June 21, 2018

Letter to the Editor: Re ‘International Student’s Ph.D. Withheld After Title IX Complaint Accuses Him of “Retaliatory” Publication of Information’

Print More

To the Editor:

I am writing to express my concern about the writing in an article titled, “International Student’s Ph.D. Withheld After Title IX Complaint Accuses Him of ‘Retaliatory’ Publication of Information.” Thoughtful and accurate reporting on sexual assault and harassment is imperative due to the fraught nature of these topics.

Precise language and attention to tone accurately communicate written information. This article contains accolades and opinions about the accused student’s academic status (“Patil appears to be a talented student”). The heavy-handed language and disproportionate attention given to the problems he and his family are facing seem to indirectly blame the student who filed the complaint (LA) while portraying Patil as the singular victim. I recognize that LA declined to comment on this story leaving The Sun with little information to include from her perspective, however, this tone amplifies Patil’s obstacles over any potential retaliation faced by LA.

Source selection is also skewed. Numerous quotations from professors serve to refute LA’s complaints and express support for Patil, and paraphrased sections from Patil’s personal fundraising site are included. This amount of detail communicates a biased message, rather than an objective presentation of facts. Because no comments are available from LA, simply including a statistic on rates of sexual harassment in academia may have portrayed a more balanced approach. In fact, a comprehensive report on sexual harassment in the sciences was released one week prior to your publication.

Writing concerns not only language and tone, but also audience. Pertinent information should be included for readers such as where to seek help. Journalists must consider the context in which they are writing – one where stigma, silence, and suppression of victims’ stories are common. As a newspaper operating in the place where the term “sexual harassment” originated, I hope The Sun will consider the important role it has in shaping the narrative.

Lauren Griffin grad,
sociology Ph.D. candidate