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In the wake of Rolling Stone’s article, anger should be channeled into constructive change

Reactions to Rolling Stone’s article detailing the gang rape of a University student by several fraternity brothers have been a mixture of anger, disgust and despair. It is impossible to hold onto our pride knowing such behavior not only occurred, but was also downplayed and brushed off by members of our community.

The horrific story is one that had to be told. It is immortalized now, unable to be ignored. Denial is a human reaction; we don’t want to confront the tragedies that occur in our community. It’s easier to say “That couldn’t have happened — those are all good guys,” than to say “I believe you.” Because when we believe, we have to believe there is a possibility the same fate could befall us. And we don’t want to live in a world like that.

But that is the world we live in.

The merit of this article is that it pushes everyone to confront that world; it has aroused the anger and frustration which is necessary to create change. The risk, however, is that the negative portrayal of the administration could lead students to see the University as an antagonist rather than an ally.

The University’s system has flaws. Rolling Stone’s investigation has demonstrated that in an effort to prioritize a victim’s autonomy, overall student safety may be compromised — and that is a balance the University must constantly be evaluating. This is the issue we grappled with when considering the University’s new mandatory reporting policy. The article has also led many to think the University is more concerned with protecting its reputation than with addressing the needs of survivors.

The University must take accountability for all shortcomings, past or present. But it is vital to remember that the University is also an essential resource for survivors, and distrust will not facilitate reporting that is necessary for a university support system to function.

Survivors can access more resources from the University than just the opportunity to file a complaint and go through formal or informal resolutions. They can ask that a no-contact order be issued to perpetrators; they can ask perpetrators be removed from their classes or from their dorms; and if survivors are struggling to complete academic work, they can withdraw from classes without marks on their records. Survivors should know these opportunities to improve their well-being without any adjudications are available to them if they go to the administration.

The University has also invited the public to comment on its recently revised sexual misconduct policy. Reading and commenting on the policy would be one opportunity for students to channel their current frustrations into constructive change.

And if we truly want the University to hold accountable the perpetrators of these crimes, survivors cannot be discouraged from reporting, whether by their peers who do not believe their stories, or by national publications which spotlight an institution’s failures and ignore its attempts to improve. We can sit around the table and debate the ethics of the University’s policies for as long as we want, but if survivors do not come forward, these policies have no reports to be applied to. A survivor’s decision not to report must always be respected, but we hope a survivor is not discouraged from reporting because of any mistrust and demonization of the University which results from sweeping negative portrayals such as this one.

Hopefully, the courage of the survivors in this piece and the anger this story incites will motivate a change in culture that is necessary to foster respect for one another, normalize bystander intervention, and encourage survivors to come forward. Change will not happen if their feelings of guilt and brokenness are compounded by the community’s denial of their pain. The anger, disgust and despair we feel reading this story is akin to feeling a small fraction of that pain. What do we take away from this experience now that it has disturbed us? How do we channel that emotional reaction into a change in our community?

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