Monday, October 08, 2007

Students Challenge University of Maryland's Clothesline Project Policy

Last week, University of Maryland officials announced that students participating in the semiannual Clothesline Project could not write the full names of sexual assailants on the T-shirts that will be hung around campus. The Clothesline Project takes place in hundreds of communities and campuses around the country each year to raise awareness about sexual violence against women and to promote healing among survivors. A participant will decorate a T-shirt that represents an event of sexual violence against herself or another woman, and local organizers will collect the T-shirts and display them together on clotheslines.

Student organizers and supporters of the Clothesline Project at the University of Maryland are protesting the University's policy against naming assailants. The University's fraternities joined together in a letter of support for the Clothesline Project organizers and objection to the ban, while organizers are considering seeking an injunction against the University. If they do pursue legal action, they have indicated that they will argue that the policy violates Title IX because of its disparate impact on women.

If this controversy were to reach a judge, I think it would be difficult for the University's opponents to prevail on a Title IX claim. I think a judge would be persuaded that the University is limiting victims rights for a permissible, nondiscriminatory purpose, that of avoiding libeling individuals whose names appear on the shirts but who have not been convicted of assault. Notably, the founding Clothesline Project advises local organizers to encourage participants "not to name their perpetrators by both the first and last name unless they have been convicted of that particular crime" for this very reason. University officials would probably also argue that the policy against naming is the least discriminatory means of accomplishing this purpose, as it still leaves open the opportunity for victims to name and challenge their assailants through the University's disciplinary process.

Interestingly, one student who opposes the ban suggests that the University is responding to two specific shirts that have been included in past Clothesline Projects in College Park that name football players, one of whom plays for Maryland. Even if the University feels confident in the legality of its position, it may strike some kind of compromise with the Clothesline Project to avoid giving the appearance that it is silencing a victim of sexual assault in order to protect a football player.


Anonymous said...

I support the first ammendment and Due Process.

Wouldn't those named need to prove that there were "damages" associated with an individual's behavior ( if that individual can be identified) or...would the U be "liable" for this if it is a U endorsed activity?

This made me think of the "Roll of Shame" at Brown and some other colleges a number years back, where the name of "known" date rapists were placed in women's bathrooms on campus to warn other women about potentially dangerous situations.

the message to keep VAW survivor information private can be detrimental to the gains in raisinsg awareness of VAW and decreasing the stigma whihc leads so many to suffer in silence.

What kind of support do the UMD folks want?

Anonymous said...

We need support from UMD in the following way:
UMD has one of the highest sexual assault numbers in the COUNTRY! The school needs to admit that thousands of thier students are being raped when they attend thier institution. Therefore, they should take the risk of being sued and side withe the survivors of these crimes. The university should embrace this event. The sexual assault prevention offices and sexual assault counseling is all done by students! The University does not give any funding to the sexual assault prevention groups. They have to get thier funding through federal grants. Thier offices are the size of closets, and if it wasn't for VOLUNTEERING STUDENTS, there would be no sexual assault prevention or counseling at this schoool.
For 17 years it was never a problem until thier "prominent" athelete was named. This is obvious that UMD is trying to protect thier image and secure donations from thier NFL player.... this has nothing to do with lawsuits, this is about UMD pretending they dont' have a rape problem, protecting thier athletes and image. ask youself this question....if they were afraid of individuals suing them because of thier names on the shirts, then why arent' they afraid of Fraternity National Organizations suing them when fraternity names are named on shirts?

Emptyman said...

Prove it.

Prove that "thousands" of people are being raped at UMCP. There is no reliable data to support this.

It is very easy to destroy someone's reputation with a false accusation, even if (as is sometimes the case) the victim later recants. We don't have to mention the Duke lacrosse case; look at the damage Desiree Nall did to an otherwise worthy cause.

A false accusation of rape is per se defamatory under Maryland law. I strongly oppose efforts by government agencies of any type to suppress speech, but at the same time I appreciate the fact that the University of Maryland faces significant legal exposure if groups operating under its aegis start defaming people.

If the football player in question was convicted of rape, then he deserves to have his name plastered on campus as a rapist. But if he wasn't, then it is defamatory to label him as such. And UMCP has a legitimate interest in trying to avoid such a thing, whether the person being named is a football player or not.

Anonymous said...

The UMd caved in when through the grape vine it became apparent a law suite was on its way if it happened again.

The naming of purported rapists is an abuse of power. The UMd had little problem with this when the football players where a black kids of little financial means. Now one of them is an NFL player capable of affording the best lawyers money can buy they cave in like a pack of cards. They are bullies and cowards.

If they are rapists then they can rot in hell but prove it first. Social justice is not a one way street.