I read the email over and over. Is this real? Is University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto blaming the student newspaper for a decline in reported sexual assaults?
I’ve followed UK’s dispute with the Kentucky Kernel since last spring. I cheered for the Kernel when Attorney General Andy Beshear decided the university violated Kentucky’s Open Records Act. I was disappointed to find out the university would be naming the Kernel as a party to a lawsuit fighting Beshear’s opinion.
I disagreed with that decision, but I understood the complexity of the issue and that it was the school’s only way to fight the decision. But I really couldn’t move past Capiluto’s letter in late October. I couldn’t wrap my mind around his manipulative use of victim empathy and misleading talk of media intimidation.
It was too personal. I’ve sat for hours with friends, listening as they bravely recount stories of someone crossing an intensely personal line. I would listen and sometimes share my own story.
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Outside of being a friend, a sorority sister and a student, another perspective allowed the issue of sexual assault to always surface. Until I began law school this year, I would walk every day into some form of a newspaper newsroom. For nearly three years, that newsroom was at Murray State University.
As the editor of The Murray State News, I recognized the impact sexual assault had on our campus community. I knew our students looked to us for coverage of these issues. Who else would they trust more than the students in their hallways, in their organizations and classes?
And here’s what perplexes me about Capilouto’s email: I know he aims to do well beyond what is legally required to make sure students are never hurt in this way, and especially by a professor on campus. I know he cares about the students who bravely came forward with their stories.
But it’s clear by the accusatory rhetoric in his email that he’s forgotten a few things.
First of all, the students who work for the Kernel are just that. They’re UK students. They have friends who have been sexually assaulted. It’s unfortunately likely that there’s a staff member who has felt out of control in his or her own situation. Too often, members of the media are treated as if they live in a vacuum and don’t personally feel the impact of societal issues.
On a related note, what interest would it serve for the Kernel staff to reveal details of an assault that could identify a victim? As Editor Marjorie Kirk has said in columns and stories, the victims involved went directly to the Kernel on their own accord.
If Capiluto knew anything about the ethics his own journalism school is teaching — by experts in the field — he would know that there is a specific and detailed approach journalists use in sensitive situations like this. I see absolutely no instance, and neither do media experts, where the Kernel has violated those ethics.
Instead of simply talking to his own journalism students from the beginning, Capilouto used campus-wide emails to condemn them. Maybe the defensive rhetoric blaming college media — the very institution responsible for bringing this issue to light nationally — is the reason students, faculty, media experts and most important, victims, are concerned about the university’s intentions.
Maybe, if the university is truly worried about a decrease in reported sexual assaults, it should focus on real reasons students have always been hesitant to report.
I’m simply asking that the university take a step back and acknowledge that everyone is working toward the same objective: keeping students safe and eradicating the silent nature of sexual assault that has devastated college campuses across the country.
Lexy Gross is a law student at the University of Kentucky.
At issue: Herald-Leader article, “UK blames newspaper for drop in sex-assault reports. Expert calls that claim ‘shameful.’”