FUS and Title IX: Some much-needed context

FUS and Title IX: Some much-needed context April 21, 2018
Image credit: Anonymous
Students working to achieve justice and transparency.



Students ask for answers



Yesterday I sat outside the JC Williams Center (basically, the student union for those of you unfamiliar with the campus) with a respected friend, helping him ask students for signatures on a petition he had written to Franciscan’s Student Government. I was impressed by his petition: it was charitable, calm, and rooted in a desire for transparency and justice.



Image Credit: Anonymous
Student petition to Franciscan University Student Government.



I am grateful I had this opportunity to connect with students, faculty, and staff through this petition yesterday (even if it meant my face got sunburned right before my last Spring formal). It led to incredibly fruitful, compassionate discussions about the Title IX Problems at FUS. Many of those with whom I conversed raised concerns over the article itself, and I wanted to address those here as best as I am able.



This article was not drummed up by the National Catholic Reporter.



For those out there dismissing the article because it was published by NCR, please note that Jenn Morson (the author) has worked on this research for upwards of 4 years. She pitched this piece to numerous publications and the Reporter was the only one who took her up on it. This article was not bred by the Reporter to stir up hatred for the university; Morson wrote it to expose an ongoing problem that she saw during her time here as a student 10 years ago, which has not been rectified. She loves Franciscan and wants them to do better.


Some people have approached me with the concern that this article slanders the university and individuals within it, namely administrators and even victims.



Based on my own limited experience and what I know of my friends’ encounters with Catherine Heck regarding Title IX and other cases, serious negligence and mishandling occurred. I don’t know her personally. I have heard from others I trust that she has handled other matters incredibly well. I believe it. I don’t believe she mishandled these cases of malice, but the reality (according to both Morson’s lengthy research and to mounds of anecdotal evidence) is that she mishandled these things nonetheless. It is her job to do this and to do it well. We pay her, as students who pay tuition and thus her salary, to protect us, believe us, and conduct thorough investigations into claims of misconduct or assault for the sake of both parties, the accused and the victim. From what I can glean, she has consistently failed in this duty; she and others have pressured students not to go to the proper public authorities and have silenced them, blaming them for the things they suffered rather than supporting them, believing that something is wrong and needs to be investigated, and coming to a truly thorough conclusion.



As for slander, if the claims of mishandling in the article are true (as I am thoroughly convinced they are) then this does not constitute slander, for slander is deceit. It could constitute defamation, which is “revealing a truth about another person that ought not be revealed.” However, Justice and the safety of students requires that, since over a decade of attempts to address this issue behind closed doors and along the proper channels has not resulted in an adequate change in the way the administration handles this, coming forward to the public was really the only possible further step.



The victims’ perspective



For those who feel Morson used victims somehow, please know that each of them approached her when she said she wanted to research the school’s mishandling of these cases. The victims in the article approached her and said “tell my story.”



There were numerous other victims, especially more recent victims, who came forward to Morson but were uncomfortable having their stories or names attached to this article. And so Morson did not include them. She fully respected and sought (and continues to seek) to protect the safety and privacy of any and all victims with whom she has communicated.



A culture of victim-blaming?



But this points to another important problem: there are recent victims on this campus who have experienced sexual assault or misconduct and who are so afraid of retaliation from the student body, from their aggressor’s friends, and from the university itself, that they told Morson they wanted to come forward but couldn’t until they graduated. Whether they have reason to or not, these women so fear retaliation and judgment/victim blaming from this university and student body that they will not come forward. This fear is proof that there is at least some degree of toxic culture toward victims here (if the cesspits of Frannies Talk to Each Other weren’t enough).



My final point is that not all victims heal by having their stories addressed privately. Most victims throughout history have been silenced and their aggressors have gone unpunished. But coming from my own experiences of trauma as a child growing up in a family of Catholic Domestic Abuse, often the only way to heal is to tell our truths, to tell our stories so that we and others can know we aren’t alone.



For additional information about this ongoing discussion please see these articles:


Alumnae question Franciscan University of Steubenville’s commitment to Title IX  by Jenn Morson. This is the original article, which I’ve linked to above.

WHAT’S Going on at FUS and Christendom? A Quick Timeine of #MeToo by Emily C. A. Snyder.

What’s Amiss in our Catholic Sexual Education? I wrote this piece back in January when the Christendom rape cases broke.

Sexual Assault and the Failure of Catholic Schools by Emily C. A. Snyder, in which she reflects upon a time when she was herself complicit in victim-blaming.

The “Veritas Institute for Ethics in Public Life” at Franciscan University of Steubenville: Expression of Concern Compiled by Claire Gilligan (’08 FUS graduate), Annie Marie (Sohler) Snoddy (’09 FUS graduate), and Theresa (Bey) Williams (’07 FUS graduate).


Image Credit: Anonymous

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  • nicole

    Not to be rude here but i was wondering if this type of sexual abuse is something that happens more in catholic/conservative unis than it does in more secular institutions.

    Just as an example my uni recently ran an anti sexual assault campaign and many students including myseld complained that it is unnecessary. My school is like super secular as a matter of fact in my extended group of friends i’m the only theist. The school has ~20000 students and the almost always empty student chapel seats 20. However sexual assault is super rare and (at least officially) the school has an amazing super expensive program to deal with it.

    Do you think it is valid to conclude that catholic purity culture leads to sexual assault? Or why do you think secular unis have less troubles and christian ones? Does teaching about consent maybe actually help? Or are there other factors? my school is not in the US

  • Marie Kopp

    Nicole, I appreciate your question and I did not find it rude at all. Honestly, I don’t know what the answer is. At least, not in terms of Franciscan University and Catholic schools overall.

    I fully believe Christendom creates a toxic environment that breeds rape and victim-blaming. See Simcha Fisher’s expose on Christendom from January https://www.simchafisher.com/2018/01/16/are-women-safe-in-christendoms-bubble-part-i/
    or this recent piece by a victim from Christendom college http://cascoalition.org/bad-things-do-not-happen-good-girls, both of which detail the ways that Christendom groom’s women for rape and abuse.

    In my experience, Franciscan does have this problem, but to a drastically lesser extent. It does not forbid physical affection between couples as Christendom does. And while there is definitely a victim-blaming mentality circulating at Franciscan right now, I’m beginning to think it is a minority. Problematic and upsetting, but we are no where near where Christendom is.

    I don’t say that out of loyalty, it is simply my honest appraisal of the two schools.

    In terms of Catholic schools versus secular schools, I’m inclined to think victims have more hope for proper treatment and care at a secular school right now, from what I am learning about how Franciscan’s administration has seriously mishandled assault cases for the last two decades at least. However, I do not believe rape or assault are more common here than elsewhere and they may even be less common, as many FUS apologists are trying to claim. The point is that they do still occur, and that they are mishandled.

    Yet, I’m hesitant to say this would be better at a secular institution. I believe you about your school and I’m inclined to think many public schools and universities are similar. But in the past American institions as a rule blamed and ignored victims in favor of the powerful. That’s why #metoo happened in the first place.

    Sorry this response was so long. My point is, I appreciate your question and I’ve wondered that myself. And I don’t know the answer.

  • Marie Kopp

    However, I do think there is a serious problem in both Catholic families and institions with being terrified of mentioning or educating about consent. And that needs to stop. Immediately. Public institutions are light-years ahead of us on that count.

  • nicole

    Marie, thank you for your long reply.

    i’m fairly new to actually being a practicing catholic and sometimes struggle with certain aspects of the catholic world. Particularly with things to do with women the church or catholics seem to be so far behind. Reading all those articles about the misshandling of sexual assault on catholic universities made me think. I just wonder if it is something in the way catholics are thaught. An example from another world is sexual harassment among muslims. Statistics show that men living in muslim countries with a strong preference for modest clothing (the hijab) are for more likely to sexually assault women. An egyptian friend once told me that she feels safer here in immodest clothing than she does in full covering back home. This should not be an attack on islam or muslims it is just a question. Can the modesty and purity culture actually cause harm? Sometimes i really wonder. Only recently i realised how fortunate i am that my parents aren’t practicing catholics. I read a book by a local priest about marriage and raising children and was like thank God that did not happen to me. I’m sorry at the moment i am too negative about catholics.

    The church should be a safe place for everybody. Of all places catholic campuses should be safe. If all the premises of purity culture are true should not sexual assault be unthinkable for catholic?
    Many catholics claim that the secular world objectifies women. Is that really any different inside catholic circles. Are women not constantly looked upon as wombs on two legs? Is this objectification not exactly what leads to sexual assault?

    Sorry for the long incoherent text. And i’m sorry for the bad english (spelling). i typed this on my phone with German spellcheck on.

  • Marie Kopp

    I fully understand where you are coming from, even though my background is the polar opposite. You are spot on that radical conservative Catholics objectify women just as much as men who go to strip clubs. It’s the whole virgin/whore thing: women are either fun and fuckable but not worth keeping, or they are respectable and pleasant and must be submissive and docile. They must exemplify virtue to men and basically be barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. Both these viewpoints are full on misogyny, they are just the opposing sides of this coin. Both viewpoints view women as objects, as lesser-than. They remove women’s agency, subjectivity, autonomy. Both are equally toxic to women and to men.

    Catholicism has a lot to learn from secularism regarding healthy sexuality and healthy marriages. And the necessity of divorce in many cases.

    I also completely relate to your anger at the church over this. After reading the Christendom victim’s story last night, I broke down. I cursed the church and I railed at God. I struggle to remain in a church that has enabled and even initiated so much harm to women and the marginalized since its founding. I don’t understand how anyone can read the Gospels, read the beatitudes, and think these behaviors and ideologies are in line with Christ and his teaching. I don’t get it.

    Honestly, that’s why this blog exists, though. For people like you and me, Nicole, who are angry and hurt. Who do not fear to ask the questions we are told are taboo. Who are strong enough, brave enough, to stand up against the evil our institutional church enables, while still clinging to Christ and the sacraments and denying the patriarchy’s attempts to rob us of true Catholicism, which is our birthright, Our inheritance.

    Do you read Suspended in her Jar or Sick Pilgrim on Patheos? Both those blogs bring me much peace and solidarity in my love and hate for the Church.

  • nicole

    Absolutely agree with you. The fact that women like men are complex human beings with a brain so often gets ignored. There is this narrow way a woman (or a man) has to be or else she is not a good catholic, sort of poisoned by secular society and definitely not marriage material.

    In a sense looking at all this mess be it the Borgia popes or the misshandling of sexual abuse gives me a new strength in my faith. The church is so obviously a desaster only God can hold it together. This institution should not have survived until today. At least the reformation should have killed it. Pope Francis now is a blessing but for centuries men who were more warlords than pastors ruled the church. For the past like 200 years the church has been more interested in peoples bedrooms than the marginalized. The people in this church have done so much evil and yet the church still stands. How can there not be a God behind it. A God with a particular interest in the worst of humanity.

    Honestly i don’t understand God, i wish i would. I wish i would know what to believe on some issues. When i started practicing my faith it was so easy i joined a latin mass parish, everything was clear. Looking closely at many things, they are simply not clear. Like for example divorce, how can that be a greater evil than staying in an abusive relationship?

    Oh and thank you for the blog recommendations. I’m reading them as well. I started reading them recently as i’m moving out of my radtrad environment. They are really great, the same as your blog. Even though you all live in a different country from mine the struggels are (almost) the same.