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Letters to President Mason

BY DI READERS | FEBRUARY 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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EDITOR’S NOTE: In a scheduled interview with The Daily Iowan on Feb. 18, University of Iowa President Sally Mason gave the following response to a question about the increase in the number of reported sexual assaults this academic year: “The goal would be to end that, to never have another sexual assault. That’s probably not a realistic goal just given human nature …”

The DI has decided to publish all letters received regarding both the aforementioned quote and the university’s responses to sexual assaults.

Mason released the following statement on Feb. 20 in light of recent sexual assaults: “Sexual assault is a terrible crime, one for which there is no excuse. The UI will take all the actions in our power to prevent rapes, to support victims, and to prosecute offenders. Even one sexual assault in our community is too many, and we must confront this together as a community. I am committed to do everything in my power to end this terrible crime on our campus.”

Adopt a zero-tolerance policy

To President Mason:

In your Feb. 18 interview with the DI— from which you have since seemingly backtracked — you stated: “The goal would be to end [sexual assault on campus], to never have another sexual assault. That’s probably not a realistic goal just given human nature, and that’s unfortunate.” This is a seriously problematic statement and reveals a perspective on sexual assault that needs to be changed.

Sexual assault is not “human nature” and is not a “difficult situation” that we [women] just need to learn to protect ourselves from. Sexual assault is a violent crime that needs to be met with a zero-tolerance attitude and policy from our highest authorities. Without a zero-tolerance perspective, victim-blame and rape culture prevail and undermine the university’s efforts to make change. A perspective shift would change the conversation, and ultimately, change the culture.

To illustrate: Drunk driving is a crime that has been given a zero-tolerance policy from top authorities resulting in cultural changes. In the early ‘80s, driving drunk was a part of drinking culture. As my wonderful mother explained it to me, “Everyone drove home from the bars, most of the time drunk, and we didn’t think twice about it.” Then a group of mothers got MADD and started pushing for change. These mothers didn’t tell sober people to stay off the road at certain hours or drive more cautiously, nor did they say, “It just a part of what happens when adults get together on the weekends.” MADD took a strong and controversial stance and called for a zero-tolerance policy changing our laws, our media, and our conversations. While it is true that we have not seen the elimination of drunk driving, we have seen a dramatic cultural shift from my parents’ generation to mine

Sally Mason and the University of Iowa need to take a clear, zero-tolerance, anti-rape culture, and victim-blame-free stance on sexual assault on our campus and implement policies and programs that reflect the seriousness of their intent to eliminate sexual assault and the culture that supports it.

Elizabeth Rook
graduate student

Blaming nature, blaming the victim

The rhetoric that Sally Mason used in her comments about the recent sexual assaults at Iowa is a perfect illustration of the institutional attitude that allows sexual assaults to continue unchecked on campus. Her words shift the responsibility for these attacks squarely onto the shoulders of each victim. Her words help keep women unsafe on this campus.

To put a finer point on it, when Mason says rape is part of “human nature,” she apologizes for apparently guiltless male rapists. When she says victims need to “be more proactive,” she tells rape victims — past, present, and future — that there is a way to prevent rape even while it occurs. When she says women need to understand “why they are at risk,” she insinuates that women are putting themselves at risk rather than acknowledging that the very reason women are at risk is that institutional leaders such as Mason refuse to place blame where it belongs. She instead re-victimizes victims by blaming them for their trauma.

The reason women are at risk is that we live in a rape culture. Words such as Mason’s reinforce, strengthen, and breathe life into what should be the rotting corpse of the phenomenon called violence against women. These words matter; they are the scaffolding upon which entire structures are built. Rather than using her institutional heft to invest resources into supporting women and preventing rape, Mason, via this rhetoric, diverts these resources to the bolstering of the University of Iowa’s institutional disregard for the safety of women.

Until attitudes such as Mason’s shift, she is absolutely right to say that ending sexual violence is “probably not a realistic goal.” When perpetrators are given a free pass by the president of the university herself, an end to sexual violence seems very far off indeed.

Maggie Graham

Sexual assault is not natural

Sally Mason’s recent response to sexual assaults on the university campus has sparked outrage and controversy among my community. As I read the responses of my friends and fellow students, I can’t help but feel hope for us — such obscene, offensive statements from the president couldn’t possibly have an effect on our community. But I fear that Mason pushed our community 30 years into the past, that she told victims of our campus to hide in the dark, and just belittled every victim who has ever experienced these traumatic acts. Because what Mason lacked in her statement was the understanding of stereotypes and stigmas rape victims have been facing for centuries.

“That’s probably not a realistic goal just given human nature” implies that human beings are naturally inclined toward this type of behavior. Victims and advocates have been fighting to demolish the idea that “rape is OK” for thousands of years. To say that it is natural is to say that it is OK, to say that it is somehow an inbred behavior. I stand for myself as a victim and for many others: Sexual assault is not “OK,” it is not natural, and it is not an impulse that an attacker can somehow not control. It is not born with them. It is not a part of us as human beings.

My attacker made a choice, just as thousands of others have. They made a choice to force themselves upon another person, to degrade, disrespect, and burden others by their actions. To say that these actions are anything but disgusting, despicable acts of violence and disrespect is not only offensive but absolutely depreciating.

Moreover, to say that the best way to handle these disgusting acts is by educating potential victims of their risk is appalling. I’d like to think that our community is built of people who respect each other on the most fundamental basis, that our students and our community are strong enough to move past such archaic mentalities as victim-blaming. Aren’t we a community blossoming with diversity and acceptance? Shouldn’t we be fostering a culture that supports equality and differences? Shouldn’t we be building a place where students of any race, age, sexual orientation, or any other identifier can walk down the streets at any time of day and not worry about their safety?

The way to advance isn’t to teach students how to avoid being a victim of sexual assault. Yes, there are obvious things we can do to protect ourselves, but we are not the ones to blame — why should we have to worry about being victims instead of taking a stand against perpetrators? It is not unrealistic to believe that we can stop sexual assault. It is not unrealistic to believe that human beings will respect each other and our community if we come together and take a stand. But we all have to be on board for this, including our president.

By saying that sexual assault is a part of human nature, you’re giving perpetrators an out. Let us take a stand. Let us say there is a choice, and it is the wrong choice. Let us say we are appalled by these acts — not merely displeased. Let us say we’re going to fight for justice, we’re going to advocate for a change that will bring peace and safety to our students, we’re going to defend our community and we do not understand it. Let us say this is not OK — and we will not tolerate it.

Renee Lehr

Re: Another sexual assault reported

Leaving aside my outrage at the phrase “I’m not pleased” and the assertion that sexual assault is part of human nature (I truly have no words adequate to express my horror), I would like to point out an error in this piece: This was not the sixth sexual assault on campus this school year, it was the sixth reported assault.

Rachel Graber

Rape culture out of control

The university’s complacency in reacting to these assaults is horrifying. The rape culture on this campus is out of control, and I feel ashamed and afraid to be part of an environment that has no sense of safety. It seems no measures are being taken to prevent rape before it occurs, and I expect much more from the University of Iowa.

Ashley Wilkinson

Shame on Mason

“Given human nature?” Shame on Sally Mason. I refuse to believe it is the human nature of anyone to sexually assault another person. It is through blaming the victim and the construction of a masculinity in which sexual experiences are viewed as conquests that sexual assault is perpetuated, not human nature, and luckily those are things we can work on, so let’s.

Angie Carter

Sexual violence unacceptable

As a UI alumna, I am deeply disturbed and ashamed of Sally Mason’s victim-blaming and complacency regarding sexual assault on her campus. Sexual violence is tied to our constructions of masculinity and sexuality — constructions that are dangerous to all members of society and to girls and women in particular. Sally, refocus your efforts to educate your students that violence and sexual domination are unacceptable. To claim that sexual assault is part of human nature is deeply insulting to men and incredibly dangerous for women (and men). To demonstrate complacency in the face of rape culture is to put your students and staff at risk.

Stephanie Enloe

Losing faith in the system

People are going to stop coming forward “when something bad happens” if nothing is done about it. All this article does is perpetuate rape culture and make me lose faith in the system that is supposed to be protecting me and my other fellow students.

Miranda Gheris

Teach respect

As an Iowa alumna, I am appalled that the university president thinks the solution is educating students on how to understand when they might be at risk. How about teaching students what respect and consent look like?

Melissa Williams

UI not fit for ‘my daughter’

Pretty sad that as an Iowa alumna, I would not want my daughter to go here knowing the president rules rape as “human nature.” Rapists need serious help and punishment, not the students who are walking on their own campus at 9:30 p.m. Students are not always going to have the opportunity to “walk in groups.” And what does “be more proactive” mean in this type of situation? Oh, don’t walk home from the library at 9:30 at night because you might get raped. This doesn’t make any sense to me.

Ashley Ward

No more ‘human nature’

Sally Mason’s statement demonstrates how badly we need to reframe how talk we about and react to sexual assault in this town. Yes we need to educate, but let’s educate students about affirmative consent. UI already has the tools for that — use them. Promote safe drinking, not just for potential victims but also for potential offenders. And for the love of all that is good and pure, strike “human nature” rhetoric from the conversation.

Kenda Stewart


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