First, the good news: Western Carolina University is doing some great work around dating violence this fall, including “The Red Flag Campaign [which] encourages students to say something when they see ‘red flags’ of violence such as excessive jealousy, name-calling, isolation or abuse in their friends’ relationships.” Awesome! They will also be hosting an A Call To Men training.
[UPDATE: the woman in the below story has recanted her accusation. I am leaving the remainder of the post unchanged, as the issue of alerting the campus is still relevant.]
And now, the really horrible news: an 18 year-old female Hofstra University student was gang-raped over the weekend when one of the five attackers lured her from a party by taking her cell phone. 4 of the men, one Hofstra student and three others who he signed into the dorm, have been arrested and charged. Although the school posted an announcement about the attack to their internal website on Monday afternoon, many students were not aware of it until they heard about it on facebook or from the media on Tuesday. Students were understandably upset that the school wasn’t more proactive about notifying them, and that the web post itself “didn’t have pertinent information, such as the dorm in which the attack occurred.”
Melissa Connolly, vice president of university relations at Hofstra, said the university’s text message and e-mail alert system is only used when there’s an “imminent threat.” The suspects in this case were all identified by police quickly, she said. “We don’t ever get in front of a police investigation and release information before them if it’s not an imminent threat to campus,” Connolly said…
Still, students said the postings on the campus Web site meant little. “It’s weird because we usually get letters about muggings and other crimes,” said Amanda Stolcz, 20, of Howard Beach, Queens.
Well, for one thing they haven’t yet found the 5th man. How is that not an imminent threat? For another, wouldn’t it be great if rape was taken as seriously as “muggings and other crimes”? This was irresponsible and Hofstra students are right to expect more.
Onto Georgetown: The Sexist has a great story about the nickname of—and university response to—”Georgetown Cuddler.” SinceJanuary of 2008, on perpetrator has been responsible for a number of sexual assaults (by my count there have been at least 9 assaults; 7 as of February and 2 more right before this school year started).
In a typical attack, a man enters a student’s residence through an unlocked window or door, lies down next to her, and attempts to sexually assault her. He’s been accused of everything from laying a blanket atop his victim to placing his penis on his victim’s thigh.
Of course, “the Cuddler” is hardly appropriate for a man who breaks into dorms and attempts to assault sleeping women. And the Georgetown administration has asked that students—like those that run the student newspapers and magazines—stop using the nickname as it “can detract from the serious nature of these incidents.” However, as The Sexist reports, the student journalists at the Georgetown Voice don’t like using the name either…but it does bring attention the the crimes, which they feel are not being given proper attention by the administration.
Beyond the warning against the popular nickname, Georgetown’s campus alert was conspicuously short on descriptors. “As you may know, our campus and surrounding neighborhoods have experienced incidents over the past year, and several in the past week,” the university hedged. Students who may not know about the history of sexual assaults around campus—including incoming freshmen—were afforded no further elaboration on the nature of the “incidents.”….
While administrators view “Georgetown Cuddler” as an inaccurate and inappropriate nickname, it provides students a helpful—even necessary—shorthand for covering an ongoing campus safety risk. Georgetown’s letter denouncing the nickname was the school’s most transparent response to the string of attacks to date. But the Georgetown Voice has been publishing the nickname for nearly a year—and alerting students to the school’s sexual assault problem each time the “Cuddler” is invoked.
“When I write something that’s ‘Cuddler’ related, it gets more attention on campus,” says Voice projects editor Will Sommer. “I would never make it seem as though something is a ‘Cuddler’ attack when it isn’t. But when you associate the ‘Cuddler’ thing, it lends a narrative to it.” That narrative, Sommer says, has been missing from Georgetown University’s previous response to the assaults—a series of “Public Safety Alerts” (PSAs) which fail to address the incidents as a campus trend….
Despite its liberal use of the “Cuddler,” the Voice takes care to clarify the seriousness of each sexual assault incident it reports. It’s also criticized Georgetown University for employing other euphemisms in its reports on the attacks. Georgetown’s PSA alerting students to two similar incidents in April 2008 classified the offenses as “burglaries” instead of sexual assaults, even though one victim “awakened to find an unknown male in her bed.” In the most recent incident, the university PSA described a sexual assault against a student but failed to provide additional details. “I was a little irritated that, instead of giving details about the digital penetration, the university said that the suspect ‘began sexually assaulting her,’” says Brint. “That’s kind of a meaningless phrase. It didn’t indicate at all how serious the incident actually was. I do think that’s problematic.”
I quote liberally here because it’s a complicated issue—the students quoted are correct: on the one hand, it’s an awful name that downplays the seriousness having a serial attacker around campus. On the other hand, if it helps to keep students aware and engaged in the issue….
No matter what the perpetrator is called, it’s clear that Georgetown isn’t doing enough to alert students to the repetitive and sexual nature of these “incidents.” I can’t believe the freshmen weren’t thoroughly informed about the history of these assaults. Not only is it highly irresponsible, but there’s a lot of “teachable moments” here. And referring to “burglaries” may be better PR for the school, but their responsibility is for making sure their students are safe, part of which means making sure their students know the realities of what is happening on campus.