The Modern Language Association’s (MLA) new punching bag is due process, as one session in their annual convention demonstrated (The convention was held in Austin, Texas this year.) In the session, entitled, “Narrating College Sexual Assault,” Donna Potts, a creative writing professor at Washington State, shared her own experience as a young college freshman who was raped by a professor. The paper she read aloud as her presentation had the title of “’Sick of Hearing All This Shit about Harassment’: Dispelling Myths about Sexual Violence.”
Potts’ main point was that students should be “entitled to an education in an environment that is not hostile to them.” Her rape as a college freshman has been recounted in The Chronicle of Higher Education, but she also shared it in the panel session. Her rapist was a powerful college professor who said that if she reported it, it would not matter. She also said that the hospital psychologist told her that she was pretty and attracted men, then prescribed her anti-depressant medicine.
It is time to “dispel the myths” about rape for both students and professors because too often, “graduate students and faculty encounter indifference when they report” it to others and their supervisors. Instead, people “spread gossip and hearsay.” Today, “rape narrative is reconstructed in a novel context” because of the perception that “women’s capacity to gossip [and] embellish [is] undermining women’s narrative in sexual violence.” Also, an unintended consequence of Department of Education policy is that “insisting that words alone can constitute harassment.”
The general public is uninformed, hinted Potts, as the typical reaction of “the public to decry the PC [politically correct] universities.” The public complains, “PC feminists whining about words,” which she takes issue with. She cited “Syllabus-Gate” on Fox News regarding political correctness in the classroom, where a male college professor and two female graduate instructors said that the words “tranny,” “male,” and “female” were banned from their classes. Potts claimed “all three were targeted for attack by Fox News.” She was livid when, in her department, “a couple of white, male colleagues felt” that they should support the embattled professor (but not the two female graduate instructors). The two female graduate instructors revised their syllabus after public outcry, yet Potts admitted she was leaning towards supporting the graduate instructors over the professor.
Potts cited the controversial documentary on rape and sexual assault on college campuses, “The Hunting Ground,” to support her point. She blasted criticism of the documentary, where “19 Harvard Law school professors, 15 of them male” came out against the documentary’s claims. Potts singled out conservative writer Jonah Goldberg’s take on the fraternity controversy from The Rolling Stone at the University of Virginia (UVa) and said his comments were not appropriate. Instead of pointing fingers, she suggested that Americans should look into the “systematic handling” of rape and college sexual assaults by universities.
After the debunking of Jackie, the key witness in The Rolling Stone gang rape story at UVa, Potts said, “[Victims] almost always have inconsistencies because they have trauma.” She acknowledged that between “two-to-eight percent are false, like any crime,” but that based on her knowledge, “[There are] plenty of precedents at UVa…nonetheless there are accounts of gang rape” regardless of how The Rolling Stone story ended.
Due process was not referred to once in her remarks.