Target: Fond du Lac School District Superintendent Dr. James Sebert
Goal: End censorship of student publication Cardinal Columns
Tanvi Kumar, a senior at Fond du Lac High School in Wisconsin and the co-editor-in-chief of student magazine Cardinal Columns, recently published an article called “The Rape Joke” out of frustration with the school’s lackluster response to instances of sexual violence. The article, which shared the stories of three anonymous victims and their subsequent experiences of victim-blaming and rape jokes at the school, opened up a dialogue in classrooms and in the hallway, and even prompted a teacher to approach Kumar to give her own testimony. The director of the Fond du Lac sexual assault victims group ASTOP, Linda Selk-Yerges, who provided Kumar with data and contacts for her story, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that her organization saw a marked uptick in calls and visits since the story’s publication.
Despite this outpouring of support from faculty, students, and the community for inspiring a conversation about rape culture, the school district refused to take responsibility and respond to allegations of casual treatment of sexual violence by implementing new policies for reviewing sexual assault cases. Instead Superintendent James Sebert told Principal Jon Wiltzius to establish guidelines that permit him to censor student work if he perceives it to conflict with student rights or the school’s politics or educational process, including work that does not meet standards for quality of writing and research.
Sebert then spoke to the journalism class after Kumar publicly criticized the policy, but she told the Sentinel Journal that she “had hoped we would get more of an explanation as to what he found so inappropriate or unsuitable for immature audiences…I still don’t feel that I understand at this point.” In an emailed statement, Sebert said that prior review “is a reasonable expectation for a school-sponsored publication,” but the article was edited before publication by the magazine’s adviser and journalism teacher Matthew Smith. Faculty and students have protested the new policy, but the administration does not appear to be backing down.
By signing this petition, you are demanding that Superintendent Sebert withdraw the new censorship policy, as it represents a clear violation of First Amendment rights. You are urging the school district to accept responsibility for its casual response to sexual violence and rape jokes, and to update district policies for reviewing rape cases.
Dear Superintendent Sebert,
Your school district’s response to the accusations of poorly handled cases of sexual violence in the recent Cardinal Columns article “The Rape Joke” is disappointing, to say the least. Your implementation of a new censorship policy shows that you have not only failed to take into account the severity of those accusations, and that you have little to no concern for journalistic integrity or the First Amendment rights of students.
I am calling on you to rescind the censorship policy and to acknowledge its violation of students’ basic rights. I am urging you to revisit district policy for handling rape cases, and to work with students and faculty to make a new policy that protects everyone from sexual violence, including rape jokes.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Chase Carter via Flickr