Amid rumors of strippers, alleged Title IX violations and entanglements with Student Judicial Programs, an individual recently elected to the office of McMurtry College president stepped down from his position in an email sent to McMurtry on Feb. 20.

 

Editor’s Note: The identities of students involved in the incident have been protected to ensure their anonymity.

Amid rumors of strippers, alleged Title IX violations and entanglements with Student Judicial Programs, an individual recently elected to the office of McMurtry College president stepped down from his position in an email sent to McMurtry on Feb. 20.

This individual admitted in the email that a group of his friends hired a female stripper for him without his prior knowledge in order to celebrate his victory in the McMurtry presidential race. Videos and images circulated after the incident showing the individual receiving a lap dance from the stripper in a private room while a small circle of onlookers cheered.

The individual cited “numerous complaints received on a multitude of levels” as the reason for his resignation, as well as alleged violations of Title IX as they relate to the college’s public image, a safe sexual environment and the respect of its members.

“No gender, race or ethnicity should ever be objectified in any manner, and I fully admit to violating this ethical standard,” the individual wrote in his email. “To be clear, we have a zero-tolerance policy on this type of behavior, which can lead to things such as sexual harassment, and I definitely made a mistake Saturday night to which I fully admit.”

According to the individual, his resignation came with the knowledge that consequences from SJP would have resulted in him having to step down anyway.  

“Though this is my decision and [I] have not been pressured in any way to take this action, this outcome is inevitable because repercussions by SJP would have resulted in a disciplinary infraction which would have caused me to lose my presidency anyway,” the individual wrote.

An email sent to McMurtry on Feb. 21 indicated that another presidential election is now underway to fill the vacancy.

“Ms. Oscar” at McMurtry: Polarizing Perspectives

According to sources, a stripper going by the stage name of Ms. Oscar entered a private room at McMurtry fully clothed at approximately 2 a.m. The McMurtry president-elect was not previously informed of the celebrations held in his honor: “We just all wanted to support him and celebrate together, and we had no idea that we’d be breaking any rules or that anyone would be harmed by this,” one female partygoer said.

This partygoer estimates that the guest list consisted of approximately 20 attendees and that Ms. Oscar’s dancing lasted for around 30 minutes. Then, according to two attendees, she put her clothes back on, chatted with students for a bit, told them to “stay in school” and walked out of the room fully clothed.

Videos and images of the McMurtry president-elect receiving a lap dance from Ms. Oscar quickly circulated around the college, according to one female McMurtry student who did not attend the festivities and who felt the incident was highly distasteful.

“I just found it totally inappropriate that, on the campus of an educational institution, a woman is being paid to take her clothes off,” the student said. “That wasn't something I was comfortable with and was made worse by the number of college leaders involved."

This student complained that the celebrations were loud, widely publicized before and after and did not create an appropriate environment.

“It was super loud, lots of people were there and a number of pictures were floating around afterward,” the student said. “It isn't just about the stripper. It is about the constant minimization and sexualization of women on this campus. The stripper is just one example of behavior from a small but significant number of boys that I find demeaning and offensive.”

However, one male partygoer argued that Rice has a tradition of sexual expression and that these incidences are appropriate if they are consensual.

“I think there’s a precedent of strippers and sexuality and body acceptance [at Rice],” the partygoer said. “There are obviously very universally supported public events that have to do with nudity, like Baker 13 and [Night of Decadence]. Any sort of consensual sexual act with adults in a private space is inherently not harassment to others.”

The female partygoer agreed that other events at Rice seem to imply that their celebration was not inappropriate.

“By having those things going on at Rice, it did not make it clear to us that there was something that was inherently wrong with what happened,” the partygoer said. “All these things go on that are okay; why would this not be?”

But the student who opposed the celebration believes that within Rice, students must demonstrate sensitivity to other members of the community.

“I think what everyone’s not understanding is that all of us students come from different backgrounds,” the student said. “We have different life experiences, and different things are going to upset some people more than others. Just because it doesn’t upset you doesn’t mean it doesn’t upset those around you, and you need to respect those around you.”

The President-Elect

Social media outlets such as Yik Yak have been buzzing in recent days as a forum for student outrage, discussion and confusion.

In an interview with the Thresher, the former McMurtry president-elect said he understood the issue from the perspective of students and administrators, but voiced concern for the lack of dialogue between the two.

“I feel like a lot of students don’t get to hear [the administration]’s side of the story, and so then maybe they don’t understand why the university goes through certain ... things they do and the conclusions they come to,” the individual said. “Also, the administration might not understand why students have the complaints that they do.”

He said creating a safe environment, citing the Code of Conduct as a general guideline for upholding the spirit of Rice’s community, is of utmost importance.

“Nothing literally went against any sort of written down rule, but it comes down to a question of culture,” the individual said. “Even though we might want to say that strippers are legal, it’s no doubt that for some it’s very demoralizing. Maybe not everyone agrees with that, but that’s something to be understood.”

But the individual also said the celebration was a new experience and that he can’t imagine having acted any differently.

“I’ve never been to a strip club,” the individual said. “It’s not anything I’d ever seen or done or even contemplated doing. So looking back on the events, it was just so unexpected. I was so surprised by the whole act that I can’t imagine it reasonably as having proceeded about it in a different way.”

Ultimately, though, he said this incident can be used as an opportunity to start an important discussion on campus.

“I think it’s good that people are talking about it,” the individual said. “If I can take the blow for this, but prevent [misunderstanding] in the future, I think it’ll all have been worth it.”

Alleged Violations of Title IX and Code of Conduct

Under Title IX, if students feel harassed or if they feel that a hostile educational environment has been created, then they may file a complaint which the administration must respond to and investigate.

According to Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson, equal access is an important component of Title IX and Rice’s Code of Conduct.

“We want to make sure that all of our students have equal access to all the programming, all the faculty, all the facilities,” Hutchinson said. “Title IX comes in as a catch-all phrase to describe our policies, but it is not the reason for our policies.”

Don Ostdiek, Associate Dean of Undergraduates and Deputy Title IX Coordinator, emphasizes that determining the existence of a hostile environment is not related to sexual expression.

“[Title IX] isn’t the law outlawing everything to do with sex,” Ostdiek said. “Does the behavior or atmosphere around [an act] create a hostile environment that prevents people from accessing their educational opportunities? In general, if student sexual behavior is consensual all the way around and does not create a hostile environment, then it is not a violation of our standards or of Title IX.”

According to Hutchinson, the administration purposely does not produce explicit lists of appropriate or inappropriate behaviors and instead judges incidents on a case-by-case basis.

“We actually try not to produce those lists because we want our students to learn judgment,” Hutchinson said. “It falls to [the administration] to decide, ‘Do we believe that the activities that are taking place on campus, or any individual behavior or any individual event, [have] created an environment that produces discrimination on campus?’”

Ostdiek said the discomfort of complainants is not sufficient for an incident to be deemed a violation: A hostile environment must have been created, and this is largely dependent on the context.

“It’s not whether or not [students are] comfortable,” Ostdiek. “It’s whether or not it creates a hostile environment that denies you access to education. The context may change, and the same behavior may create a hostile environment in some situations and not in other situations.”

Hutchinson added that it is important that students can opt in or opt out of a behavior within a certain environment.

“If the environment is such that people who would like to opt in to that can opt into it and people who don’t want to are just not there, that’s one thing,” Hutchinson said. “If, instead, it becomes the onus on the individual to decide, ‘I have to get out of this environment in order to opt out of it,’ that’s when we’re in the wrong area.”

Stripping On Campus: Baker College

This is not the first time that stripping has occurred on the Rice campus.

Last year during the Friday of Willy Week, students at Baker College hired a male stripper to perform in their college commons, which is considered a public space, as part of their Beer Bike celebrations.

An email correspondence between a Baker Beer Bike coordinator and Rice’s Purchasing Card Administrator indicated that not only did Baker use college funds to pay for the stripper, but also that the administration was notified of the event.

“As an anti-jack for a sit-in at Baker for lunch, we hired a male stripper to dance,” the coordinator wrote in the email. “Only consenting parties were involved, and he just danced a bit. We ran it by Baker’s adult team before we did it as well.”

According to this Beer Bike coordinator, administration never followed up when the email was sent as clarification.

“There was no other information needed and no repercussions given,” the coordinator said. “They heard about it multiple times, and they didn’t punish us or try to stop it.”

Another coordinator speculated that one of the reasons they chose a male stripper over a female one was to ensure there weren’t any complaints.

“I guess part of it may have been that we thought there would be less backlash with a male stripper than a female stripper,” the coordinator said. “There’s a very negative connotation around female strippers. A very patriarchal stigma exists against females who work as strippers that doesn’t exist with males. That might be why we chose a male stripper.”

A female Baker student who participated in the event described it as a positive experience.

“It was really fun, really PG,” the student said. “It got a little wild. The funniest thing was that our associate was there.”

Stripping on Campus: Hanszen College

For as long as his institutional memory can recall, former Hanszen College social Chris Chu cites a stripper contest as a beloved tradition that is part of Hanszen’s annual Mardi Gras public party in the spring.

According to Chu, at around midnight of the night of the party, the stage is cleared and students who wish to participate will submit a minute-long song to be played during their performance. The performers are mostly girls who, Chu said, take the competition seriously, while one or two male students participate mostly as a joke. A monetary prize for the winners, determined by crowd applause, generally ranges from $50 to $300. Hanszen provides a stripper pole for the contestants.

“In general, [the contest is] very positively received,” Chu said. “[It’s a] fun, kind of quirky, kind of ‘out there’ event that happens at a party. It’s kind of refreshing to have a party that has a little something different. A lot of people look forward to it.”

Chu also said that, as a public party with alcohol, the socials submit a form outlining the details of the event to SJP. According to Chu, the socials include “dancing entertainment” as part of the information submitted in the form, but this has never presented an issue to SJP.

A female student who won Hanszen’s stripping contest for the past three years said she firmly believes stripping is an empowering aspect of female sexuality.
“It’s indescribable being up on a stage, and it’s just you, and you’re just being marveled at,” the student said. “I think it’s totally empowering. I don’t see it as demeaning to women. I see it as the exact opposite.”

This student also said she does not believe there is a difference between students and paid professionals stripping on campus.

“I really don’t think there’s a difference, because I can do on a pole what a professional can do on a pole,” the student said. “What they’re doing with their bodies, kids on campus can mimic any day of the week.”

Both Chu and the contest winner said they see stripping as an art form that should be appreciated.

“When you’re up there on pole or you’re dancing in front of people, it’s an art form,” the student said. “Granted, you take off your clothes in the process. It’s difficult to perfect, and I fully support anyone who can do it to make money.”

Chu agreed stripping is a form of expression and that those offended by Hanszen’s contest have the choice to opt out by not attending.

“It’s a form of entertainment; it’s a form of dance,” Chu said. “Stephen Colbert says it’s a work of art. A lot of people do see it as a creative form of expression, but a lot of people can see it as a sort of sleazy-ish thing. If people didn’t want to see it, they wouldn’t go to the party.”

Title IX Interpretations: Damaging or Crucial?

Student response to the application of Title IX to this incident has ranged from enthusiasm to uncertainty.

Duncan College senior Anastasia Bolshakov said she sees the incident as beyond the scope of the legislation.

“From the very beginning, I have not understood how this specific incident fits under Title IX,” Bolshakov said. “If this decision was made under the guise of Title IX ... it hurts the enforcement of Title IX on campus. Title IX was passed to do a lot of good things, but I think this is outside its scope.”

However, Jones College sophomore Jackson Tyler said he believes victims of these incidents are often not taken seriously, including in cases where the incident creates an unsafe sexual environment under Title IX.

“I'm mostly weary of this culture of suspicion of people who file sexual assault or harassment complaints, and I feel like this could be just another situation in which people want to place blame on the victim and not take accountability for themselves,” Tyler said. “People want so badly to silence the victim and not take responsibility of themselves or recognize the [faults] of a friend.”

Hanszen College senior Thomas Weinlandt said the recent application of Title IX devalues the legislation and may possibly discourage victims of assault or rape from coming forward.

“By Title IX being used in the case, it cheapens Title IX and makes it all that much harder for people to take it seriously,” Weinlandt said. “It’s probably one of the most important piece of legislation out there for equality on campuses.”

Weinlandt also said he believes the outcome of this situation would have been different had the gender roles been reversed.

“If it was a male stripper, I think the situation would almost absolutely be different in the way it was dealt across campus and what happened,” Weinlandt said. “If [the president-elect] was female, this would probably never have been reported.”

One of the two partygoers interviewed said a large failure throughout the process has been a lack of dialogue.

“What’s really missing is some sort of dialogue about the whole situation,” the partygoer said. “I think that’s really key, and something that the school has, in my mind, failed on, is allowing some sort of avenue or conduit to have a real discussion about the events and how people feel. If we want to increase our empathy or understanding of others and make real change, there needs to be an interaction.”

As for the other partygoer?

“I think he would have made an amazing president.”

Thresher Staff Member Ellen Trinklein contributed to the reporting of this article.