A high school newspaper in Wisconsin faces censorship by the school administration after acknowledging the existence of rape.
Tanvi Kumar, a senior at Fon de Lac High School and editor-in-chief of Cardinal Columns, wrote an article titled, “The Rape Joke: Surviving Rape in a Culture That Won’t Let You.” Following its publication, school officials decided the subject matter was inappropriate and resolved to take editorial control of the newspaper to prevent controversial topics from appearing in its pages in the future.
For what it’s worth, “The Rape Joke” (which you can read here) is a thoughtful article, particularly good for a high school publication. The piece highlights the stories of anonymous students’ experiences with rape and sexual assault. One girl was told by her friends that her rape was “consensual” because she wasn’t drugged despite having told her assailant no multiple times. Another girl spoke of blaming herself for her sexual assault.
Since the controversy emerged, the community has largely supported Kumar, with many people urging the administration to reconsider its decision and reassign editorial discretion to the students. Alas, the school district says it will stand by its new policy. “If an article would come to me with a topic that does not meet the expectations or guidelines then yes I will have to deny that,” said Principal Jon Wiltzius.
Kumar said, “Though Mr. Wiltzius is an extremely intelligent man, he is not a journalism expert, so ultimately, it is someone who is not an expert in journalism who is deciding what gets included in our paper.”
As Jezebel points out, the school likely has the legal right to take this course of action. In 1988, despite prior decisions that supported the rights of student journalists, the Supreme Court ruled that schools could censor some stories. In this particular case, a St. Louis school district had banned students from writing about divorce and teenage pregnancy in the school paper.
In addition to the troubling First Amendment issues at play, this new debate reinforces some of the problems with rape culture. Victims of rape who speak out should not be silenced just because it makes others uncomfortable. It appears as though the school officials were more concerned that a student rape problem had been acknowledged publicly than the fact that was rape was occurring in general. (Sadly, it’s hardly the first time.)
To label the issue age-inappropriate is naïve and erroneous. When is the right time to address rape? Certainly, it’s not too soon to broach the subject when students have already literally been raped. Moreover, with 80 percent of Fon de Lac students saying that they’ve heard a rape joke in the past month, it’s not as if the general student body doesn’t already discuss the subject. Adding something constructive to the discussion could help to alter the school’s rape culture, whereas staying mum just maintains the status quo.
Check out these four tips to help eliminate rape culture in schools.