University of Iowa President gets personal in sex assault discussion

'It left me shaken'

Vanessa Miller
Published: February 27 2014 | 4:40 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 4:14 am in
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Before a crowd of hundreds Thursday afternoon, a choked-up University of Iowa President Sally Mason shared that – as an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky – she was sexually assaulted while walking to class.

Mason said her perpetrator was wearing a trench coat and grabbed her breast. She escaped.

“But it left me shaken,” Mason said during an afternoon “listening post” on the issue of sexual assault on campus. “I had no clue what to do. None.”

Mason said she couldn’t call her parents because she wanted to be independent and in college.

“I knew what their response would be – to bring me home,” she said. “And I didn’t want that.”

Those comments came after a week of student protests and debate over the UI’s handling of sexual assaults on campus and an apology from Mason for what she told the student newspaper on the topic. Mason on Thursday reiterated her position from a more personal perspective.

“I never want a young woman on this campus, ever in her life, not to know where to go if something like that happens to them,” she told a crowd of more than 200 students, faculty and staff.

UI police this academic year have issued eight “timely warning” emails regarding instances of sexual assault on or near campus. Mason told the Daily Iowan when questioned on the topic that, ideally, sexual assault on campus would disappear, but that “is probably not a realistic goal, just given human nature.”

On Tuesday, Mason apologized, saying, “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.”

The Iowa Board of Regents on Thursday – shortly before Mason’s afternoon listening post – announced a special meeting Friday to “receiving an explanation” from Mason regarding her remarks around sexual assault on campus.

Mason told reporters she welcomes the chance to talk with regents on the issue.

During the Thursday discussion, dozens of students, staff and community members shared about experiences they’ve had with sexual assault and expressed concerns with the UI’s existing sexual assault policies and victim resources.

Many of the speakers called the UI’s policies “a joke” and lacking the zero-tolerance language they’d like to see. They also spoke about the warning emails and the information they contain about how to stay safe – including a list of risk factors, like drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

Several students – female, male and transgender – shared personal stories about being raped or sexually violated and the UI’s response. One woman said that during an interview with UI officials about her attack, she was asked what she was wearing the night of the assault.

Another student said her perpetrator not only was allowed to stay on campus, he was not removed from the residence hall where she lived and where the attack happened.

Students also spoke in support of Mason and her response to the outcry, praising the UI for listening to concerns. State Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, stood up and suggested the UI post more answers to questions online and follow up with actions based on Thursday’s suggestions.

“What has been done? What is the progress? Where are we going?” Masher said. “We need to keep on this, and we need to solve this. It’s an enormous problem.”

One student asked how many times a student has been expelled for sexual assault-related issues.

“I am not aware of a student who has been expelled for academic or non-academic reasons in recent history,” said UI Dean of Students David Grady.

He said 22 students have been suspended during his tenure, 12 of whom were suspended for sexual misconduct or domestic violence.

In follow-up remarks, students asked the university to start expelling students involved in sexual assaults and to make policies and punishments more clear.

Referencing another of Mason’s comments in the Daily Iowan about sexual assault being a “difficult situation,” one UI student said, “Having two tests in one week is a difficult situation.”

“But rape is not a difficult situation,” she said. “The last Hawk Alert was about a really close friend of mine … Life after is never the same.”

Students expressed concern over Mason’s apparent “bleak” outlook on sexual assault response on campus. But Mason responded at the end of the discussion by saying the university has a lot of work to do, but she’s more hopeful than ever.

“As I look around the room, I have great hope,” she said. “If we work together, I think we can come up with great solutions and eventually be the model that we would like to be for what to do in the event of sexual assault.”

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