Schooling gender and sexuality

A college freshman, Elizabeth Seeberg, at the women’s college of Saint Mary’s committed suicide early this school year. According to all accounts during the first weeks of her first year at Saint Mary’s she reported being sexually assaulted by a football player at her brother college Notre Dame. Her report included a criminal complaint and a rape DNA exam. This awful event was pretty much a non-event, however, at Notre Dame.

I saw Elizabeth’s story last night and thought to myself, wasn’t Samantha Kelly a freshman in highschool before she died of suicide earlier this month. And wasn’t her suicide also connected to her experiences following both a sexual assault and her treatment after reporting the assault? 

I have no adequate next statement here.  My heart is filled with profound curses in response to this set of non-coincidences for these two young girls attempting to get an education in our society.

Within weeks of each girls entering a new school system, these two freshman females are sexually assaulted by two upper classmen, these two young females experience personal and public shame with regard to their gender and sexuality, these two girls seek systemic redress for a violent crime and find none, the two girls are further marginalized by reporting the crimes, and finally these two young girls determine suicide is their only answer.

And following death…

…in the case of Samantha, the charges are all dropped because her body and testimony were the only forms of ‘evidence’ against her attacker.

…while in the case of Elizabeth two months have now pass with no additional investigation, no answers to her family or the school community, and no accountability on the part of the alleged assailant or the school administration which housed both the attack and attacker as a star student.  

In the case of Elizabeth, a minimal ‘investigation’ was opened and dropped within three days of the attack because it was considered no big deal. Four days after her attack she was at a Notre Dame football game watching her would be rapist on the field.  Looking back at Samantha’s complaint and the system response one sees a remarkably similar pattern.

About a year ago I wrote a blog about what girls learn about their gender and sexuality while at school.

I’ve written less specifically about what boys learn about theres on this blog too.

But since here at UO we saw one football player benched last year for posting snarky comments about his coach while the same coach did not initially penalize or bench many other players for a variety of violent and criminal behaviors… 

…and since this new case at  Notre Dame’s shows a football coach, Brian Kelly, who has decided with sexual assault accusations there is no need to bench a player, while I suspect he too would bench a player for sassing him on twitter…

…I am forced to think more deeply about what boys and men are learning about their gender and sexuality behaviors and rights while at school.

I typically leave this sort of musing to the likes of Michael Kimmel and Jackson Katz because thinking about how schools socialize half the population to be aggressive, entitled and violent heterosexuals creeps me out.

But as the stories of Samantha and Elizabeth simmer with me over the next few days and I know I will be thinking about:
– how many “safety nets” and educational systems failed each of these girls.
– how many community members and professionals have already and how many more will continue to sexually shame these girls.
– how many community members have already and how many more will insistently normalized the potentially predatory sexuality and violence of each of these boys.

I suppose I will be gathering more stories and writing more on this topic soon.  For today I just have this burning picture of Elizabeth in my head as I think about the 45 freshmen students I just taught first semester.  She was 19, she was a freshman in college, she was attending a women’s college, she was sexually assaulted and went to the police and the doctor, she was forced to live with the knowledge that her attacker was freely roaming campus as a celebrity for the month following the attack and she had to assumed he knew of her complaint. 

Elizabeth broke under all of these layers of terror and injustice.

I have to wonder would I have?  Would my daughter?  Would yours?

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One response to “Schooling gender and sexuality

  1. Lisa

    As usual, wise words and food for thought. My heart breaks when I think about how often “the system” supports these horrific acts.