Former UMASS Daily Collegian Columnist Discusses Firing, ‘Sick Society’ Piece

A bit more than a month ago, The Daily Collegian at the University of Massachusetts Amherst fired a student columnist and a night editor over the publication of a piece that drew controversy for appearing to imply “some rape victims bear responsibility for being assaulted.”

The article in general denounces what student writer Yevgeniya Lomakina sees as a “sick society,” one that is allegedly pressuring women to engage in sex before they are ready and without concerns about the consequences.  One segment seems to blame women for some instances of non-consensual sexual activity.

In Lomakina’s words, “If a young woman wears a promiscuous outfit to a party, then proceeds to drink and flirt excessively, she should not blame men for her downfall. She made a decision to dress a certain way, to consume alcohol and should be prepared to deal with the consequences. Far from being a victim of rape, she is a victim of her own choices.”

A day after its publication, Collegian editors released a letter to readers, stating, in part, “It is evident that the column is both offensive and inaccurate, and the Collegian is deeply sorry to members of the community who were negatively affected.  The author’s suggestion that rape victims should be held accountable for what has happened to them is reprehensible and in no way represents the opinions of our staff.”

In an e-mail exchange with The Boston Globe, Lomakina said editing mistakes “allowed for numerous misunderstandings” about the positions stated within the column.

Since then, I have been curious about those misunderstandings and what led the newspaper to take the drastic step of terminating the employment (!) of two staffers.  It does appear to be a troubled column worthy of clarification and an apology.  An intense look at the editorial process that allowed it is an additional good call.  Yet, firing the writer and one of the overseeing editors seems excessive, at least on spec.  And, if nothing else, those let go deserve a chance to be heard.

In that spirit, I recently contacted Lomakina and Collegian editor in chief Nick Bush. Bush did not respond to a pair of emails requesting comment, a decision I fully respect.

Below is a Q&A with Lomakina about the piece’s post-publication fallout, and a portion of a letter she wrote in the wake of the backlash that she says the Collegian declined to print.

From your perspective, what is the biggest misunderstanding readers have about the content or intent of the piece?

People seemed to assume that the article was pro-rape. However, I do not accept rape in any way.  In fact, the article clearly states that “sexual crimes should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”  Its intent was not to blame anyone, but critique a society.  Women put themselves in a vulnerable position by dressing provocatively and consuming alcohol.  Their dress code and drinking do not contribute to anything per se, but it puts them at unnecessary risk.  The effects of alcohol on the brain are well known, yet when going into these situations, women nevertheless choose to participate, in a way disregarding the  potential danger.  No one disputes that drinking and driving could result in potential  harm.  Shouldn’t the same discretion be used in other alcohol-related  actions?

What was your reaction to the intense criticism the column received?

It was surprising.  When it was printed, the article was different from the one that I originally submitted.  No one raised any objections at the time of the column’s printing, nor contacted me about the changes made.  As a result, my message was misinterpreted.  Per standard journalistic procedure, and due to the fact that the negative response to the column was due to a misunderstanding, I immediately wrote a letter to the editor explaining the message I wanted to convey. This letter was never printed.  [Portion of the letter below]  I was never given a chance to correct the misrepresented message of the column.

The fact that you were fired surprised me.  What happened?

The editorial staff of the Collegian fired me the evening that the article was printed– without responding to my multiple requests to explain the reason for doing so. Something regarding a violation of the “code” was briefly stated.  However, the existence of such a code was never even mentioned before this incident.  My attempts to clarify the issue were ignored.

Do you feel it was a fair outcome?

I feel that the issue was not correctly handled by the Collegian staff, who were able to clarify the situation and did not do so.

Below is a portion of a letter Lomakina said she submitted to the Collegian to clarify her column and respond to criticism:

The text of the letter, in case relevant:

Due to the appearance of my latest article and the responses that it received, there seems to be some confusion that must be clarified. Most of it originated from the misunderstanding due to the wording of my column. It caused the readers to draw conclusions that were never intended. I apologize for anyone who felt offended by these claims and feel the need to explain the true intent of the article.

Most of the misunderstandings consisted of a conclusion that the article, in fact, considered rape as an acceptable practice. This is simply not the case. Under no circumstance are instances of sexual violence, past, present, or future are considered acceptable. Neither does the column try to blame the victims of such instances.

However, the article does attempt to create awareness of a social practice that puts young women in unnecessary danger. There is a significant number of females who choose to dress in a provocative manner and consume alcohol. In an unfortunate number of these cases, while under the influence of the latter, they may become victims of sexual aggression. Note that their dress code and drinking does not automatically guarantee that aggression. It does, however, put them in a vulnerable position as opposed to someone who was under the influence of less alcohol. The effects of alcohol on the brain are well known, there is no need to cite them. Far from blaming the victims of sexual crimes, the article attempts to point out a way in which women may protect themselves from being such. One does not hold a hand in the fire to see how much damage the fire can cause. It is wiser to avoid the fire altogether.

Some readers pointed out the fact that women should not worry about the way they dress or behave. This would only be true in a perfect world, where neither men nor women ever think about being victims of a crime. Reality cannot be denied: rape and violence exist. We do not live in perfect world, isn’t it better to use caution and watch what we do and how we behave? . . . It is true that we live in a world where sexual activity has become glamorized. . . . A woman’s ability to have sex with anyone she wishes is considered a step toward female liberation. However, what did we gain as a society from getting rid of the “old-fashioned” taboo?

The abundance of sexual relations, protected or unprotected, has physical and psychological effects. Aside from the risk of getting STDs and pregnancy, women face psychological repercussions later in life, when they do consider having a family. Sexual promiscuity contributed to a large number of divorces, leaving families shattered. These are only a few of the effects.

Such is the society in which Planned Parenthood operates. There is no need to repeat the morally questionable claims of this institution, as they were evident in the first article. However, it is important to indicate that a “they’re going to have sex no matter what” approach diminishes human beings, arguing that they have animalistic desires that are outside of their control. Human relations are deeper than that.  The abundance of birth control and STD testing will not change the society. This approach does not get rid of the root of the problem. People’s attitude toward sexual relations must be changed if any progress is to be made.

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