Following a month of calls for censorship or punishment of the student newspaper, officials at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee are refusing to do so. But they are creating a special panel on the campus that will study the issue of violence against women.
The furor arose from a series of photographs that ran in The Post, the weekly student paper. The scenes in the photos were choreographed by the paper's photo editor, who posed in them, and they were shot by the arts and entertainment editor of The Post. They show the photo editor, Sara DeKeuster, being followed into a garage and attacked by a man, who forces her to have sex with him. The photos are not described as rape, but as "unexpected intercourse."
The photos infuriated many students on the campus. The women's center reported receiving calls from students who had been raped, and who felt that their experiences were being trivialized. Many students called for funds to the paper to be cut, but The Post receives no financial support from the university. Administrators announced the creation of the new panel, but had few details about it, after fending off calls to somehow punish the newspaper. Officials also noted that punishments could be legally questionable since Milwaukee is a public institution and has stated that it considers The Post to be independent.
DeKeuster was not available for comment. But Diego Costa, a graduate student who is the arts and entertainment editor of The Post who shot the photographs and approved their publication, defended the work.
"Forceful sex is a fantasy that a lot of people have and have a hard time admitting," Costa said. "I'm always interested in exploring things that everyone feels, but everyone is afraid to say."
He said that the students on campus who are upset about the photographs don't understand art. "People are reducing [the photos] to a very superficial level," he said. "So many people are unfamiliar and unexposed to art so they don't know how to react, and they have this knee-jerk reaction. Instead of trying to understand, they get offended. If artists worry about offending people, they would never leave the status quo."
Some of the anger on the campus is because of an incident in 2004 when a group of male students painted themselves in black-and-white makeup and tried to scare women, including dragging one woman behind some bushes. In the wake of that incident -- which the men defended as joking around -- many women said that the campus had a problem with insensitivity to issues of rape.
Costa acknowledged that some women on the campus might have been hurt by the photos. But he added, "It may be offensive to people who suffered rape, and it may be liberating to other people who have the same desires as the author."
Amy Phipps, a senior who is active in the UWM Campus Feminists, said that she found the photos "really offensive and disgusting," and that the newspaper spread shocked many women. Phipps said that women who sue men for sexual harassment or who face rapists in court still must fight the argument that "she wanted it," and that the newspaper "was saying that women want rape."
Phipps said that she understood that the newspaper was independent, but questioned why the newspaper itself wasn't apologizing or changing its policies. She said that if a newspaper had run a similar feature focused on a race-based attack, "someone would be losing a job over this."
Creating a panel to focus on issues of violence against women is a good idea, Phipps said. But she added that "this is something that should have happened a long time ago," and said she was worried the new committee would just take attention away from the newspaper.
For his part, Costa said that the new panel was proof that the photos served a good purpose. Said Costa: "It's kind of ironic that people are complaining about the photo spread, but it has enabled this discussion and this new committee and people are talking about rape in a new way. It's what happens when you make art."