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An open letter to the Dean of Students regarding sexual assault at Mercer

Robert+Roach%2C+a+sophomore+biology+major+and+honors+student%2C+opens+up+about+sexual+assault+on+Mercer%27s+campus.
Robert Roach, a sophomore biology major and honors student, opens up about sexual assault on Mercer's campus.

Robert Roach, a sophomore biology major and honors student, opens up about sexual assault on Mercer's campus.

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Robert Roach, a sophomore biology major and honors student, opens up about sexual assault on Mercer's campus.

Robert Roach

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Dean Pearson,

My name is Robert Roach. I am a sophomore biology major and honors student trying to raise awareness of sexual assault on this campus. I attended the Q&A last night [Monday, April 18] with President Underwood and was the first person to bring up sexual assault when I asked him how big of an issue it was on Mercer’s campus and how many students were sexually assaulted this year.

After the meeting, I talked with you and shared my concerns and thoughts on the issue. You were immediately dismissive and aggressive, claiming that I cared nothing about sexual assault and was just speaking out in an attempt to gain attention. As I told you, I have had two friends at this school who were sexually assaulted. One of these friends confided in me just two weeks ago about what had happened to her and why she felt pressured not to report. This was only a short time after we first spoke at a showing of the documentary “The Hunting Grounds” where I asked you the same questions. Neither of my friends spoke publicly about what happened to them.

I spoke out in front of the student body to try to raise awareness about the reality of sexual assault because they could not . . . and you the Dean of Student Affairs ridiculed me for it. Your behavior last night left me quite literally speechless. My friend trusted me enough that she would confide the assault, but you are not even open to the idea that sexual assault is an issue a male, non-victim could actually care about.

In my opinion, sexual assault is an issue all Mercer students have the right to care about, and no one should be degraded by the administration for trying to publicly raise awareness of this issue. Part of the reason so few sexual assault victims come forward is because of dismissive attitudes.

Saying that I am trying to garner attention has some measure of truth in it, though I fear you have severely misjudged my motives. I am trying to bring public attention to the reality that sexual assault is a public problem on this campus, and that it happens more often than anyone realizes.  I am trying to bring attention to the fact that 19 percent of women experience some sort of sexual assault while at college, and that these numbers hold true for Mercer as well. I am trying to bring attention to the truth.

The truth is that you treat sexual assault as a private problem that has no place being admitted to in a public setting. Part of the reason victims do not come forward is because this attitude encourages the idea that a small private institution like Mercer does not have a big problem with sexual assault so victims feel isolated. While I agree that the privacy of the victims is paramount, there is nothing that prevents you from publicly stating basic statistics such as the number of sexual assaults reported each year and the number of cases successfully prosecuted in judicial.

You keep claiming that I should privately submit a formal request for the information on sexual assault, and that you will try to get back to me eventually. In effect my public question about info that concerns all students and that I ask in front of the student body has been silenced and turned into a private issue.

With all due respect Dean Pearson, sexual assault will never cease to be a problem at Mercer until we the students have a right to discuss the issue publicly with the administration without fear of being silenced or attacked. The fact the dean ridiculed a student for trying to bring this issue into the open and discuss it publicly is severely disappointing. What should be far more concerning to us the students is the fact that the dean either does not know or is not willing to state publicly to us the truth about sexual assault at Mercer University.

President Underwood has offered a clear and reassuring contrast to Dean Pearson’s handling of the issue. The question I put forward about the number of sexual assaults on Mercer’s campus and their handling in judicial was answered by him immediately and specifically. This is the same information the dean declined to release publicly at the showing of the documentary “The Hunting Grounds” by claiming such basic statistics would somehow violate the privacy of the victims. When I spoke with the president after the event, he listened to my concerns and thoughts about sexual assault at Mercer and then thanked me for speaking and affirmed that he had heard me. Unfortunately, some short minutes later Dean Pearson attempted to belittle and silence me claiming I cared nothing about sexual assault or its victims.

I write this letter, Dean Pearson, to inform you that I will not be bullied or muted. I will continue to support and speak for the victims of sexual assault and will endeavor always to bring the truth to the light of public view.

Respectfully,

Robert Roach.

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36 Comments

36 Responses to “An open letter to the Dean of Students regarding sexual assault at Mercer”

  1. Colin Whalen on April 28th, 2016 6:07 pm

    First, Dean Pearson has never denied the existence of sexual assaults on Mercer’s campus.
    Second, we have statistics. Just because they do not apply to Mercer’s campus individually, does not mean that those do not apply.
    Third, are you sure your two friends want you to be doing this? You are doing more to publicize them than Dean Pearson would by “publishing” the data (that he made very clear most likely didn’t exist). Every person on campus acknowledges sexual assault is a problem on this campus.
    Your anger is misplaced. Dean Pearson is frustrated with you because you are not actuallt listening to his words. At the President’s Q&A, he made very clear he was willing to discuss this with you after “The Hunting Grounds” showing, but you left. And then with the constant ignorance towards him at the Q&A, his frustration is justified. You need to listen, not speak. He is willing to discuss these topics with you, but you need to let him explain his side rather than spouting your own.

    [Reply]

  2. Sandra Davis-Johnson on April 28th, 2016 7:01 pm

    Well said Robert Roach, well said!!!

    [Reply]

  3. Abel on April 28th, 2016 7:19 pm

    Very truly, the rate of sexual assault is being hide. We, the students, need to speak out to this all the time without fear. Thank you Robert Roach.

    [Reply]

  4. Noah Maier on April 28th, 2016 7:38 pm

    Robert,

    You chose to stroke your ego by publishing a slanderous attack piece that has the power to damage the career of a man who has spent his life defending the downtrodden.

    Dr. Pearson and his team have done more to aid sexual assault victims than you or I will ever know. Criticizing the system is legitimate and important, but instead of doing that you wrote a half-cocked attempt at an attack on someone who has devoted his professional career to caring for this university and its students.

    Your letter moves progress backwards for this university. You burned a bridge with someone who continues to be a great ally to the movement against sexual violence on campuses. Shame on you. Choose better battles.

    Noah Maier
    Class of 2013
    Founder of Triota WGS Honor Society
    Fmr President – Common Ground

    [Reply]

  5. Alumni on April 28th, 2016 8:09 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful response to the belittling and criticism you received. Sexual assault will never be a comfortable subject, but it is important and it is imperative that Mercer realize the significance of public disclosure when it comes to fostering an environment where victims are treated as such. There are some problems you can not sweep under the rug of money and positive PR, and this is one. Thank you for your honesty! Stay strong!

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  6. Kayla on April 28th, 2016 9:00 pm

    Your letter did nothing but make it apparent how desperate you are for attention.

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  7. Danielle Montanari on April 28th, 2016 9:35 pm

    Robert, I am deeply grateful for your voice and your moxie. Discussion and transparency (as difficult as they may sometimes be) are key components in making both our campus and our communities safer places to work and live. Hang in there, and keep fighting the good fight- you’ve got an army behind you.

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    Kyle Shook Reply:

    Seconded!

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  8. Rachael on April 28th, 2016 9:36 pm

    Very well put and very important to address. Keep speaking out to shut down the silencers.

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  9. Jose Villalobos on April 28th, 2016 10:27 pm

    Dean Pearson is correct. Robert Roach is making himself out to be a victim, but he’s not preventing any rapes or sending any rapists to jail. So what good does it do, other than “raising awareness” (getting attention)? He repeats the ridiculous lie that 1 in 5 female students are assaulted – if they were, there would be enough of them that they wouldn’t need Robert Roach to speak for them. That statistic includes consensual sex after drinking, unwanted touches on the arm, and other things that aren’t crimes. So what is Dean Pearson supposed to do? Force your friend to file a police report? “Teach men not to rape”? You can be the first to raise your hand and say you need a class to teach you not to rape. Or do you just want him to express concern and acknowledge your feelings? In other words, give you attention? Create a safe space for you? He probably assumed you had already been to kindergarten.

    [Reply]

    Chelsea Howd Reply:

    And that is exactly why rape and sexual assault victims don’t always report what happens to them. Robert Roach is speaking out about a real issue that affects both men and women everyday. Just because this issue hasn’t touched you or loved ones does not mean it does not exist. More people should continue speak out about rape and sexual assault, not just state statistics and ways to avoid it happening to you, with that much I agree. However, those in charge should be approachable about the subject, not feel as though they won’t be heard or believed or cared for after their traumatic experiences. One day, you will have daughters and sons, and you will wish for their utmost safety. How can they have that safety when those that are supposed to keep them safe are so flippant and dismissive of such serious subjects. You should be ashamed of the issue you just belittled. The statistics are correct. More people than you count are raped or sexually assaulted. That does not include “unwanted touches on the arm” as you say. It involves men and women being harmed by strangers or even people they know or are close to. How dare you claim that this is a cry for acknowledgement or attention. This is a cry for awareness and for those in charge to take a stance and respect and due their utmost for those harmed by others. How. Dare. You.

    [Reply]

    Jose Villalobos Reply:

    “Heard and believed and cared for,” you say. In other words, you want attention. Robert Roach wasn’t speaking as a victim, and he wasn’t reporting a crime. So nothing you said is relevant.

    [Reply]

  10. Joshua Gaisser on April 28th, 2016 10:35 pm

    Doug Pearson is a good man, an excellent leader, and is somebody I look up to as a mentor and role model every day throughout my career in student affairs, both at Mercer and beyond. There are very few individuals I know who dedicate as much time, resources, and energy to advocating for students like Dr. Pearson does. As somebody who has always advocated for survivors and has always fought for greater awareness and prevention of sexual assault and increased bystander intervention education, I know that Dr. Pearson has always been on my side and on the side of students. He is an incredible individual, an excellent Dean of Students, and anybody who calls into question his character or his motives in regard to sticking up for the student body is, quite simply, grossly mistaken.

    I do not know what happened during that conversation between you and Dr. Pearson. Nobody does. The exact exchange that went down will only be truly known between the two of you. What I do know is that to take words from that one conversation and apply it so broadly as to accuse somebody who has dedicated their entire lives to students of simply not caring, or of trying to silence the issue of sexual assault on campus, well, that’s just preposterous.

    I do not want to minimize or nullify the message you are trying to get across– sexual assault is indeed a problem across college campuses nationwide, Mercer included, and I applaud your efforts and your passion and I hope you continue to do what you are doing. But I worry that this article may do more damage than good– you are attacking and vilifying one of the single greatest advocates for sexual assault survivors on Mercer’s campus. I worry that your personal agenda against Dr. Pearson will confuse sexual assault survivors and will cause even more individuals to be more hesitant to report than they already are.

    To those who have been sexually assaulted and are looking for help, resources, or support, and have been confused by this article on who to turn to: Talk to Dr. Pearson. He is NOT who this article portrays him as. Talk to Dr. Murfree or Dr. Brown. Talk to Melissa Nunn. Talk to our amazing counseling staff in CAPS. Talk to an individual in Residence Life. They are your friends. They are on your side. They are here to help.

    Joshua Gaisser

    PS– You had asked for specific numbers on cases processed through the judicial system and the results of those cases. There are a lot of FERPA and Clery law regulations that surround student educational files (including judicial files) that protect the privacy of individuals involved. To obtain these statistics and make sure it is legal to provide them, it takes time. It is not something that can be immediately produced as a basic number, because each incident needs to be examined individually to make sure it meets certain regulations.

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  11. kay on April 28th, 2016 10:39 pm

    Bravo to you Robert Roach Thanks for your effort to bring awareness to this issue

    [Reply]

  12. Jewl Johnson on April 29th, 2016 6:03 am

    For those of you ridiculing Robert for this letter, I think you maybe missing the point. The point was not to slander Dean Pearson, who is a gentleman and scholar of the highest caliber, but to point out that a public forum is needed for this issue. Robert’s whole point is to draw attention to an issue that is often times left sitting on the back burner. He wants a forum in which victims feel comfortable enough to come to administration instead of their friends, so that the situation can be properly handled and dealt with. He sees a need for change and is addressing the right people to do so. His letter, I will admit is strongly worded and comes off as aggressive and angry, makes a comparison between Dean Pearson and President Underwood. It highlights something Dean Pearson may not have been aware that he was doing. Being the man I know he is, Dean Pearson would not want sexual assault victims to feel as though they cannot communicate with the administration. In fact I have personally seen him advocate that victims do come forth. However advocating does not always translate to exuding an aurora of willingness to talk and listen. I’m not saying the Dean was intentionally dismissive but as stated before this topic often takes a back burner, because so few highlight its importance and so few victims feel comfortable coming forth.

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  13. Trudy on April 29th, 2016 7:16 am

    Trump 2016 written in chalk on the campus sends students to counseling. You expect to be taken seriously about an issue when the lunatics are running the day care you attend?

    [Reply]

    Nicholas Wooten Reply:

    Trudy, you’re thinking of an incident at Emory University, not Mercer. While someone did write a pro-Trump message at Mercer in chalk, students didn’t raise a big fuss nor was it covered by national media. It was power washed away and we moved on with with our lives.

    In addition, the claims you are making about the Emory incident are overblown.

    Here, read this: http://www.snopes.com/emory-students-trump-graffiti/

    Please, research before you make claims like this.

    [Reply]

  14. Paul Clements on April 29th, 2016 7:24 am

    I graduated from Mercer many years ago. At that time Gentlemen did not allow ladies to walk the campus unaccompanied. Campus carry. Is also a good idea.

    [Reply]

  15. Caleb Maier on April 29th, 2016 8:58 am

    To conflate dismissing sexual assault with dismissing Robert Roach’s public sexual assault activity is deeply problematic. (I would be outraged by the former, but there are potentially many good reasons for the latter.) But what is perhaps more troubling is why the author portrays THEMSELVES as a victim, as if his experiences are on an equal platform as those who have been sexually assaulted. It sounds like Roach is not being silenced so much as they’re being asked to butt out of a conversation to which he doesn’t belong. I am sure that Roach has good intent, but I fail to see how this article is helpful, and is anything but mean-spirited.

    I’ve never been sexually assaulted, but I have filed under Title IX for other reasons, and Dr Pearson had been extremely courteous, helpful, and anything but dismissive. I don’t know other people’s experiences on the matter, however.

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  16. Cp on April 29th, 2016 9:11 am

    My son is a recent MU grad. Mercer was a great college experience for him. I wasn’t at the meeting, so please forgive if you’ve already got a program in place. There is a college and military wide sexual assault (encompassing domestic violence and stalking) program called Green Dot. It’s fantastic because it brings not only awareness to all students but teaches action and preventive measures for bystanders and potential victims. I have been a victim’s advocate for 25 years and have seen a lot of programs. I highly recommend Green Dot!

    [Reply]

  17. Kyle Shook on April 29th, 2016 11:32 am

    Kuddos to you, Robert.

    It takes a lot of stamina to disrupt a system that relies on people to stay silent and shamed to maintain simplicity.

    As an alumnus, I remember sexual assault being brought up twice in public forums. First, it was as a freshman where it was the standard orientation: “watch your drinks and don’t get raped, ladies.” The second was a Merpo video which said, “Don’t walk on your own.” Both placed responsibility on the victims of sexual assault to prevent it. That is an unconscionable, and, regrettably common perception of it. It perpetuates nasty, insidious beliefs that have led to a flourishing sexual-assault culture at Mercer.

    Mercer students sit in class everyday with both survivors (mainly women and LGBT people, but also men) and rapists. That is a statistical certainty. Survivors most likely see their rapists on a regular basis. Some may still take classes with them. Some may be taught classes by them. Some may be dating them. It is an innately hostile culture for survivors and no one should feel shame or embarrassment for asking people to do better.

    It is not a question of how much people do or how dedicated they are. It is a simple fact that most colleges in the US (Mercer included) are hunting grounds where sexual assault is common, underreported, and perpetuated culturally through misconceptions and outdated ideas.

    It is the job of the administration to create an environment where sexual assault is prevented, students feel safe and aware of what constitutes sexual assault, and survivors feel free to come forward without shame or fear of being belittled or intimidated into silence.

    Students can and should challenge administration to do better, regardless of personal affection or previous dedication to responsibilities that are part of what a person is paid to do. People are not owed gratitude or recognition for thinking sexual assault is bad. Nor are they owed gratitude or recognition for trying to stop it. That mentality is a regrettable extension of a particularly brutal and vicious rape culture that runs rampant on campuses across the US.

    We are owed the truth and we are owed facts about sexual assault on campus and what is being done to stop it.

    Demand answers and action, students and alumni. This is a very dark cloud that has been hovering over Mercer for decades and people should not be silenced for trying to fight it.

    [Reply]

    DL Reply:

    Well said and well meant. Thank you sharing in the light of truth.

    [Reply]

    Jose Villalobos Reply:

    It is your own responsibility to protect yourself from crime. The police investigate crime after it happens. Lawmakers decide what happens to a criminal after he’s convicted. There is no one out there who can protect you at all times – and if the government can’t stop crimes from happening, then neither can Dean Pearson.

    Put this one in your list of irrational demands – college should be free, someone should listen to our opinions and always take us seriously, students should tell the teachers what to do, and someone should stop all rapes from happening.

    Since Dean Pearson stubbornly refuses to rid humankind of assault, you will probably have to just do it yourself. Go ahead, stop all rapes.

    Until you do, I hope people show up wherever you go in public to shout and protest and interrupt you and demand that Kyle Shook do something about rape.

    [Reply]

  18. Samantha Mattern on April 29th, 2016 12:05 pm

    So proud students are speaking up and speaking out about sexual assault on Mercer’s campus. Keep fighting the good fight-you’ve got so many on your side!

    [Reply]

  19. Arun on April 29th, 2016 1:03 pm

    Robert I do not know you or the conversation you had with Dean Pearson.

    I have become a non-political person after years of being politically active.

    But I feel compelled to say that Dean Pearson is an incredibly compassionate individual so there must have been a disconnect. As an alumni of both Mercer Undergrad and Medical School, I can tell you that the man I have known since the early 2000’s when SGA took a part in hiring the new Dean of Student Affairs is a very good and caring man. What does this accomplish rather than try to tarnish a man who has done great work at school and in the community for more than a decade now? You are young so I do not want to judge but please understand that Dean Pearson is not a one hit wonder. In countless occasions, he has helped in many causes when I was at Mercer and active on campus. He didn’t want the publicity or the credit but his work spoke volumes to how much he genuinely cares about students. My humble 2 cents.

    Arun V
    Mercer Undgrad Alum 2004′
    Mercer Medical School Alum 2009
    Toby the Bear (2002-2004)
    SGA (2001-2004)

    [Reply]

    DL Reply:

    Thank you for directing your interests in a calm and sane way, comparative to some others here. I agree that this was likely a miscommunication, but this issue should definitely not have been considered a “private matter” in terms of statistical evidence.

    [Reply]

  20. Annie Biggs on April 29th, 2016 2:02 pm

    For all survivors who are reading this (and not reading this), I stand with you. It’s up to all of us to address rape culture on college campuses. Thank you to everyone who has called attention to this issue and taken steps to create change, including students, faculty, administrators, alumni, community partners, and more. We have a long way to go, but many allies and agents of change alongside us.

    [Reply]

    Kyle Shook Reply:

    Hear! Hear!

    [Reply]

  21. Parent of a freshman on April 29th, 2016 2:54 pm

    As a parent of a freshman at Mercer, I am glad to receive this information in any format. We as parents believed that Mercer was a safe place to send our daughter. I believe that Mercer falls within the Natinal norms for Rapes and sexual assaults but am concerned when students do not feel that they have open dialogue on this topic. Knowledge is power!!!!

    [Reply]

    DL Reply:

    Indeed

    [Reply]

  22. Michael on April 29th, 2016 8:18 pm

    I have known Dr. Pearson personally and professionally many years. He is the most professional student affairs staff member I have ever encountered. As a father, I whole heartedly would put my trust into Dr. Pearson to handle a sexual assault involving my very own daughter. He is as good as they come.

    [Reply]

  23. JG on April 30th, 2016 9:52 am

    As someone who wants to help promote awareness for sexual assault, this letter causes concern for me. Here is my fear….

    Do I retweet/promote/share an article that very clearly could slander Dr. Pearson and turn him into a villain? Not what I intend, so I HESITATE TO SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT THIS TOPIC THROUGH YOUR LETTER, and that was one of the many motives of the letter (not that all of Robert’s motives were unwarranted, some, very obviously, are to help spread awareness for sexual assault on Mercer’s campus and that’s a good thing that Robert is doing).

    Robert, you must be made aware that using words such as ‘bully’ and ‘ridicule’ when describing Dr. Pearson’s responses to you, you are painting the picture of a distasteful harmful human being who does not care about sexual assault on campus. It could very easily turn into a witch hunt for Dr. Pearson. Was this your intent? I hope not, but that’s what it sounds like to some extent.

    Yes, raise awareness, but there are lots of ways to do it without taking down one of your best allies on the topic of sexual assault at Mercer. It does not sound like he was trying to silence you, but rather have more formal dialogue for the time being. And one poster said it as well, for him to mispeak about exact numbers would be a mistake, and it takes time to produce those, so do not bash him for not having readily available the numbers that you request in a Q & A. Do not demonized Dr. Pearson for requesting another medium for you to raise awareness with. In fact, maybe you should’ve started with an open letter about it first! The “attention” that this brings to the topic will make victims hesitate, especially the ones who have worked with Dr. Pearson on this topic before. They know that he is an asset to the students and wants to fix this problem. I suggest you write another letter, more clearly focusing on sexual assault and not focusing on how Dr. Pearson did not respond to you the way that you wanted. He can help us. Don’t make him the enemy.

    [Reply]

  24. Tina on April 30th, 2016 4:41 pm

    What’s most upsetting to the nay-sayers? That he spoke out? That he addressed it to the Dean? Or that sexual assualt on college campuses happens daily?

    Being the parent of a female student I find the level of critisism directed to this young man upsetting.
    For decades women have been commodities that could be bought or sold for a price by men and when they couldn’t afford to buy they took it.

    Now, it’s illegal to take it but the judicial system still makes it difficult when a woman is a victim of sexual assults; what was she wearing, had she been drinking, was she in a place she shouldn’t have been…why are women in the defense for being born female?

    Kudos to you Robert – vocalizing for many whose voices are muffled and shut down just because of their gender.

    [Reply]

  25. DL on April 30th, 2016 11:17 pm

    To speak frankly, I am appalled and ashamed of those wasting their energy attacking the article or its author for claiming it seeks personal attention. Whether the situation of this conflict is valid or not is means for debate, but this is a student clearly attempting to defend against what he perceives as an attitude which is a genuine, complicated, and widespread issue. Indeed, dismissive attitudes are a cancerous reaction to this issue, and voicing anger against what he saw as just such an attitude was justified and remarkable.
    It is definitely understood that what he experienced may have been misconstrued, but the sentiment is a valid one, so please do NOT attack an individual genuinely trying to rail against something he sees as an obstruction of justice.
    I know not whether Dean Pearson did or did not have such a reaction or anything of his character, so defer to others on that matter, but I would definitely defend the argument that people with power over social rulings on this campus should be as free and open-minded about expressing upon this issue as possible.
    In short: thank you President Underwood for being cool, and those attacking Robert for this heartfelt article, perhaps adjust your priorities.

    [Reply]

  26. MB on May 9th, 2016 8:51 pm

    As a Parent of an upcoming Freshman, this letter just reminds me that Mercer is no different than any other campus the size of a small town. It sounds like the school is doing whatever they can to prevent sexual assaults on campus. The school cannot be held responsible for the sick behavior of others. They can tell our students how to stay safe and who and how to report a an incident. Any information that the student was requesting from the Dean can be found with research. It sounds like the Dean said it was a private matter. I agree with the Dean. My hope is that the students are getting the resources that they need after such an attack. I often tell my employees don’t come to me with a problem and no solution. So tell me Robert, what’s the solution? Only a rapist could tell our students how to really protect themselves. I am not bashing the writer, but I do feel like to often college students are spending a lot of time protesting and attempting to shut down Administration to gain attention. I hope this is not the case, but time will tell.

    [Reply]

  27. MB on May 9th, 2016 8:55 pm

    Also, how can the school assist the student, if they haven’t reported. The opinion of the writer may be different if the Dean were given the opportunity to meet with this victim.

    [Reply]

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