges that the University and the other parties did not take sufficient action to prevent the rape of the former student at a Halloween Party at Beta in October of 2010. The coverage of this lawsuit, by Wesleying and by local and national news sources, involves a Brobdingnagian array of diverse but connected issues. I’m going to try to touch on as many as I can. I will inevitably sound preachy at particular points, and for that I apologize in advance.
I really hope that these statements are unnecessary, but here goes: sexual assault, like pretty much any kind of assault, is problematic and unacceptable. The environment in which sexual assault remains possible is likewise problematic and unacceptable.
This post attempts to make those things a little bit clearer, comments on the subject in light of recent events, and includes many of my own opinions tying this particular issue to broader and equally terrifying patterns of college/youth/generational/human attitude that underlie the culture of permissible rape. This post is long. You should read it anyway.
Let’s start with some facts:
- Millions of rapes occur every year, both forcible (as noted in the image above) and non-forcible. The vast majority are perpetrated by men against women, though still significant numbers of rapes are perpetrated by women against men and by men against men or women against women.
- About one in four women will be subject to a sexual assault in their lifetimes. About one in six men will be subject to the same. [United States Department of Justice]
- About one in five women at a college or university will be subject to a sexual assault during their years at school.
- A 1991 study found that 76% of boys and 56% of girls in high school believe that forced sex is acceptable under certain conditions. These “certain conditions” typically included ‘if those involved had been dating for at least six months’ and/or ‘if he spent a lot of money on her.’ [Parrot & Bechhofer, 1991]
- Sexual assault survivors are typically acquainted with the perpetrator beforehand, oftentimes being friends or even in a long-term relationship.
- Both individuals have typically consumed alcohol or other substances (about three in four perpetrators and one in two survivors). [Abbey et al., 1998]
- In most studies, large percentages of survivors interviewed that described an incident meeting the study’s definition of rape would not themselves term the incident as rape.
“No Wesleyan student should feel unsafe on campus.”
If you’ve glanced at Wesleying in the past week or so, then you’re already familiar with the federal lawsuit that refers to Beta as a ‘Rape Factory’ and accuses the University of failing to protect students from sexual assault and rape. (Since last weekend, the case has received national media coverage.) Vincent Vecchione ’07 and Holly Wood ’08 (yes, that Holly) have responded with an online petition calling on the Board of Trustees to require that ResLife analyze all other instances of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape and assess how well the office responded. According to Vecchione, every signature on the petition sends an email to the Board. The full text appears below.
In light of the recent allegations of the administration’s horrifying mistreatment and cruelty toward a rape victim in 2010, it is crucial that Wesleyan University analyze all other recorded charges of sexual crimes reported to the Offices of Residential Life and Public Safety. The best way to do this is for the Office of Residential Life to analyze every prior notice of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, then review how the Office responded, and whether this response was effective. Special attention should be paid to cases of representatives of the administration “gaslighting” or otherwise diminishing the criminality of harassment, assault and rape to undergraduates.
“The female body may not be able to shut down conception, but we can at least shut down Akin’s wild claims.”
If you study at a liberal arts college like Wesleyan, you’ve probably already recoiled in disgust at Representative Todd Akin’s comments last week regarding pregnancy and rape.
But if you teach history and science in society at a small liberal arts college like Wesleyan, you’ve probably already
unpacked analyzed the decidedly medieval roots and implications of Representative Todd Akin’s curiously antiquated theories of pregnancy and rape. You may have even gotten the New York Times to publish it as an op-ed.
Enter Professor Jennifer Tucker, who smartly pointed out last week that Todd Akin’s views of rape are in fact quite consistent with science—as long as you’re living in 12th century Germany. Akin, of course, suggested that women are unlikely to become pregnant from rape, because “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Turns out this view is intriguingly consistent with what was preached by Hildegard of Bingen in the 12th century: