, a University of Connecticut alumna and Seattle Clinic Defense organizer, looks at the controversy over a UConn student who challenged sexism.
UNIVERSITY OF Connecticut senior Carolyn Luby wrote an open letter that appeared at the Feminist Wire on April 24 to the university’s first female president, Susan Herbst, to address the university’s recent logo change.
The letter came days after UConn announced its mascot was to be changed from a smiling husky dog to a logo, designed with Nike’s influence, featuring an aggressive, almost wolf-like dog. Luby quoted women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma’s comments on the design change: “It is looking right through you and saying, ‘Do not mess with me.’ This is a streamlined, fighting dog, and I cannot wait for it to be on our uniforms and court.”
Why does the University of Connecticut, Luby asks, need a more frightening logo, when women are intimidated, attacked and harassed by UConn athletes with alarming regularity? She cites some, though certainly not all, of the attacks and violent behavior displayed by UConn athletes:
On October 6, 2012, Lyle McCombs is arrested on charges of second-degree breach of peace for a domestic violence dispute in which he was, “yelling, pushing and spitting at his girlfriend” during an argument outside a residence hall.
On February 11, 2013, Enosch Wolf is arrested on charges of third-degree burglary, first-degree criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct when he “refused to leave” a female student’s apartment, “grabbed the hair of the victim and pushed her head” and “knocked the glasses off the victim’s face with his hand.”
On March 21, 2013, Tyler Olander is arrested for trespassing in a structure or conveyance while on spring break in Panama City, Florida.”
Luby implored Herbst to start addressing the violence against women occurring on campus, rather than concentrating on the university’s corporate partnership with Nike:
Instead of communicating a zero-tolerance atmosphere for this kind of behavior, increasing or vocalizing support to violence against women prevention efforts on campus in the face of such events, or increasing support to student-run programs that seek to work with athletes on issues of violence as well as academic issues, it would appear that your administration is more interested in fostering consumerism and corporatization than education and community.
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FOR SIMPLY asking the question, “Does UConn really need a more aggressive mascot and sports culture when violence against women is happening on a startling basis here already?” Luby was harassed and threatened—both with rape and death. The threats came from fellow students on campus all the way to Rush Limbaugh, who is perpetually looking for another Sandra Fluke to target.
Barstool Sports, an online sports blog, printed a reader e-mail mocking Luby, calling her a bitch, and claiming that she is arguing that the new mascot is the cause of rape.
Luby reported her on-campus harassment to the UConn police, whose response, according to the student newspaper, was that Luby wear a hat and keep a low profile.
The response from the university and President Herbst? Absolute silence. According to an article in the Hartford Courant, Herbst has released a statement citing campus policy on the right of students to express their opinions without being degraded, but didn’t mention Luby.
In an era of Sheryl Sandberg-esque feminism, in which we’re taught to believe that the problem is there aren’t enough women in the corner office or at the head of a boardroom table, this incident is a case in point. The current head of the University of Connecticut is indeed a woman, and Luby appealed to her to further the interests of women on campus, as many current students and alumnae hoped she would.
However, under Herbst’s administration, students have only seen further tuition hikes and the prioritization of the athletic programs over student needs. The example at UConn speaks to the need for confronting the idea that we simply need to equalize the gender balance of the ruling class in order to effect equality for women.