Alaska Investigator: Student Paper’s Vagina Satire, Campus Confessions Report Just Fine

An outside investigator has confirmed what University of Alaska Fairbanks officials had already concluded: There is nothing wrong with campus newspaper stories about genitalia-shaped buildings and intimate student confessions.

The latest finding most likely ends a UAF professor’s dogged 10-month campaign against The Sun Star student paper for publishing a pair of stories last April that she believes “constituted sexual harassment and created a hostile work environment.”

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As I previously posted, the first article was a satire included in the paper’s annual April Fools’ “Fun Star” issue. The pretend piece announces the grand opening of a new building on campus that, ahem, is shaped like a vagina. As one faux student is quoted saying, “I’m excited about the many layers of the building that will unfold upon its release.” It is an obvious riff on the dominant female enrollment numbers at the school and male chauvinism worldwide (“The world is a giant penis building”). The article was also apparently tied to a previous “Fun Star” satire on a penis-shaped campus building.

Piece two: a genuine news report exploring the hateful and hurtful posts submitted to the UAF Confessions Facebook page. The images embedded within the online version of the report include screenshots of actual posts and related comments. One example: a student commenter suggesting a classmate punch their possibly-pregnant roommate in the stomach to cause her to abort the fetus. As the student writes, “She’ll thank you later.”

The News-Miner noted at the time: “The faculty member who filed the complaint reported the article created an atmosphere of fear in which students worried about being singled-out in the Sun Star.” The UAF faculty senate separately sent a letter to the paper requesting the removal of the vagina satire from its website and the redaction of the student names visible in the Confessions report screenshots.

In response, the paper has not removed or redacted anything. It did add an editor’s note atop the vagina article online confirming it is satire.

That was not enough for one UAF professor. She filed a complaint with the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity. It was rejected. She then filed a complaint under the auspices of Title IX, which UAF was forced to look into by law. Again, it was rejected. So the professor appealed, calling the school inquiry “sloppily done.” UAF hired an investigator to conduct his own review. His stance mirrors the school’s: There is no basis for the complaint and nothing sexually harassing about the content.

While the Sun Star can now at last claim victory, the paper and staffers have suffered retributions in recent months. For example, the professor-complainant refused to accept the paper’s editor-in-chief into a class she was leading this past summer and a separate professor told the EIC he was no longer promoting the paper as a respectable outlet for students to join.

Peter Bonilla from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE): “From my talks with the newspaper’s editor-in-chief … I think this has definitely worn on her and worn on probably a lot of people working at the paper. They’ve paid a high price for expressing their First Amendment right, and it was a price that they shouldn’t have had to pay.”

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Alaska Student Paper Faces Sexual Harassment Complaints Over Story, Facebook Screenshots

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