Wisconsin NOW Opposes Censorship of Student Paper at Fond du Lac High School

(Content note: discussion of sexual assault and rape culture)

On March 10th, Jon Wiltzius, principal of Fond du Lac High School (“Fondy High”), walked into the classroom of the print journalism class and announced to students that all articles would now require his review and approval before publication.

This change in the school’s 26-year-old policy came after high school senior Tanvi Kumar wrote an article that discussed rape culture and how it impacts students who have been victims of sexual assault and rape. The article, entitled “The Rape Joke,” discussed the degrading jokes and victim-blaming that regularly occur amongst the students of Fondy High, as well as in our wider society. It featured interviews with three anonymous students who are survivors of rape and sexual exploitation and covered the victim-support non-profit, Assist Survivors:Treatment:Outreach:Prevention (ASTOP).

After the article was published in the school newspaper, Cardinal Columns, Superindendent Dr. James Sebert expressed concern over the content of the article, stating it, “raised some questions in my mind after reading it as to interference with the educational process, educational environment, and the rights of other students.” Never mind the rights of students who had been victims of sexual violence or harassment, or those who have had to endure jokes about rape, claims that victims deserved to be assaulted because of how they dressed or how much they drank, or even personal attacks and derogatory remarks about their sexuality.So, how did Superindendent Sebert and his fellow administrators decide to address the questions raised by this
critical article? They decided censorship was the answer.

Rather than promoting the discussion inspired by Ms. Kumar’s insightful and thought-provoking article (apparently several teachers had presented it to their classes as an example of excellent journalism) or vocalizing their support of victims of rape and sexual violence, Fond du Lac High School’s administration has decided to change their policy so they can silence any further public discussion of potentially controversial or embarassing topics through the school paper.

Despite the fact that, as pointed out by Ms. Kumar in her article, as many as 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been victims of rape or sexual assault before the age of 18, Superintendent Sebert and the Fond du Lac High School administration feel that openly discussing the issues of rape culture and sexual violence is too taboo and mature for teens and young adults.

The Wisconsin National Organization for Women strongly supports promoting conversations about the social issues surrounding rape and the re-victimization of survivors of sexual violence through rape jokes and victim-blaming. Rape culture should be called out and, eventually, wiped out, but we will struggle to make progress as long community leaders and role models choose to silence discussion of these issues instead of supporting those who fight to end them. The conspiracy of silence that surrounds sexual assault and rape culture only lends power to rapists and rape culture.

Support the right of students at Fond du Lac High School to express their views on equality and other important issues that affect them and their community. Sign the petition to reverse the censorship policy here!

-written by Wisconsin NOW member and Wisconsin NOW Secretary & Treasurer, Melissa Jelonek