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When a sexual assault happens on campus… give thanks?

Last night at Michigan Tech, students were alerted via text message and email that a sexual assault had been reported outside of Walker Hall a couple days before. The email contained your typical police report qualities–a description of what the offender looks like, a time and place, and how to be safe in the future. The tips for women at the bottom of the email: “Please increase your overall safety by being cautious, aware of your surroundings and walking with a trusted friend or co-worker, particularly after dark.”

We are one of the “safest schools in nation,” but the reality of the situation is that women are still being told to walk with friends. They are still being told that their presence, alone, makes them a target. During Women’s Month, we get rape defense classes alongside pilates classes and fashion shows. We continue to be told that we are responsible for not being raped.

This event has obviously been on my mind since I got the message. I walk home from school, often at night, and I work in Walker. I would like to believe that I am not being naive for thinking I am safe. This morning, the student body got an email from Les Cook, who has been notorious for offensive and sexist statements through email and on Twitter. His email was to give thanks–for hockey being number one in the nation, for the stupid husky statue merely existing and for the pep band. None of which I, or as I can imagine many other female students, give a shit about right now considering what has just happened.

This was the beginning of the email from Les, entitled “Season of Thanks”:

Dear Megan,

#1 National rankings this week have our Hockey Huskies as the best in the nation, something we’ve known for a while now – it’s nice to see the rest of the country finally catching on. And if that wasn’t enough, our football Huskies are hosting San Angelo State this Saturday at Sherman Field in the first round of the NCAA Playoffs. San Angelo is in Texas. I checked, they enjoyed a sunny 71 degree day today. So I can’t help but chuckle a bit as I write this (on Wednesday afternoon) as it is absolutely dumping snow outside my window right now – a perfect Michigan Tech welcome for our Texan visitors.  We wouldn’t want it any other way, right? At the end of this email, I’ve included some more information on both games provided by the Athletics department.

. . .

I replied with the following hasty email…and heard nothing back:

Les,

Frankly, when there is a major sexual assault reported on campus, I would hope that the email from you the next day would have more to do with that and less to do with sports and the husky statue. Tech needs to step up and address issues of harassment and assault on campus, especially within the sports community, and stop sweeping these issues under the rug. As a woman who works in Walker every single day, I couldn’t care less about hockey right now. What I do care about is what Michigan Tech is planning on doing to address this issue and better work with their students to avoid assaults like these in the future.

I want to be able to expect better from Tech. But as of right now, I do not.

Megan Walsh

Last night, this event sparked a conversation between a ROTC student and myself. He told me that so much of the training that the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps goes through has to do with avoiding sexual assault. However, he said that this training was all internal and for the most part, useless due to it’s twisted message: don’t rape because you will get in trouble and get us in trouble, not because it is wrong. We discussed that not only is this the case in the military, but that there is a very similar message being propagated to male students all across the country as well. You’re going to get in trouble and then we’re going to have to work to protect you. Like the student who was expelled after graduation for sexual assault. Like the student who continues to go to Columbia despite raping multiple women–despite one of the victims carrying around a mattress for months. Like Harvard’s sexual assault policy not requiring explicit consent.

I expect Michigan Tech to respond to this event in a way that shows that they have a legitimate concern for their students. I expect them to not sweep it under the rug like they have in the past. And most of all, I expect a response that shows active commitment to ending rape culture in a way that is effective and starts with educating the offenders, not teaching the victims that they are to blame or responsible for preventing their own assault.

Rape prevention tips, by and large do not work, and when they do, they merely remove one woman from the rape equation, allowing the rapist to move on and assault someone else. If we truly want to eliminate the threat of rape on campus, we need to do something other than give women the same tired and ineffective advice about buddy systems and watching our drinks.

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About Megan Walsh (20 Articles)
By day, Megan is a cashier at a food co-op that is exactly how you would think. By night, she watches a lot of television that she quotes endlessly to the dismay of her friends and co-workers. In 2013, she co-founded a publication called Beyond the Glass Ceiling which is now known as UNDER_WIRE. She has worked with PANK Magazine and Tiny Hardcore Press and has also interned at GLAAD. She collects a lot of books that she swears she will read eventually and obsesses over songs on repeat for far too many days.

33 Comments on When a sexual assault happens on campus… give thanks?

  1. You state it’s the university that should change the ‘rape culture’ and are tired of it being the woman’s job to avoid being a vixtim of rape.

    Yet just before you put Les Cook on blast for his email you state: “None of which I, or as I can imagine many other female students, give a shit about right now considering what has just happened.”

    Hmm…so who is perpetuating the idea that it’s the woman’s responsibility to avoid being the victim when you, yourself, assume it must be the only thing on a woman’s mind after the assault that just occurred.

    Whelp, considering I’m a female, have been a resident of Houghton all my life and attended MTU for several years, I’m more interested in the football team, hockey team and yes, even the stupid statue over an alleged assault that occurred on campus.

    Until the facts are together and the sentence carried out it’s nothing more than the MTU post states, an alleged assault.

    So I agree with Les Cook’s email. What would you have preferred? A professional member of the Tech community spewing an anti rape opinion all over the MTU email address book? I’m going with no, instead you have a university that is trying most likely to get the full story and will address the situation that results from the facts.

    So yeah I’m good with MTU not locking up all the men and closing campus but still telling people to be aware an incident occurred and take whatever personal measure they see fit to keep themselves safe until the full story and facts can be realized.

    • “Anti rape opinion?” Is there such thing as a pro rape opinion? This comment is super embarrassing.

      • Not embarrassing at all really, the focus of the comment was not a pro versus anti rape opinion but the fact that a professional member of MTU should not be expected to send a mass email with a personal opinion of an alleged incident that occurred on campus. Although I get the sense you’re biased on this point since you feel “…Les Cook… has been notorious for offensive and sexist statements.” Your entire article is one-sided, narrow-minded, and full of individual bias…talk about embarrassing.

  2. I notice a lot of people missing her main point. I get what Megan Walsh is saying in this article. She is mainly pointing out how the issue of the sexual assault was briefly mentioned and the following day the vice president for student affair skipped it and immediately diverted the focus to positive thinking elsewhere in the school while other topics can often last longer in cycle.
    Regarding the rest of the article that explains the importance of her anger with the school official, I too think women shouldn’t have to always be on the buddy system. But I also don’t think it’s wrong to encourage defensive measures to people, including women. I’m a skinny guy, decent looking I guess, and was often warned with the same talk to avoid the possible mugging, kidnapping, or other. This also applied while traveling in other countries. I’m not going to trust that every person will be responsible and think of others, let alone the consequences of their own actions. Same thing applies to other aspects of life.
    I’m not against this article, but I dislike the fight that people seem to make over women being told to take better precautions to protect themselves. They act as though they shouldn’t have to be cautious in everyday life and that the world should be able to change more immediately. Everyone needs to keep alert and take precautions. We tend to let our guard down and bad things do happen to good people. Yes there needs to change to decrease the number of offenders — I don’t stand behind the way things currently are — but for God’s sake, wise up and realize that it’s not about taking away or suppressing what I call “women’s right to ignorance.” Most people in the world are aware that the offenders are more likely to be men and that women are more likely to be victims. Even after society begins doing a better job instilling better ethics and values unto males, why would someone trust that because everyone should be able to live without fear that they should lower their guard and deserve to ignore their surroundings? Be safe, be aware, have a plan should something happen.

  3. Too bad this didn’t actually happen on campus….

  4. This isn’t women blaming everything on men. I sincerely hope the men on this campus and reading this forum are smarter than that. To get really offended by that in a reaction-based way is stupid. I, a male student, have seen three other male students very aggressive towards women when their advances were turned down. These are three people that I know, and it’s just been this year. This doesn’t count the years prior. There are so many dudes with this aggressive behavior. There are of stories about sexual aggression among the college athletes Les was praising. But as long as the teams are doing well, it doesn’t really matter. The thing men need to be educated on, are the effects a sexual assault has on a woman. This is not limited to women, any victim is changed by an assault, but happens much more frequently to women. A victim’s life will never be the same. They have to live with fear in every day and every night. Because one man acted this way. Out of the five or so individuals I’ve seen act sexually aggressive on this campus, I wouldn’t have put it past them. The fact that they thought it was acceptable or that they acted that way at all just sucks. We shouldn’t just write about our athletic achievements when there is one of your own, one of your very own huskies, in mental jeopardy because of an attacker. That life is forever changed. All the sexual aggressive people I’ve seen on this campus had no care in thinking about victims lives. It’s okay to write about our athletic achievements, but it should’ve been mentioned. And we, the male student body, needs to be informed on the effects of rape. If you know any victims who have been affected extremely, you’ll know what I mean.

    • The sheer amount of defensiveness that I have seen come from students after this post was written is exactly what the problem is. Who will go to great lengths to defend the school and the perpetrator but entirely dismiss the victim? People who are totally engulfed in rape culture.

  5. none of your buisness // November 21, 2014 at 10:48 am // Reply

    What is next, Murder is Wrong tutorials during orientation? Rape is wrong and a normal human mind knows this. There are twisted minds out there so you have to prepare yourself for this. Male or female doesn’t matter. It’s sad we live in that kind of world right now but the truth can suck sometimes. Blaming Tech for not educating males about rape is about the dumbest thing I have ever heard.

    • Elsa Roberts // November 21, 2014 at 1:32 pm // Reply

      Maybe if you understood anything about rape, who is likely to rape, and how a culture that fosters rape acceptance worked you wouldn’t make such inane assertions. Jesus. At least do a little bit of research before splashing your ignorance of a topic all over the place.

  6. Where is the sign that says “Stop raping!” and then some information on the “just in case” crap… Yes, everyone should be aware of potential issues, but, more so people need to be reminded that as a HUMAN you can’t rape, harass or otherwise inflict harm on others.

  7. Where in the warning to stay vigilant did it say that women need to be more aware? This is not a gender issue, but because you choose to “agitate” you’ve tried to make it a women’s issue.

    Oh and you make the assumption that nothing is being done or investigated and pursued. Again “agitating”. I know, it’s difficult to make your specific point if you cloud the issue with facts rather than just speculate.

  8. I think one thing we really need to consider is the victim here. Sometimes the victims do not want the public to know about all of the details. It is their own personal trauma that they must go through. If that is the case, then I feel like we need to respect that.

    As for making people aware I think that Tech did a pretty good job. It was on the local news, their website, all of their media, and they informed the students, faculty, staff, regular visitors, etc. of what they need to know. Like I said in many cases the victim of the sexual assault is uncomfortable with the situation and we need to respect their privacy. Making a large deal about this and releasing tons of detail about the investigation and such will just cause more anxiety and stress on the victim.

    Yes Les Cook could have said something. This email was supposed to be an email right before break highlighting the good things happening at Tech. I understand that sexual assault is bad and needs to be addressed, but the good things need to be addressed as well. We should be praising our fellow students for doing well and excelling. I think he does a great job of that.

    Finally yes the email/text said that women should take measures to protect themselves more. This isn’t because men are bad or we are placing blame on the women for rape, but because there was a man who sexually assaulted a college woman. This man could do it again, not because all men might sexually assault a woman. Just because one man didn’t know better, doesn’t mean all men don’t.

  9. This is merely one instance of Michigan Tech’s ‘leaders’ failing to acknowledge underlying issues within the University. Although I do not feel that assault is a major issue at the school (read: assault in itself is a major issue, but it doesn’t happen frequently here), the fact that something like this happened at such a historically safe school should make this important news.

    Michigan Tech’s executive team has a history of ignoring issues and hoping they will disappear. Examples that come to mind include a lack of emphasis on generally well-being of students, severely underfunding of student organizations, and complete misalignment of the school’s priorities (“Statues before Students”).

    After having met with Les for various student activities related reasons, his email did not surprise me at all- it was a standard Les Cook style email, talking about the same topics as always. What would have surprised me is him stepping up to face this recent issue, or any other issue for that matter.

    It’s time Michigan Tech’s executive team faces their flaws and hears from students. As terrible of a tragedy as this assault is, it has the potential to change campus for the better. But only if we step up.

  10. Our wonderful University Marketing and Communications department plays a large role in how messages like these are communicated to the campus. They generally write and broadcast these themselves. Many of the UMC staff are women, and all of them are professionals who are well-trained and experienced in communication. I can check for you, but I sincerely doubt Jennifer Donovan, our Director of News and Media Relations, would let this go out without reading and approving it first. Assuming this is true, what do you believe such a woman who is trained and experienced in communication is telling campus by releasing a message with safety tips for individuals?

  11. I recently transferred from MTU to another university. Here, all new students (freshman/transfer) must take a mandatory sexual assault and relationship violence seminar, REGARDLESS OF GENDER, and there is a constant reminder on where to go/who to talk to on campus in order to report or discuss a rape or sexual assault. What I find to be the most helpful resource, however, is that the university educates students on CONSENT, not “rape prevention.” Most rapes occur because of a consensual misunderstanding between two people, and I’m surprised other schools still try to teach women how “not to get raped.”

  12. First of all, Les Cook’s email’s are scheduled to be sent at certain times. Second, this sexual assault case is nothing compared to bigger schools, and frankly Tech overreacted to it. This article is completely filled with feminist bullshit on “how unsafe you feel around men” when this is simply a crime involving two individuals. Wow some guy did something now every male in human existence has to pay for it and learn “how to control themselves”. You realize there’s a lot of strange and weird people that go to college, especially MTU. Expecting a full out investigation because you think this is massively important is fucking ridiculous. Get over it and learn to protect yourself. Women aren’t the only gender who get sexually assaulted.

    • Oh my god you’re right, we should just forget investigating sexual assault cases entirely because people are just weird! What am I thinking.

      Also yes, we are a feminist publication therefore we have a feminist perspective. Read the about page.

    • First of all, Les Cook, as the Vice President of Student Affairs, should have personally acknowledged that something horrible happened on Tech campus. Frankly, Tech should go through with a complete and thorough investigation to find the individual who made a woman (even though she is one individual) feel uncomfortable, unsafe, and the University’s reaction is imperative to declaring whether or not this kind of behavior will be tolerated – as it should not. The author is completely valid in asserting the need for a thorough investigation and although a lot of strange and weird people go to MTU, sexual violence can never be tolerated; simply ignoring it is a form of tolerance whether intended or not.

    • Regardless of whether or not the emails are scheduled, I would hope our administration has enough tact to recognize that today might not have been the most ideal time to send out an email celebrating our sports teams’ accomplishments. And I’m sorry…Tech overreacted to a sexual assault? I was wildly unaware that was possible. If by “feminist bullshit” you mean “wanting a criminal to be prosecuted and the the university to acknowledge what happened instead of sweeping it under the rug”, then, yes, this article is full of it. How dare she. I’m also excited to know that “being weird” is now a plea option. That should clear a lot of things up in the court system. You are massively fucking ridiculous. No one ever said women are the only victims, but how would you feel if one of your friends, or, God forbid, YOU were the one that was victimized? Suddenly this becomes a little more pertinent of an issue, doesn’t it?

  13. When Michigan Tech hosted the “Take Back the Night” event, the guest speaker spoke of how Men’s voices are not being heard. How Men who are not abusing women, are not standing up to men who are. I believe that Les missed a great opportunity to stand up. It is men like him who are in positions of power, whose voice canl be heard by many. I hope he will reconsider and find a voice that will empower other men to address men behaving in ways that are abusive to women. Telling women to adjust their behavior in ‘hopes’ of not being abused is not a lasting solution. We need strong male voices no longer tolerating abuse of women.

  14. I also walk home from campus alone, and it is usually dark by 6. I have an issue with the fact that you aren’t allowed to park on the main campus past a certain time at night without being ticketed. This prevents me from going to the library or labs to do late night studying or use the computers. I’m not about to walk there alone at 1 AM, and I’m not about to park in overnight parking that is way past the SDC….that’s just as far as my house! Maybe a solution is to have more security patrolling campus, especially at night.

    • Hey I just want to let you know that if you talk to public safety generally they will let you park in the lot next to the hammer house. I work late on campus quite a lot and they have always let me park there. If for some reason you can’t (ex. They need that lot plowed) and you have to park far away then you can either call public safety on your cell phone or on any of the yellow phones around campus. They’ll come pick you up and give you a ride to your car or (if they aren’t busy) wherever you need to go.

      There really should be no reason you should have to walk by yourself if you feel uncomfortable. The people at public safety are all very nice and willing to help.

    • You are allowed to park on campus anywhere after 4:00 without being ticketed. Other than that, I agree with you.

  15. I couldn’t agree with you more. I was a victim of a crime that I reported to the police a few years back. The attacker was about to start his senior year at Tech. They knew that I was returning to Tech that same fall semester and they allowed him to attend school because “he is close to graduating”. I had to go through the entire school year knowing he could be on campus and knowing that there was a chance I would see him.

  16. You provide the commentary on the problem. Obviously sexual assaults at our University are an issue. Over my years here I have seen one or two examples sent out to the student body. While these are tragic and obviously should not happen this doesn’t seem to be the largest issue we have as a University. One sexual assault doesn’t overshadow all of the athletic achievement we have accomplished this year. Focusing on the negativity doesn’t fix the problems.

    What do you suggest as the solution? MTU attempts to give all the help it can. What more can be done? Not accept rapists into our University? It doesn’t work like that. Hollow passive aggressive commentary will not stop a sexual assault on campus.

    • “And most of all, I expect a response that shows active commitment to ending rape culture in a way that is effective and starts with educating the offenders, not teaching the victims that they are to blame or responsible for preventing their own assault.”

      • How does the university teach victims that they are to blame for their own assaults?

        • By making it a point to get women to take rape defense classes and walk in groups but not making it a point to educate men about sexual assault.

          • Michigan Tech does indeed educate male students about sexual assault. Freshmen orientation, campus clarity, and multiple mandatory presentations for athletes and members of greek life are a few that I have personally witnessed. Educating men about rape can only do so much- there are certain people who will do terrible things regardless.

            The fact that (no offense) you seem to have missed is that the attacker may have very well not been a student, especially judging by the description. No amount of forcing students to take educational classes can fix the actions of those outside our school body.

            Your reaction-based blaming of male students and Michigan Tech’s education of them is entirely off point. If you take out the gender politics and bias, a significantly more logical conclusion would be to increase security presence on campus during times of higher crime likelihood. No amount of lecturing can stop the scum of society from committing crimes.

          • Offering rape defense classes is in no way, shape, or form teaching the victim they are to blame. They are offered as a tool if you should need them, just like CPR classes. You hope you never have to use that set of skills but you are prepared if you do. Tech merely suggested that women walk in groups because it is a fact that sexual offenders tend to avoid groups and go for individuals.
            I don’t think it is fair that you are attacking Les Cook for not acknowledging it in an email that was probably scheduled before this event even occurred. Les is not the only leader on campus that has the ability to talk about this issue, why isn’t anyone else under scrutiny for this?

          • “Please increase your overall safety by being cautious, aware of your surroundings and walking with a trusted friend or co-worker, particularly after dark.”

            Where in that does it specify women? As a woman, I believe that man have a right to feel safe as well.

    • I did suggest the solution of increased security. Public Safety should make an effort to patrol campus much more often at night, not just by driving their cars through campus, but also by walking through campus and making sure everything is alright FREQUENTLY. I think that there needs to be a designated lot or some parking meters near the library and central campus where we can park late at night to make it safer.

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