Rapes and sexual assaults continue to happen on campuses throughout the United States. Yet perpetrators are still afforded privacy while their victims are run through a gamut of insinuations, distrust, and ultimate non-action. The women of Columbia University, in an effort to make public the names of potentially dangerous men who studied, ate, and partied with them, appropriated this mode of communication to finally serve the purposes of women. They wrote the names of a few men who were responsible for sexual assaults on the bathroom wall. The administration discovered this valorous attempt to inform other women of potential danger and deployed a crack team of janitors to assiduously scrub away all evidence. Students have never seen the administration act so quickly and decisively on any campus-related issue. No janitors were seen entering the men’s restrooms to do the same.
Rules were, predictably, cited regarding the impropriety of destroying property via the writing on of walls. Threats were made. Flyers were also made. If one can’t write the message on the wall of a women’s bathroom, surely a flyer or two would do no harm and be tolerated. Not so! The same team of janitorial experts worked overtime to pull down flyers as quickly as they were taped to the wall.
The result? The names of 3 men who had been found “responsible” (i.e., guilty) of sexual assault on campus remained (mostly) hidden from the very women who could use that information to make informed decisions regarding their lives and safety. The name of one man who has been cleared of 3 separate allegations is also safely hidden from view. And those bathroom walls are extremely clean.
Facebook chat, texts, and other private forms of communication are on fire. Women want to know the names of those who are on that list. Women are hungry for information that can help them make informed decisions as they navigate the daily labyrinth of campus life. This hunger for information is not unique to students at Columbia. Check out this article about sexual assault/rape at Stanford.
As in any culture in which important issues are rendered opaque to the very people who have a legitimate public interest in the information, rumors abound. The conversations at Columbia were driven underground, but they are still occurring.
- Most women have been able to obtain the name of the man who was accused of impropriety (to say the very least) on 3 separate occasions with 3 separate women. Armed with his name, they can decide for themselves if he is someone with whom they want to date, socialize, or trust. It will hopefully be more difficult for him to hide his reputation.
- One campus newspaper will no longer be subject to subtle (and sometimes) blatant manipulations by an editor who had successfully hidden his own sexual assault history (yes, he had been found to be responsible for an assault but was assured confidentiality) and had used his position to attempt to influence and sway opinions. He was relieved of his responsibilities at the paper – not because he had been found to have assaulted a woman but because he had used his power and influence as an editor to protect his own interests and to work to further protect his undisclosed identity.
- The other two men whose names appeared on the list were absent from campus (from our best guesses). It’s not really clear if we have all 4 men or if we found a few additional ones.
- One of those men insists he was engaged in consensual sex and was played by a system that is playing a dangerous and inconsistent game that robs people of due process and fundamental rights. His lawsuit is filed and his case is moving forward.
- The final man named on the list is a only a name – he is currently not enrolled in school yet no one we contacted could tell us how long his suspension was to last.
Transparency is important when it comes to a close-knit campus. It’s important to know the names of those who have been found guilty so that the university doesn’t inadvertently protect a predator while exposing potential victims who are mindfully rendered unaware. It’s important for women to hear stories of how the assaults occur so they can best protect themselves from being the next victim. Understanding how verified assaults took place (e.g., the approach of the predator) is valuable information and the reason why newspapers across the nation tell the stories of assaults, murders, robberies, etc. Yes, the University has an interest in minimizing attention paid to the bad things that happen on campus and yes, those who are working through the process of being the accused or the victim may need special rights to privacy. However, once the assault has been affirmed, it seems to be the responsible approach to unveil the situation and provide students with crucial information. How much information? As much information as would be released by the media if that person were convicted in the real world; the criminal justice system.
Colleges are crying that FERPA precludes them from sharing this information. We respectfully disagree. And if that is shown to be the case, all colleges should stop taking and investigating campus assaults. All sexual assaults and rapes should be referred to the police and treated like the crimes they are. Colleges should be relieved of their duties as quasi-policemen/mini-courts. This may be the only way to stop what appears to be the protection of rapists and sexual abusers on campuses across America.