Satirical One-Night Stand Column Spurs Controversy

A supposedly satirical column in the Dakota Student that advises men on how to execute successful one-night stands is being criticized at the University of North Dakota “as a guide on how to commit rape . . . [and for] joking about abuse.”

The piece, headlined “One-Night Standing: The Method,” informs students that following the ‘method’ to a tee involves a disregarding of the law and getting a potential female partner “hella drunk.” As the male writer explains, “Get her something to drink . . . If you have the means you could just inject her with some Sodium Pentobarbitone (if this is the case, have a futon or mattress handy, she might drop to the floor).  She’s good and buzzed now, right?  Maybe a little unconscious?  Whatever, bro, it’s a one-night stand.  This is where you drop the line, something funny yet titillating to let her know your intentions.  Try this one on for size: ‘Let’s have sex,’ and if that doesn’t work, drop this bomb on her: ‘Hey I’m going to have sex with you now.’  If you’re a real dare devil just pull down your pants and get to it.”

Among the criticisms lodged in the comments section beneath the article: “This is terrible, you just told guys how to rape a girl.  This is so wrong on so many levels.”; “There are some things you don’t satire, even an idiot could figure that out!  What if women who were raped read this . . . This could be a horrible, painful trigger for [them].”; and “The satire hit on a hot button issue, which is exactly what it is meant to do; it elicits emotional responses. This particular piece does little to address an actual issue, but rather pokes fun at cliche date rape methods.”

Editors admitted that negative reactions after the column appeared in print had “spiraled far beyond any point any of us had anticipated.” As they wrote, “We deeply regret . . . that what we saw as a piece exposing the myth weaved by predators turned instead into a harrowing read for many.  If we had fully anticipated the reaction to the article, then we would have worked with [the student columnist] and, in the absence of revision, held it from print.”

My take: Two of the most common controversial triggers in student press content are satire and sex.  The combination of the two in a single off-base article might as well carry a complaints line phone number in the lede sentence. Ultimately, however, these things happen.  The writer’s heart seems to have been in the right place with the larger point he was attempting, but failed, to make.  I also give credit to the editors for owning up to their part in the piece’s publication.  As they noted in a public mea culpa: “[W]hile [the student columnist] is the author of the opinion piece, he’s only one part of what makes this newspaper work- it was not his decision to run the article.”

I also appreciate the staff’s willingness to turn a bad editorial decision into a good dialogue- about the paper’s editorial process and more importantly about the issues raised in the piece.  The original article has been left up online, a courageous move considering the fury aimed at it.  The comments section below it has also not been deactivated.  The editors have responded in an editorial and are even thanking readers for their vitriolic feedback.  Whether we like it or not, it can often be this type of controversy that reminds student journalists and readers about the importance of a quality campus newspaper in raising issues and serving as a conduit for impassioned debate.

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