I want to start this essay by thanking CC Carreras for taking the time to share her story with Huffington Post and the world. CC graduated from my university — University of Richmond (UR) — in May with a degree in Criminal Justice. She was in my Sociological Research Methods course a couple of years ago. I was initially shocked when I realized that she was the author of the HuffPo piece, that she would be so public about such horrific events and her critique of the university. And, then, I was heartbroken. CC isn’t a stranger; she is a student I saw twice a week for 15 weeks. I can put a face to a story. And, it makes me feel as though I somehow failed her as a professor.
I also want to express a deep sense of respect and admiration for CC’s bravery for speaking up. We live in a society — UR not exempt — that does not believe women in general, especially about their experiences of sexual violence; that would rather blame survivors for their own victimization than the perpetrators or the society and institutions that enable them; that would rather protect rapists than rape victims; that would rather discredit, undermine, and attack survivors who speak up than to support them. CC’s bravery has fueled others to speak up, either publicly or privately revealing their own experiences or fears of sexual violence at UR. CC is a role model in my eyes; she has spoken up about injustice at an institution she called home, only after failing to see justice by going through the “proper” channels. I hope that every UR alum feels called to speak up against sexual violence at UR and beyond.
Unfortunately, I also want to apologize to CC — as a faculty member, fellow spider, and concerned human being — for such an ugly end to her time at UR, topped only by being further failed by the university. CC, I am sorry that UR chose to imply that you lied about the mishandling of your reported case. I am sorry that the university chose not to support you as you bravely spoke up, or to apologize to you for failing you. I am sorry that it chose to distance itself from you rather than from the predator-student-athlete who raped you. I’m sorry that the university has not lived up to its desire to be a model institution, instead being one of over 200 that repeatedly fail rape victims.
Already, my words feel hallow. But, it took working up the nerve to sit down to write this. For, professors who take to anti-sexual violence activism do not fair well in the academy; some are censured, some are fired, some are merely tolerated. I already have three strikes against me as a Black queer non-binary person on faculty. And, I am pre-tenure, though basking in a much needed year-long leave from teaching to focus on my research. I have already developed a reputation for being outspoken on campus about racism, heterosexism, and transphobia. And, here I go again.
The fear I feel in speaking up as a faculty member is just another manifestation of a larger problem at UR: rape-culture. Despite having a feminist, sociological understanding of sexual violence, and sexuality and power more generally, despite having worked with a rape crisis shelter in the past, and despite a desire to work with students to improve our society, there is some chance that I will pay the price for speaking up. Rape-culture silences victims and their supporters, and it censures those who dare to work against sexual violence. Yes, rape-culture can exist even in where a campus office has been created for Title IX compliance, where “compliance” sounds an obligatory adherence to the bare minimum standard to ban harassment and discrimination.
Unfortunately, we have further proof: the University of Richmond sent emails to students, staff, faculty, and alumni that effectively implies that CC lied about the mishandling of her case:
While we cannot address specifically the contentions in the recent Huffington Post commentary, given our commitment to student privacy, and we respect the right of all students to express their opinion and discuss their perspective, we think it is important for us to share that many of the assertions of fact are inaccurate and do not reflect the manner in which reports of sexual misconduct have been investigated and adjudicated at the University.
Rape-culture, to me, is writing a two-page-long email to the student body and never once even mentioning the name of the alum — CC Carreras. It is speaking of her in the abstract — an “opinion” to be tolerated — only to say that she is making it all up (because who can trust rape victims, right?). Rape-culture is never saying a word about the rapist who may or may not still be walking around campus. It is using the cloak of confidentiality to protect certain details (the rapist’s name, whether he is still a student at UR, etc.) but not others (publicly stating that CC is lying about how her case was handled); it is using the law as a tool to revictimize a survivor and protect a rapist.
I am relieved that CC refused to let the university have the last word. She took the time to write an extensive response, in which she shares many official correspondences regarding the case and the many times the rapist violated a (rather flimsy) no-contact order. If you take the time to read the entire thing, your head may begin to hurt as mine did. The legalese used to protect a rape victim from further contact from the rapist is quite off-putting and cold; it reads more like divorce papers for a couple that is splitting up property than an effort to protect someone from violence. I have to wonder — why has the university asked CC to stay away from the rapist, just as it asks the rapist to stay away from her?
More importantly, I am inclined to agree with CC’s sentiment that the rapist received a slap on the wrist from the university, even as he repeatedly violated the no-contact order and admitted to raping her. He admitted to committing a violent crime and, as far as I can tell, was never arrested nor spent any time in prison. He was instructed to avoid certain parts of campus, but his time on the field and gym was not to be interrupted; that proved to be more important than CC’s safety and well-being. Further, the university has effectively allowed the rapist to attack other people. Indeed, there is research that is now 15 years old that highlights the reality that rapists tend to be repeat offenders.
As I dug through the many documents in CC’s second HuffPo piece, feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, I was reminded of the ways in which the university is perhaps complicit in facilitating sexual violence. There is sociological research that highlights the ways in which institutions and organizations either fail to genuinely prevent sexual violence and punish perpetrators or actually enable rapists to attack people. The Hunting Ground, a recently released documentary, highlights the ways in which the promotion and protection of Greek Life and athletics provide free reign for college men to make a sport of sexually assaulting college women. It is naive to assume that campus rape is the “good guy” who slips up or goes to far or got a little too drunk, or that an obligatory three-hour-long workshop on drinking is enough to prevent rape, or that the university is a neutral party in this crisis.
As a professor at UR, I am quite troubled by the position the university has put me in. I vehemently disagree with the official statement that the university sent out to dismiss CC’s story as lies, and, instead, pat itself on the back for how well it handles sexual assault cases (despite being under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases). This is blog post serves as my statement — I speak for myself. Believing CC was never a question; my only question was how do I support her and ensure that students are able to do their work on campus free of harassment and violence.
The university’s email to faculty and staff, unlike its letter to students, gave no indication of responsibility or how I might get involved to prevent sexual violence and support survivors. It seemed as though the sole purpose of the communication was to let me know I could sleep easily at night because CC made it all up. It gave no reminder of my obligation to report to the Title IX office any instance in which a student has disclosed that they have been sexually assaulted. It made no mention of how I might navigate contact with the rapist, or even who he is. (Just last year, a student and advisee of mine mysteriously withdrew from the university — something about “for Title IX” reasons I learned. Was he a rapist? Since there is little punishment for perpetrators, how many of my students have been rapists? These questions are unsettling.)
Rather than keeping faculty in the dark, instead relying on staff tasked with “Title IX compliance,” the university has right at its finger tips a wealth of expertise about sexual violence, sexualities, gender, oppression, law, the criminal justice system, and so on. Rather than relying exclusively on peer-to-peer sexual violence education, the university could be employing professors to give talks, host workshops, teach courses, consult Title IX affairs, etc. Even outside of those of us with research-based expertise, it should be giving faculty more opportunities to work on sexual violence prevention. I know from private conversations that many of us are concerned, and now outraged in light of the university’s statements about CC’s original post; we are ripe with passion, concern, and conviction to see that UR reverses its reputation as being one of the must unsafe campuses for women. Can you imagine a university that has a reputation for a near-perfect record of punishing perpetrators, for supporting and affirming survivors, and for truly practicing a bystander intervention approach to sexual violence prevention? That could be us, UR!
We have to do better.
Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman (they/them/theirs) is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Affiliate Faculty of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Richmond in Richmond, VA. They teach courses on gender and sexuality, sociology of health and illness, social inequality, and sociological research methods. Their research examines the impact of prejudice and discrimination on the health, well-being, and worldviews of oppressed communities. They are also an intellectual activist and maintain the blog Conditionally Accepted — a weekly career advice column on Inside Higher Ed for marginalized faculty.