Last Thursday, I hurried to the RMC to grab my weekly Thresher, eager to read the administration’s response to the recent Jan. 23 sexual assault case. As a rape victim myself, campus sexual assault is an issue that hits close to home. When I saw the stack of newly printed papers, however, I was stunned. Instead of pertaining to sexual assault, the front page donned a giant picture of Sid Richardson College and a headline that read, “Seventh Under Scrutiny.” A pull quote from Dean Hutchinson read, “Someone was harmed violently as a result of the lack of the safety precautions that went into creating this event [the Sid Seventh party].”
To read the headline and Dean Hutchinson’s response, it was not only unclear that a sexual assault had occurred, but it seemed to imply that whatever happened, the members of Sid Seventh were somehow to blame. Though I’m sure the Thresher staff and Dean Hutchinson may have not intended this effect, it needs correction for one singular reason: The responsible party in a sexual assault is the assaulter. It’s not the people who provided alcohol, making the victim vulnerable, or the assaulter bold. Responsibility lies strictly with the person who decided to perpetrate the crime. Both Dean Hutchinson’s statement and the Thresher headline confuse this fact, and it needs correction.
First, Dean Hutchinson’s statement directly implies that the “Lads in Plaids” organizers carry responsibility for the assault because they threw an unregistered public party. This is ludicrous. No one forced the assaulter to come to the party, drink or commit his heinous crime. He chose to act of his own accord, and I have no doubt the official paperwork behind the party had nothing to do with it. I was raped at a “registered” public party — does that mean I should blame the administration for not providing me with the necessary “safety precautions”? Even if I wanted to, it would be incorrect. There are never enough “safety precautions” at a party to stop a sexual assault if someone is hell-bent on assaulting. If it were that easy, sexual assault wouldn’t keep happening at the current rate. Dean Hutchinson is welcome to punish the “Lads in Plaids” organizers for not following procedures for registering their party, but he should stop trying to hold them accountable for a serious crime they did not commit.
Second, whether or not Sid Seventh was being unjustly blamed by Dean Hutchinson for the sexual assault, the Thresher should have made the latter, and not the former, the headline of its story, if not covering it separately all together. Conflating these two events in the headline signals to a reader that members of Sid are responsible for the assault, which as I’ve just said, they are not. Furthermore, their headline addresses all of Sid Seventh, when clearly the entire 40-person floor is not to blame. Many people on Seventh didn’t even attend the party, and many, if not most, of the attendees were from other colleges. Now the rest of the floor risks facing community stigmatization for something they didn’t take part in, while the assaulter didn’t even make the headline. As a community, we must consider what this means for freshmen, who didn’t choose to live on Seventh, and are stuck there the rest of the year; or residents who didn’t even attend the party, but who now must face their families, peers and professors when they read the headline and ask questions. The administration may be investigating Sid, but the pertinent story was that a sexual assault had occurred.
I love the Thresher staff dearly, and I don’t think that they intended for their article to have this effect, but after conversations with students, college RAs and even professors, I can say with confidence that it did, at least for a significant number. Though I must commend them for an excellent editorial and a generally good article addressing the event, I believe they made a critical mistake on their choice of headline and photo. And though I have the utmost respect for Dean Hutchinson, his statements as an administrator are perhaps even more disappointing and inexcusable. Rice students, if you want to direct anger about this horrible event at someone, direct it at the perpetrator, not at Sid.
News Editor and author of "Seventh Under Scrutiny" Drew Keller responded to this letter.