Online sex assault list sparks debate at U. of C.

By LINDSAY WELBERS
Staff Writer

After an anonymous posting online listing men who have allegedly committed acts of sexual violence against students on campus, the University of Chicago responded by releasing a statement regarding free speech.

In a letter university President Robert Zimmer and provost Eric Isaacs released on Thursday, the school affirmed that the campus is a place for free expression.

“The nature of rigorous inquiry at the highest level, in both research and education, requires an environment that fosters sustained open discourse. A commitment to such inquiry as our highest value has been an essential part of the University of Chicago’s culture since its inception,” the letter read.

“Being part of a community in which open discourse is a fundamental feature of education and research means subjecting our own ideas to scrutiny and hearing competing views — even those we sometimes find objectionable. As former University President Robert M. Hutchins once wrote, the means of addressing ideas one opposes ‘lies through open discussion rather than through inhibition and taboo,’” it said.

It went on to name a committee of professors who will draft a statement “reflecting the university’s commitment to and tolerance of multiple forms of free expression.”

Students and faculty will have the opportunity to voice their opinion before a draft is released by the end of the year.

Geoffrey R. Stone, professor of law, will act as chair of the committee. Marianne Bertrand, professor in the Booth School of Business; Angela Olinto, professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics; Mark Siegler, professor in the department of Medicine and Surgery; David A. Strauss, professor of law; Kenneth Warren, professor in the English department and Amanda Woodward, professor in the Department of Psychology, will also sit on the board.

Jeremy Manier, spokesman for the U. of C., said Zimmer’s statement and the committee were planned “well before this issue arose.”

Late in September a website began listing the names and classes of men on campus who, the anonymous posters said, had been “known to commit varying levels of gender-based violence.”

The website, thehydeparklist.tumblr.com, was taken down by Monday. It returned Wednesday morning but was gone by that afternoon.

Before it was removed again those responsible for the list said they have plans to expand it in a Google Doc that will only be accessible by people with a U. of C. email address.

“The individuals on the list are individuals we would warn our friends about, because of their troubling behavior towards romantic or sexual partners. Usually, this means either a pattern of negative/troubling behavior, or a very significant negative act. Sexual assault can be one of them, but we are not claiming that all the individuals on the list have committed sexual assault,” the group wrote Wednesday.

In total seven men were listed as either a code red or code orange, a system that the group said refers to the severity of the warning, not any legal charges or terminology.

The website did not list any specific accusation or present any evidence as to why any of the men belonged on the list.

“We realize there are problems. Innocents may get caught up in this process. However, innocents will be harmed either way. Someone may be named wrongly, or someone may continue a pattern of behavior, and end up abusing or assaulting another individual because they were not warned. In these cases, there is a conflict between protecting some individuals (often female) bodies and protecting some individuals (often male)’s reputation. Society has tended towards protecting reputation. We would like to protect bodies,” the creators wrote Wednesday.

E-mails to the list creators were not returned by Herald press time.

“The University has been made aware of several independent websites on which anonymous, unsupported allegations have been made against University students. In each case, the University has contacted the operators of those sites and asked them to remove this content,” university said in a statement provided by Manier.

“The University is committed to sustaining an academic community in which all members can participate freely and fully,” the statement continues. “Part of that is owning and defending one’s ideas. Anonymous accusations and commentary do not live up to those values and undermine full participation. Any threats to personal safety are unacceptable. Depending on the facts of a case, anonymous or unsupported accusations, threats, or damaging commentary made by one student or students against other students could rise to a disciplinary issue.”

Olivia Ortiz, a U. of C. student who filed a complaint with the Department of Education about the school after it mishandled the rape she reported, said the releasing the list is an severe act, but one that has created discussion among students.

“I think it’s clearly an extreme act and a very a brave one,” Ortiz said. “I think it’s very admirable, and I think these lists are very hard for survivors to produce for fear of retaliation from abusers.”
Ortiz said the list could better serve its purpose by being less vague about its meaning or intent.
“I think the general gist of it has really sparked discussion on campus,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz helped to organize the Phoenix Survivors Alliance, which created a resource guide for survivors of sexual assault on campus. It can be found at phoenixsurvivorsalliance.com.

While Ortiz said it’s too early in the semester to tell if the university’s changes in the way it handles sexual violence are working, first-year students during Orientation Week did receive training about consent, dating, sex, drugs and alcohol.

The program, called UChoose: Chicago Life Meeting, uses skits to educate students about sexual violence prevention. Students also learn about how they can intervene if they see a situation that could lead to violence, what resources are available to students and how to articulate their own personal boundaries.

All new graduate students will also be required to complete an online course on preventing sexual violence and outlines university policies, procedures and resources.

The Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced it was investigating the university for violations to Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 to the Civil Rights Act after Ortiz sued last year. Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination.

Since the investigation began the university has revised the way it handles sexual assault cases. It created a position for a sexual assault dean-on-call; the Bias Response Team, a team of administrators called in to ensure accusations of violence are handled fairly; and a centralized location where students can find resources if they have been or think they have been the victim of sexual violence, Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP).

The process of handling accusations of violence was also centralized. Previously the accused student’s department would determine if punishment was necessary and how it would be administered.

l.welbers@hpherald.com