Mixed reactions to The Rattler’s satire

Muted controversy turned to uproar earlier this month following the distribution of the most recent edition of The Rattler, a satirical spin-off of the ASUPS’ Tattler newsletter. Criticism of the formerly-anonymous publication focuses on a series of jokes in a section entitled “10 worst pick-up lines” that reference sexual assault. The list included “does this smell like chloroform to you?” And “what, you don’t like roofies? Oh, this is awkward.”

The newsletter, which has been published off-and-on for more than a year, was distributed throughout Marshall Hall. It has no connection to either ASUPS or the administration.

The campus reaction has been divided and opinions are strong on both sides. Those opposed to the publication assert that the publication perpetuates a “rape culture” on campus, while those who defend it purport that its satirical nature enables critical commentary.

VAVA copresident Ruby Aliment has been an outspoken critic of the Rattler.

“I’m not saying the Rattler is going to make people rape, but it perpetuates the idea that rape doesn’t happen here, so we can make fun of it. And it does happen here,” Aliment said. “One of the most horrific situations I could think of was a prospective student sitting down in the S.U.B. with his parents and seeing that, because it was during an admitted student period. I would not have come here after seeing that.”

Senior Elly Henricksen echoed that sentiment in Facebook conversation that garnered nearly 50 responses.

“As part of the community most vulnerable to power-based personal violence, as well as a leader who has gone through Green Dot and other anti-violence training, I’m terrified to see these types of things on our campus. Laughing about violence and sexual assault is inviting it and creating the illusion that in some instances these things are funny/not serious,” Henricksen said.

Another section of students felt the discussion was largely blown out of proportion.

“I enjoyed it, and I thought it was pretty much in line with the past publications. The content was maybe a little more eye-popping, pushing the envelope of the acceptability of the humor,” sophomore Tim Kelley said. “I think the point is to deliver satire, and to raise awareness of actual issues on campus by provoking a surprised response. “

VAVA and the Student Diversity Center have put up a presentation in the S.U.B. next to the dish return in order to further discussion. Although a copy of The Rattler and a poster citing sexual assault statistics were taken down anonymously, Aliment believes the presentation has had been a positive step.

“Aside from the people who want to silence this discussion, people have been responding really positively to our presentation. Every time I walk by the sub I see a group of people engaging in friendly discussions,” Aliment said. “It’s been really rewarding to see people having honest discussions about sexual safety and the implications of our language.”

The Dean of Students Office sent a campus-wide email entitled “Act of Incivility” condemning The Rattler after offended students voiced their concerns to the administration.

The email, which was coauthored by Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Mike Segawa and Chief Diversity Officer Kim Bobby, expressed “abhorrence” at the publication’s content, which some students felt was another overreaction.

Segawa defended the administration’s response while acknowledging the difficult nature of the situation.

“The intent of the email was to make a strong statement about something we disagreed with. I found a number of things about The Rattler to be demeaning to groups and individuals on campus and for a number of our community members, it crossed the line,” Segawa said.

“The attempt at making humor out of sexual assault and sexual violence, more specifically, crossed the line. That is a topic I find is hard to make into humor,” Segawa added.

Shortly after the administration’s email, sophomore Andrew Koved identified himself on Facebook as the author.

“I am sincerely sorry if I offended anyone.  I do not, nor will I ever, condone rape, or any other type of harassment.  This was meant to be a satirical joke, and if you did not find it funny, then I failed as a writer and apologize.  Please accept my deepest regrets that my publication caused so much harm on campus,” Koved said in a statement to The Trail.

Although Aliment said she informed Koved of her feelings via email, she stressed that the issue is bigger than any individual. “It is not just about the writer, it is everybody who uses this kind of language. What is being shown in the aftermath is how okay people are with that kind of language,” Aliment said.

“I don’t think that kind of language accurately reflects the kind of community we have at Puget Sound, or the community that we should have here because it should be safe for everyone,” Aliment said.

Members of both perspectives agree that the controversy generated by The Rattler has led to a positive reflection and conversation on campus.

Despite her grievances with The Rattler’s content, sophomore Ali Hoover has an optimistic outlook for the long term. “I have really appreciated that people are so willing to talk about it openly. And I am proud that we are taking it seriously and discussing the issues as a campus,” Hoover said.

Segawa remarked that this is just one step in an ongoing process. He pointed out that Puget Sound’s Policy on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct changed significantly two years ago due to student conversations similar to the current ones.

“This is just another indicator that we have so much more to do in education and understanding on these issues. But even though we have a lot more to do, that’s what we are supposed to do. It is what we do,” Segawa said.