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Destler Dodge

Dear President Munson and Provost Haefner,

We write in response to the recent program for first-year students, “Alcohol and Chill,” and the attention one slide has received. We applaud RIT’s willingness to foster frank discussion about both sexuality and sexual misconduct and agree that sexual misconduct on campus must be addressed proactively with concrete suggestions about dealing with challenging situations. We have read and listened to the reasons for the presentation’s design provided by the administration and by the Center for Women and Gender, and many of us have spoken to students who attended the event. Having considered its context, we still believe that the presentation, in particular the now-infamous ROO slide, was ill-suited to its intended task.

Discussions of rape and sexual assault must be guided by research, much of which finds that sexual violence is about domination, not sex. Sexual assault is sustained by anger and hatred, including misogyny, racism, and homophobia, a desire for power, and the sense that others are obliged by one’s personal desire. Masturbation cannot resolve these forces. Since the orientation organizers work closely with students, surely they understand how the ROO slide could be harmful, particularly to those most vulnerable. And, indeed, this is what we are now hearing from students that attended the event: that, because of the presentation, many would now not be comfortable voicing their concerns or, worse, their victimization to RIT personnel.

Humor can play an important role in learning, yet research also shows how humor can trivialize violence. It is possible to talk about sex, the centrality of consent, and the damage caused by sexual violence with sensitivity and wit, but without trivializing the issues, misrepresenting the research findings, condescending to students, or eliding the difference between violent action and sexual desire. The slide failed on these counts.

We are most disappointed by the administration’s response to date. Dr. Johnson’s framing of concerns as ignorant of context and her citing the superior expertise of the organizers of student orientation de-legitimizes reasonable criticism and well-founded offense. Educators know that speakers are responsible for how their words are perceived, regardless of intention. We must accept responsibility when our well-intended lessons go wrong and learn from our mistakes. Doubling down on the claim that critics are ignorant and unjustifiably offended prevents an honest dialogue that is necessary for establishing trust and confidence in RIT, the Center for Women and Gender, and the other organizers. Likewise, while we appreciate President Munson’s recent acknowledgment of criticism, we note that critics are not condemning the presentation on account of “sensitivities,” but instead objecting to the way the presentation ignored legitimate research in an attempt at humor.

A university is an environment where everyone can learn from open critical thinking and constructive criticism. Motivating our criticism is a sincere commitment to our students, a belief that practices should be consistent with the best scientific research, and a desire to proactively address sexual assault. We strongly urge the program organizers and other administration to:

1. Release the entire presentation to help the community interpret the ROO slide in context.

2. Draft an official public letter which acknowledges the difference between sexual violence and sexual acts and offers a genuine apology for unintentionally normalizing sexual violence. Do not blame students and other critics for legitimate perceptions or fault them for misunderstanding a well-intentioned action. Please send a copy to every student who attended the presentation, reassuring those that now feel further at risk.

3. Commit to more carefully considering and vetting next year’s program on sexual assault. It is vital that such programming continue and that its deeper message not be lost.

Sincerely,

Scott Franklin, Professor

Katie Terezakis, Associate Professor

Vincent Serravallo, Associate Professor

Also signed by:

Sonia Lopez Alarcon, Associate Professor

Sara Armengot, Associate Professor

Margaret Bailey, Professor

Suzanne M. Bamonto, Associate Professor

Nathaniel Barlow, Assistant Professor

Linda Barton, Associate Professor

Kari Cameron, Lecturer

Nathan Cahill, Associate Professor

Manuela Campanelli, Professor

Conerly Casey, Associate Professor

Elizabeth Cherry, Associate Professor

Elisabetta Sanino D'Amanda, Principal Lecturer

Betsy Dell, Professor

Janelle Duda-Banwar, PhD Candidate

Erin Esposito, NTID Support

Joshua Faber, Associate Professor

Elizabeth Hane, Associate Professor

James Heliotis, Professor

Joseph M. Henning, Associate Professor

Lisa Hermsen, Professor

Dawn Hollenbeck, Associate Professor

Andre Hudson, Associate Professor

Christine Keiner, Professor

Christine Kray, Associate Professor

Uli Linke, Professor

Kelly Norris Martin, Associate Professor

Susan Powell, Senior Staff Assistant

Ruben Proano, Associate Professor

Wade Robison, Professor

John Roche, Associate Professor

Jason D. Scott, Associate Professor

Phil Shaw, Lecturer

Ulrike Stroszeck, Principal Lecturer

Robert Teese, Professor

Sarah Thompson, Associate Professor

Lawrence Torcello, Associate Professor

Andrew Tuttle, Alumnus

Robert Ulin, Professor

Christine VanHemel, Senior Staff Specialist

Kaitlin Stack Whitney, Visiting Assistant Professor

Kristoffer Whitney, Assistant Professor

Tammara Wiley Wickson, Academic Advisor

Leslie Kate Wright, Associate Professor

Richard Zanibbi, Associate Professor