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.