BY EMMA SOLDON AND HELENA ROSE —
The Fond du Lac School District recently instituted a new policy which necessitates administrative approval of all content published in the student newspaper, Cardinal Columns, in objection to co-editor-in-chief Tanvi Kumar’s article, “The Rape Joke.”Kumar, senior, published “The Rape Joke” in February 2014, and principal John Wiltzius informed journalists of the new policy on March 10.
“The Rape Joke” told the stories of three anonymous students’ past sexual abuse, along with an editorial and a student survey about rape culture in Fond du Lac high school.
Kumar’s article was necessary and relevant. The proof of this lies in the article itself: Kumar’s statistics demonstrate the prevalence of rape culture in Fond du Lac high school. 80% of Fond du Lac’s student body believes there is a culture of “victim blaming” or “slut shaming” in school, 80% heard a rape joke in the past month and 79% heard the word “rape” used casually to describe a difficult test.
Although only 46% of the student body sees sexual abuse or harassment as an issue at Fond du Lac high school, Kumar was able to find three individuals who were sexually abused, and “The Rape Joke” inspired many others, including a teacher, to share their stories.
The victims who shared their stories demonstrated incredible strength. They shared intimate details of extreme hardships in order to educate their peers on the effects of their words. It is wrong for survivors to be forced to listen to people casually joke about rape. Would you casually joke about war in front of a veteran? Would you laugh about pedophilia in front of an abused child? Of course not.
Rape culture is a culture in which rape is accepted as the norm, in which people are taught “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape.” Rape needs to be held to the same standards as other traumatic violence. Rape is not controversial; it is never okay, and it is never okay to make light of such a terrible crime.
It is disrespectful, ironic and even dangerous that Fond du Lac’s administration decided to censor student press right after the publication of “The Rape Joke.” Fond du Lac’s new policy gives the administration power to “refuse to publish any materials that are poorly written, inadequately researched, false, defamatory or libelous, vulgar or profane, unsuitable for immature audiences, or biased or prejudiced.” On the surface, this seems perfectly reasonable, but its use in this situation is wrong.
Kumar wrote an open letter to James Sebert, superintendent, in response to the policy. “While I do not classify my article ‘vulgar’ or ‘profane,’ it is biased. It is prejudiced. I wrote this article because I was repulsed by the behavior exhibited by people in this building. I continue to be repulsed by the culture exhibited by my peers and administration,” Kumar wrote. “I am prejudiced against an administration that wishes to silence me for speaking out about an issue that touches the lives of people in our schools and our society.”
Instead of participating in the discussion of these serious problems, Fond du Lac’s administration diminished and tried to ignore them. They are clearly worried about being associated with negativity, but “The Rape Joke”was met with overwhelming support from students, staff, and local and national news outlets. “The Rape Joke” inspired many others to share their stories and was the topic of many classroom discussions. In fact, this was the best-selling issue Cardinal Columns ever published.
Although Fond du Lac’s administration is extremely worried about being associated with negativity, it seems the only present negativity ironically stems from the administration’s ignorance of the gravity and prevalence of rape culture in their school. The positive reaction to Kumar’s article proves that people empathized with and approved of its content, but Sebert said if it were up to him, “The Rape Joke” would have remained unpublished.
When Wiltzius spoke about the new policy, he mentioned that the administration wanted to see a more “positive” student press that would bring people together. Censoring discussion of uncomfortable topics only worsens their effects; ignoring the presence of rape culture only allows it to grow. Censoring an article that eloquently exposed and analyzed rape culture ironically reinforces the article’s point: this is a place where rape is accepted. Fond du Lac’s administration must work collaboratively with Cardinal Columns in order to foster a safe school environment. Without open and free communication, rape will continue to occur and be accepted. Ignorance is not bliss; it is unsafe.