Op/Ed: A school in crisis
In two weeks, I will graduate from AU with a bachelor’s in Public Communication. One of the components of that degree is crisis communications, managing an organization’s reputation with the public, customers and the media when a scandal is unearthed. I have to be able to examine a situation and predict what courses of action will lead to a story you can sell.
For example, how could a large university maintain, or even improve, its reputation when a 70-page document containing actionable proof of an organized student group with blatantly misogynistic intent is released to the general public?
Do not bristle at the adjective ‘misogynistic’ – it is unquestionably accurate. The leaked documents contain gleeful rhetoric celebrating and glorifying violence against specific women. There are real victims of the bullying and intimidation that these documents constitute. People on this campus, our peers, our friends, are directly suffering as a result. If you haven’t read these documents, I advise you against seeking them out; they are worse than you think.
Those responsible take no pains to hide their beliefs about and actions against women. Their names, contact information, school affiliation are all attached with sickening pride to their conversations. As Vice President of Campus Life Gail Hanson said in her April 18 memorandum on the subject, they, “could not be more contrary to American University’s values and standards.” This statement gives me hope and affirms my belief that University officials are holding the safety and success of the students as their first priority.
Still, similar debacles at other academic institution do not paint a promising picture of what comes next. In past situations, those responsible are not expelled, the media firestorm passes and life returns to “normal,” with the pursuit of justice forgotten and preventative measures deemed unnecessary. The goal has been to escape liability and then get back to business as usual.
What if AU did something different?
These documents name and damn the perpetrators. We know who these people are. They are a splinter in the community, and splinters must be removed.
If the administration takes a hardline, zero-tolerance, loophole-proof stance against those responsible, it will accomplish a number of things from a strategic communications perspective. It will demonstrate to those of a like mind that these actions will be met with life-altering consequences. It demonstrates to the student body that the safe community that they pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for will be vigorously defended by the administration. It demonstrates to prospective students that they can come to AU for a safe college experience and that if something does happen, they will speedily and unequivocally receive the support they deserve.
This crisis presents AU with an opportunity to tell continuing students, alumni, prospective students and the world at large a story of solidarity, conviction and trustworthiness. Take it from one of your own, AU – don’t pass it up.
Seth Yates is a senior in the School of Communication.