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Mason responds on sexual assaults

Several members of our campus community have let me know that my remarks on sexual assault printed last week in The Daily Iowan were hurtful. I did not intend them to be, and I am sorry for the pain my words caused.

I want to make my position clear: I believe that there is no excuse for sexual assault. I have zero tolerance for sexual misconduct, and I know that sexual assault is never the fault of the survivor.

The safety and wellbeing of every student is an absolute priority. The university will do everything in its power to prevent sexual violence, support survivors, and hold offenders responsible, and I invite all members of our campus to play a role in confronting this issue.

I appreciate the comments and suggestions that I have received. I will convene a listening session in the near future so that students, staff, and faculty can share their views directly with me and other campus leaders. 

Sally K. Mason
University of Iowa president

Dealing with sexual assaults

The uptick in reported sexual assaults on campus is a shameful and discouraging trend. I am proud that many of my fellow students responded with an organized condemnation of this trend, but disappointed that some felt it was necessary to attack President Sally Mason with such vehemence either in person or in print.  The majority of the sexual assaults that have arrived via timely warnings to our inboxes are the product of acquaintanceship — two individuals with at least some pre-existing relationship at the time of the alleged crime. Indeed, if the sexual-assault and sexual-harassment prevention materials thrust upon me each year by the university are to be believed, the majority of sexual assaults in the university are the product of pre-existing relationships. Although these tragedies are no less horrible, the antidote is far different than that for a plague of assaults involving strangers leaping from dark alleys.

No number of blue lights, Nite Rides, or UI police patrols can reach into dorm rooms, greek houses, and other campus settings that reappear in timely warnings. The cure for these despicable acts is to change the culture, not the policy. Sexual assault is plainly unacceptable from the standpoint of university policy; less so perhaps in student culture. For this reason, I applaud efforts at changing the culture, such as the recent victims’ advocacy demonstration on the Pentacrest. But Mason is our administrative leader, not our cultural leader, and her influence is limited to written codes of conduct banning sexual assault, not unwritten perceptions of the crime. Blaming her for failing to force a cultural sea change is simple scapegoating.

Patrick Bigsby

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