If you stopped random people on an Iowa street corner as asked them, “Who’s Todd Ankin?,” the results would be similar to Jimmy Kimmel’s, “Lie Witness News,” which exposes how clueless people are about current events.
If you surveyed politically astute Iowans and asked them who they consider to be Iowa’s version of Akin, the majority would probably answer Congressman Steve King. King is an obvious choice because of his outspoken style, but that’s not the correct answer.
No, University of Iowa President Sally Mason has earned this distinction following a recent statement where she made some insensitive and politically incorrect statements about sexual assaults on the campus over which she presides.
In a monthly Q&A session with the Daily Iowan, Mason told the University’s newspaper, “The goal would be to end that, to never have another sexual assault. That’s probably not a realistic goal just given human nature, and that’s unfortunate, but the more we understand about it, the better we are at trying to handle it and help people get through these difficult situations.…”
The University of Iowa has had a number of high-profile sexual assaults in the past, but in this academic year alone, eight sexual assaults have been reported. The most recent assault occurred on January 27th near the arts campus where three men victimized a female student.
Needless to say, Mason’s comments have not set well with female students and some in the community. Letters to the editor have flooded the Daily Iowan, and none of them are supportive of Mason.
A graduate student wrote, “Sexual assault is not ‘human nature’ and is not a ‘difficult situation’ that we [women] just need to learn to protect ourselves from. Sexual assault is a violent crime that needs to be met with a zero-tolerance attitude and policy from our highest authorities.
Another letter stated, “The rhetoric that Sally Mason used in her comments about the recent sexual assaults at Iowa is a perfect illustration of the institutional attitude that allows sexual assaults to continue unchecked on campus.”
A woman who has been assaulted herself wrote, “’That’s probably not a realistic goal just given human nature’ implies that human beings are naturally inclined toward this type of behavior. Victims and advocates have been fighting to demolish the idea that “rape is OK” for thousands of years. To say that it is natural is to say that it is OK, to say that it is somehow an inbred behavior. I stand for myself as a victim and for many others: Sexual assault is not ‘OK,’ it is not natural, and it is not an impulse that an attacker can somehow not control. It is not born with them. It is not a part of us as human beings.”
Female students also protested Mason’s speech at the University’s 31st Annual Presidential Lecture. As Mason began her remarks, the students filed in front of the of the podium holding signs that read, “This University protects rapist, not victims.” While Mason told the audience that she supported the student’s positions, they began saying things like, “Sally Mason is too afraid, she doesn’t stand with victims.” Another said, “Sally Mason is part of the problem at this campus.” Others said, “Rape is not in human nature.”
Just like Todd Akin tried to explain his comments to salvage his candidacy in the Missouri U.S. Senate race in 2012, Mason has tried but failed to move on from the insensitive comments she made a week ago. Mason’s credibility on the topic is already questionable considering how the university handled a sexual assault of a female athlete by two football players in 2007. Back then, Mason had to apologize for withholding letters she received from the rape victim’s parents during an investigation initiated by the Regents.
Mason and the University of Iowa have a serious issue on their hands, but the irate student body is very problematic for Mason. In the fall of 2012, the Board of Regents declined to extend Mason’s contract, making her an at-will employee. If the disgust over Mason’s comments continues to build, she could soon find herself out of a job.
Mason’s job status is inconsequential compared to the University’s ongoing problems with sexual assaults. Students and the public in general are demanding that the University get serious about combating sexual assaults on campus. Thus far, it seems the response of the University has been inadequate.
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