Mason interrupted by protesters


A group of University of Iowa students and two alumni gathered Sunday at the 31st-annual Presidential Lecture to protest President Sally Mason’s recent comments on sexual assault, as well as to criticize how the university has responded to the rise in the number of reports of such incidents.

Last week, Mason told The Daily Iowan in a monthly Q&A that sexual assaults cannot be prevented, but students can be educated on what to do in an instance of sexual assaults.

“The goal would be to end that, to never have another sexual assault,” Mason said. “That’s probably not a realistic goal just given human nature, and that’s unfortunate, but the more we understand about it, the better we are at trying to handle it and help people get through these difficult situations …”

Her statement created backlash with students throughout the university.

“That’s our biggest problem with President Mason making a public statement, saying that rape is human nature, which she is basically saying that men can’t help themselves for being rapists, and so women are going to be raped,” said Jeannette Gabriel, a UI Ph.D. student in education. “That’s why we have the victim-blaming, that’s why we have the complete lack of seriousness of dealing with violence at this university because at the very top … she believes that rape is inevitable.”

Eight sexual assaults have been reported during this academic year. Two assaults were reported at off-campus fraternity houses, and six reportedly occurred on campus.

Four sexual assaults were reported last semester, with three of those reported on campus, and of those, two in residence halls.

This semester, four sexual assaults have been reported, with three on campus, including one near the Art Building, and two reported in residence halls.

Out of the eight sexual assaults reported, five of the victims did not pursue charges. Jennifer Miller, a graduate from the UI and resident of Iowa City, said the university doesn’t offer programs to help students who are sexually assaulted.

“They don’t provide the adequate tools to give the victim that agency to make those decisions for themselves,” said Miller, who also attended the protest. “It’s a victim-blaming culture right now that makes it so difficult for anyone to come forward and to follow through.”

Gabriel, who helped organize the protest, echoed that, saying the victims’ pasts are used against them during police and university investigations.

“With women who have tried to go through that process find that any type of psychological problems, like if they’ve had a history of depression, is used against them in those investigations, so the whole investigation by the university is geared toward blaming the woman and exonerating the man,” Gabriel said. “The system is skewed against any woman coming forward and seeking an investigation. That’s why we’re calling for an outside investigator to come in to do real investigations.”

Chelsea Bacon, a graduate from the UI, helped organize the protest. She said the university influences the Iowa City community, and sexual assault not only affects students but residents of Iowa City as well.

“The university has immense power in our community,” Bacon said. “If it decides to take on the sexual-assault epidemic in a meaningful way, that could produce concrete results.”

Mason expressed her support for victims of sexual assault as well as the protesters’ agenda.

“I support them 100 percent; the campus supports them 100 percent,” she said. “Clearly, we are dealing [with issues] in our society today, and this is one of those very serious issues. I applaud our students for the activism they show on this particular issue — this very important one.”

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