Members of the Shepherd community responded immediately to the wording in a recent sexual assault crime alert, sparking an emotional email chain between faculty.
In a campus wide email sent out on April 21, 2014 John McAvoy, chief of campus police, alerted students and faculty that a student had reported to being sexually assaulted between the evening of April 17 and early morning of April 18.
The wording and perceived lack of safety on campus ignited a series of emails soon after the alert was sent out. Several professors sounded off with responses to the verbiage of the email.
Monica Larson, assistant professor of communications, stated in her email response that she “felt uncomfortable” after reading the crime alert. She cited an article from The New York Times, which she asserted details that the blame for rape is often placed upon the person who is assaulted rather than the assaulter. Larson insisted that “we all want our students to be safe,” but that the campus must “be diligent in placing the responsibility for rape squarely on the rapist, not the victim.
Students also had much to say about the email. Colleen Wolfe, a graduate student in the Masters of Arts in Teaching program, believes that the tone of the email places undue responsibility on the victim to avoid being raped. Further, she believes the communication “shames” the victim.
Andrew Montgomery, a senior history major, took an opposing view, believing that the continued discussion of the incident “places a spotlight on the victim.” He believes some of the criticisms of McAvoy’s communication to be “overzealous.”
Jason McKahan, associate professor of communications, offered his take on the email alert. He agreed that “campus sexual assault has been rather victim-centric,” but argued that crime prevention in general is usually based upon what the potential victim can do to avoid the crime itself. McKahan argued that the problem of sexual assault is “part male education and part law enforcement.”
Rhonda Jackson, chair of contemporary art and theater quoted another Shepherd professor in her email response. “As Max Guirguis has stated: The ideal is that all people should act like civil human beings. The reality is that some men are sexual predators” she said.
Jackson continued by saying, “in light of this EVERYONE needs to be prepared to act defensively to defend himself or herself and to act as this young woman at Shepherd has done by reporting ALL incidents.”
During the string of emails Alan Perdue, general counsel for Shepherd, weighed in on the concern and stated that the email, which was sent by Chief McAvoy, was actually “composed in a group process at the executive level of the university.” He asserted that he made all final edits to it and accepted full responsibility for any concerns with the wording.
Perdue stated that the United States Department of Education and the Congress have “mandated that universities issue ‘timely warnings’” in any case involving potential risk to students. Further, he said that mandate requires the communication to delineate what students can do to “diminish risk” to themselves.
No further information is available yet about the assault. It is the second assault to take place on campus since the start of the spring semester. The first also occurred in a residence hall and was reported on Feb. 12 of this year. That case remains open. The actual location of the residence hall is typically not reported in sexual assault cases to aid in keeping the identity of the alleged victim private.
Anyone with information about these or other alleged assaults is strongly encouraged to speak with Campus Police.