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Rape victim's poster taken down twice at William and Mary
Identifying assailant led to censorship by campus officials
October 29, 2002

VIRGINIA — A poster that detailed the rape case of a College of William and Mary student was twice taken down from campus grounds this month.Samantha Collins said she was raped by a fellow William and Mary student last October while attending a party at a fraternity house. The alleged rapist was found guilty at a school disciplinary hearing and was expelled from the school. The accused student, however, was never charged in a criminal court.Collins said she decided to design the poster when she realized that her alleged assailant was now eligible to apply for readmission to the school. Collins put up the poster in The University Center early this month after receiving permission from the school assembly. The poster read "campus rape" at the top in large red letters and chronicled some of the events in her case since the rape, including what action was taken by administration. It also gave the name of her attacker. College officials took down the sign on Oct. 4, the same day it was put up. The administration said the poster violated The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which prohibits the disclosure of student records by school officials in some situations. In this case, school officials questioned her authority to publish her assailant's name.The administration later repealed their decision and issued a formal apology to Collins.The policy change came after Daniel Carter, vice president of the campus security watch group Security on Campus, wrote to William and Mary president Timothy Sullivan to inform him of an amendment to FERPA that allows universities to disclose "final results" of disciplinary hearings when the student in question is found guilty of breaking school rules in commission of a violent crime. Carter also sent a letter to the Department of Education, urging it to make the amendment clear to schools.Bill Walker, vice president for public affairs for the university, said the school issued an apology to Collins on Oct. 10. He said the college was not aware of the amendment to FERPA. "When we found out that there was a later amendment to that law we felt that we owed the student an apology because we had acted in error," Walker said.Collins was told she could put up the poster up again, which she did. The student assembly took the poster down again, three days after she put it back up. According to Lindsay Burnett, president of the student assembly, the poster was taken down because, "some people took the poster as being vengeful, rather than seeing the policy problems that [she was] trying to address." Another student assembly member said she worried the poster could be libelous because it published the name of her assailant although he was never convicted.Collins' handwritten poster caused too much controversy, Burnett said, so it would be replaced with a computer-generated one that will provide information about groups near campus that help sexual assault victims.Collins said she will not challenge the school assembly's decision. "I just wanted to bring attention to the issue of sexual assault through my case," Collins said. She hopes that by speaking out she is opening the road for other women to feel more comfortable reporting a rape to the school.

© 2002 Student Press Law Center

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