On Sept. 19, Lindsay Wrobel, a senior at the University of Rochester, ended the sixth and final day of her hunger strike. However, this end was not in defeat; it was in victory.
Her goal in this fast was to problematize the continued employment of professor Florian Jaeger, who has been accused of sexual harassment and has since been placed on a leave of absence following reports by 11 students and faculty members who “accused him of stalking, pressuring students to share drugs and have sex and creating a hostile environment.”
This case holds special significance — it took place on a college campus. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, rape or sexual assault is experienced by 11.2 percent of all undergraduate and graduate students. This also occurs in tandem with Betsy DeVos’ statement to repeal and revamp Title IX to be more favorable to the perpetrator.
As university students, faculty and staff, we should all stand by Wrobel without question and admire her determination. Title IX was established for this purpose as a federal law in the Education Amendments Act of 1972, to protect students from sexual harassment, violence or discrimination on the basis of sex.
Yet this seems to not be as commonly accepted as it should, despite the presence of the dean of students, the ombudsman and resources such as resident assistants and the University Counseling Center — all of which can be used as resources for students to turn to should the need arise. Why does the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network report that women ages 18 to 24 are three times more likely to be victim of sexual assault or rape and men are 78 percent more likely to be victims, just because they are college students?
Of course, a dialogue has been raised about the effect that this six-day hunger strike has had on Wrobel’s health; in fact, Jaegar sent Wrobel an email on Sept. 19 in which he seems to express concern for her health. However, his sentiment is null — if he was truly concerned about the health of a student at his university, he would never have harassed students at all. It goes without saying that this is not education. His email comes across as insincere, as something that he is only using to protect his ethos in light of public attention being shed on the case. It is highly probable that Jaegar used his position and his power as a tenured professor to commandeer such an abusive presence in the University of Rochester community.
There is a particular significance to this finding by the University of Rochester as we stand today. On Sept. 7, DeVos defended the rights of the accused or the defendant in sexual assault cases under Title IX, essentially undoing the work done by former President Barack Obama to protect victims of sexual assault from further trauma.
DeVos advocates for the stance of innocent until proven guilty. However, only 2 to 10 percent of reports of sexual assault or rape are false; that means that at least 90 percent are genuine. The need for innocent until proven guilty is negligible here: only 20 percent — one in five — female students ages 18 to 24 report. If we rely on an “innocent until proven guilty” approach, then we risk missing those who are, in fact, guilty, while compounding more shame and doubt on the victim. DeVos risks allowing perpetrators to slide by without any sort of repercussion or lesson to be learned from their actions.
At Binghamton University, we are 165 miles from the University of Rochester, but we have the power to shed national light on this. We can contact the University of Rochester to express our shock and disgust. We can speak with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to urge them to place high priority on this case. We can speak to our local officials to remind them of the importance of Title IX and thank our own Dean of Students Office, ombudsman and Title IX coordinator, Andrew Baker. There are 11 voices that were courageous enough and strong enough to speak up on Rochester’s campus to advocate for themselves. The least that we can do is educate ourselves. If we are smart enough to have made it into the BU community, then we are smart enough to advocate for those whose voices are held down.
Kara Bilello is a junior double-majoring in English and Spanish.