Over the summer, amid a pandemic that was already causing stress for students and staff alike, University President Thomas LeBlanc, the Board of Trustees and other officials chose to add fuel to the fire by hiring Heather Swain, a known conspirator in the coverup of more than 150 sexual assaults. Then, after the Faculty Senate chose to express “severe disapproval” of the hire during a meeting that LeBlanc did not even have the guts to attend, two professors rightfully penned an op-ed criticizing the senate for failing to censure LeBlanc. But even more appalling is professor Charles Garris’ response to that piece, arguing that Swain should have been hired and the senate was out of line for its weak expression of disapproval.
Garris was dead wrong, LeBlanc was dead wrong, the senate was dead wrong and The Hatchet was wrong for allowing this faulty article to go to print in a manner that disregarded the editorial standards other writers and I are consistently held to. Rape apologists and rape erasers have no place in our community, Swain’s hiring was unethical and tone-deaf while the support from Garris was blind to reality and irrelevant.
Before we even discuss the fact that Swain was complicit in the cover-up of hundreds of sexual assaults occurring over the course of several decades, let’s look at the circumstances in which LeBlanc hired her. The summer was notoriously demoralizing for students, faculty and staff alike as mass layoffs took place across the University. Swain was hired in a non-competitive process during a hiring freeze at the University. While administrators lamented the funding shortages necessitating the mass layoff of Black and Brown employees, they seemingly found the money to employ a wealthy White woman who is an enemy to survivors of sexual violence everywhere. The fact that the hiring was non-competitive seems to suggest that, out of all qualified people, Swain was specifically chosen. Her hiring was made to be secret, buried in the deluge of pandemic-related news. Instead, their underboard hiring was exposed, further depressing students and staff and only intensifying the rage directed at LeBlanc.
But Garris, a professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, took to The Hatchet to argue, crudely, that Swain should have been hired and the whole scandal was overblown because “there is no evidence from the counsel’s report that Swain did anything wrong” and “Swain was a victim of an out-of-control GW social media echo chamber that mercilessly slandered her with misinformation.” Let’s look at the facts: from 1992 to 2015, Larry Nassar assaulted more than 150 teenagers and young adults in his role as a doctor with USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. During the investigation, Swain was found to have been involved in a culture of anti-transparency by diligently shielding information from prosecutors. One of her preferred methods was to include school lawyers on email threads so they could be withheld from others. Garris, out of ignorance or malice, misconstrued information about Swain’s role by stating that she did nothing wrong. While the true extent of her role may never be fully known, thanks in part to her cover-up, any role, tacit or direct, in enabling the rape and abuse of hundreds of young women should be immediately disqualifying, notwithstanding the other ethical issues surround her secret hiring.
Swain, it should be noted, feigned ignorance about the situation. Even if the unlikely scenario of her ignorance proved true, such blindness to rampant abuse in a senior position at MSU should have been disqualifying for a role at the University. GW cannot afford to hire administrators who are unaware of such problems.
Garris was right about one thing: Swain was caught in a social media echo chamber, one made of more than a thousand angry voices, many of them survivors of sexual violence themselves, demanding successfully that her hiring offer be rescinded. They did the right thing, they ensured that Swain would not be able to harm another student in our community. Garris, on the other hand, placed himself firmly on the wrong side of history. Speaking baselessly from the standpoint of an old White man, about the advocacy spearheaded by young women.
All this brings me to my final question of why The Hatchet decided to publish a story that misconstrued the facts of Swain’s hiring. As proud writers in the opinions section, we are held to the highest standards of correctness and asked at every pitch meeting what relevance of exigency our ideas have in the current climate. It was disappointing to see that this op-ed was held to a different standard, even though our writing appears on the same page. As the independent student voice at this University, The Hatchet must take a stronger stance against rape apology, even when it comes from a professor. In my eyes, this paper is complicit in some ways too.
Ultimately, it was Swain, not GW, that made the decision to sever ties. Despite an apology, the University must work to regain credibility and respect from students, faculty and staff. The whole ordeal raises important questions about the culture of sexual violence at this school and underscores the need for continued vigilance against all forms of sexual violence and apologies for such behavior.
Jack Murphy, a junior majoring in philosophy, is a columnist.