Saturday, July 24, 2010

Chapter 7

Ann Sweezy knew she had to contain her enthusiasm somewhat, to try to appear objective, detached. She didn't want, Kate Morgan, the Washington Post reporter who had come to interview her, to see just how much she was loving this situation. And, Ann knew, she had to be a little bit careful about what she said. She was, after all, going up for tenure this year. But now that Robert Barnes had been "outed" in the second "unwanted" poster, she felt much more confident about her own prospects for success. For surely now Barnes would be forced to postpone going up for tenure--perhaps even resign from the university altogether.

Ann, for one, would not be sorry to see him go. He was an arrogant bastard. His disgustingly prodigious output of research publications made others in the department, including Ann, look bad in comparison. He was only able to accomplish this, Ann was convinced, through not doing his share of service work for the department like Ann did. A female professor like Ann would never have been allowed to get away with something like this. He had never even thanked her for taking on his advisees last year when he was at Harvard. Ann doubted that he was even aware that the previous chair, Trond Knutsen, had asked her to do this. Thank God he wasn't chair anymore! Being a woman too, Ruth was far more sympathetic to Ann's plight.

But ever since the appearance of the second "unwanted" poster, Ann gloated to herself, Robert Barnes had lost a little of his overweening self-confidence. It was Ann who had made sure that he saw it first. Having learned of its forthcoming appearance a day in advance from Tricia Raditz, Ann had come to campus early the next day and scooped up half a dozen copies of The New Dominion. She then went to her office and carefully clipped the back page off of each issue. Making sure nobody else was in the hallway, she quickly taped one of the "unwanted" posters right on Barnes's door. An hour later, she saw him walk past her open door (without, of course, saying so much as "hello" to her). She had gotten up and pretended to be working at her filing cabinet in order to watch what happened next.

When he reached his door, she saw him pause and then heard him say, "Good Lord! I can't believe this!" This second "unwanted" poster looked basically the same as the first one had, but there was only one item on it: "Prof. Barnes touched me inappropriately." Barnes had quickly ripped down the "unwanted" poster and brought it into his office. Ann had hardly been able to contain her elation! Each time she went out of her office that day, she made sure she picked up one or two more copies of The New Dominion. Since then, Ann had come in early every morning--even on days she didn't teach--and taped up a fresh copy of the "unwanted" poster on Barnes's door if one was not there. Barnes, of course, ripped them down on the days he came in to teach. But what Ann thought was particularly revealing about departmental sentiment was that nobody--not even the male professors--tore down the "unwanted" poster from his door on the days that Barnes didn't come in. Clearly, Ann deduced, support for Barnes within the department was weak!

"As I said on the phone," Kate Morgan began as she settled into the one guest chair (orange plastic) in Ann's office, "I wanted to talk to someone who taught women's studies here about this whole sexual assault graffiti business. Why do you suppose it's coming to light now? I mean, I know this `unwanted' poster phenomenon has publicized the graffiti. But the posters could only do so if the graffiti was there first to be publicized--unless, of course, the kids running the campus paper have just made the whole thing up."

"Oh, they couldn't have done that!" Ann quickly interjected. "As your own article in the Post reported, two very real sexual assailants who were tormenting two very real victims came to light as a result of the first `unwanted' poster. The New Dominion staff certainly didn't make that up!"

"No, what I meant to ask," Kate continued, "is whether this sort of graffiti has appeared before and just not been publicized, or whether its appearance is something new altogether. You've been teaching here several years now. Have you ever seen this sort of graffiti in the women's bathrooms before?"

Ann had not--aside, of course, from the typically non-specific graffiti identifying this or that particular male as a dickhead, shit-for-brains, motherfucker, or--most frequently--asshole. These complaints, however, did not detail specific charges of sexual assault. Nor, in fact, had Ann seen any of this more serious type of graffiti recently either. Maybe she was going to the wrong bathrooms.

"I would say that this sort of sexual assault graffiti has existed all along," Ann pronounced anyway. "This is the first year, though, that we've had a militant feminist as editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper. It's thanks to her that these cries of pain from assaulted women are finally being heard."

Kate nodded her head thoughtfully at this. "Yes, well--I suppose it's not the sort of thing that a male editor would have been in a position to notice, in that this graffiti only seems to appear in women's bathrooms."

Ann frowned somewhat. This comment seemed beside the point. "But it would have been visible to the paper's female reporters." Ann paused a moment to improvise. "Either they reported it to male editors in the past who refused to do anything about it, or they didn't bother to report it since they knew the males wouldn't care." That must have been what happened, Ann thought.

Kate nodded her head again. "Yes, it would have been visible to the paper's female reporters--and presumably to any other female, if she went to the right toilet. But I have yet to find anyone who remembers seeing graffiti like this in the past. And except for some of the women at The New Dominion I spoke to, I haven't found anyone else who has seen it this year either."

Ann was becoming a little annoyed. "So you really do seem to think that they made it up themselves?" she asked accusingly.

"Not at all," Kate assured her. "As you said, publicizing the graffiti uncovered a rapist and a stalker. And I'm positive that their victims--Irene and Victoria--had no connection with the student paper whatsoever. They knew nobody there even casually, much less somebody well enough to confide in who would have written the graffiti for them."

Ann was puzzled. "Why do you say that? Surely these two women wrote those messages themselves."

"I don't think so," said Kate. "They were identified in The New Dominion after Smith and Garcia were arrested, so I was able to interview them for my story in the Post. Both of them told me their sad histories with these two jerks, but both of them completely denied having written the graffiti which was published in the `unwanted' poster."

"So what are you saying?" asked Ann.

"I'm not saying anything," said Kate. "I'm trying to figure out what is happening here. That's why I came to talk to you."

"Well," said Ann, "I have never spoken to those two young women--Irene and Victoria. Since you have, you know more about them than I do. Maybe when you interviewed them they were too distraught to remember precisely what happened. Maybe they wrote out those messages unconsciously." Yes, that could be the explanation.

Now Kate looked puzzled. "Maybe," she said. After a moment she continued, "Why do you suppose The New Dominion published the graffiti in this `unwanted' poster format? Why not just publish them in the body of a news story, or just in a simple box by themselves with a brief explanation?"

Ann couldn't help but swell with pride. "Well actually," she admitted, "that was my idea."

"Oho!" said Kate conspiratorially, "I thought maybe you knew more about this than you let on!"

Ann smiled broadly. She knew she shouldn't be indiscreet, but this was just too delicious to let pass. Besides, she wanted Kate Morgan to regard her as a reliable source and come back to her in the future for information about what was really happening at NDU. "Is this off the record?" she asked coyly.

"If that's what you want, of course," Kate responded.

"Well, when Tricia Raditz first told me that she planned to publish a regular feature publicizing sexual assault graffiti, I was the one who suggested the `unwanted' poster format!"

"How creative!" observed Kate. "Have you ever thought of writing fiction?"

"As a matter of fact," Ann responded, "I do have this idea for a feminist novel. I can show you the outline if you like."

"Well, maybe we can talk about that some other time," said Kate. "Right now, I'm wondering if you can shed any light on this business with Robert Barnes--`Prof. Barnes touched me inappropriately,' I think the message said."

"That arrogant bastard!" Ann said emotionally. "You would not believe what a total, pompous jerk he is!"

"You don't seem to like him, Ann," Kate observed, concern in her voice.

"No I don't!" Ann replied. She then related the whole story about how she was forced to do so much service work in the department that she had little time for research while he had been allowed to do his research without doing any service, how this all came about under the previous sexist male chair of the department, and how unfair it all was. But this time, Ann was a little more discreet: she didn't mention how the two of them were going up for tenure this year.

"No, that doesn't sound fair," Kate commented. "But aside from that, do you really think he's the type who would touch his female students `inappropriately?'"

"Aren't all men that type?" Ann shot back. "I'm sure I don't have to tell you what male professors must be thinking when they see these young girls who wear next to nothing in their classrooms and in their offices."

"Yes, yes, no doubt you're right," said Kate. "But thinking about their female students is one thing. Actually touching them is quite another. Do you think Barnes is really the type who would touch any of them?"

"I certainly have no reason to think that he wouldn't touch them if he thought he had the opportunity," responded Ann.

"I'm not so sure," observed Kate.

Ann was beginning to wonder just whose side this woman was on. "Why on earth do you say that?" she asked.

"Well, as long as this conversation is off the record, I'll tell you," Kate said, sitting forward in her chair. "You know, I don't exactly wear a badge stating that I'm a reporter. And sometimes, if I happen to fall into conversation with someone, I don't even mention that I am.

"The other day, I was passing through this hall. I saw Robert Barnes was in his office, so I asked if I could speak to him. It just so happens that I was wearing something of a short skirt then," she said, indicating a point on her thigh significantly higher up than the hemline of the skirt she was now wearing. "The sweater I had on didn't exactly hide how I look either.

"When I went inside his office, I closed the door behind me. The poor man went into a panic! He immediately jumped up and opened it again, saying something about how he was looking out for someone who might pass by. We talked for about ten minutes. He never touched me once--inappropriately or otherwise. In fact, he sat as far away from me as he possibly could the entire time. He didn't even tell me if he thought I looked nice. He certainly didn't do anything for my ego that day! However true the graffiti items published in the first `unwanted' poster may have been, I think the one in the second poster about Robert Barnes was either a mistake or a lie."

Ann shook her head in disbelief. "The `unwanted' poster must have put him on his guard. Besides, it's my understanding that his door was closed when he inappropriately touched a female student."

Kate's eyes opened wide. "My, you do seem to know a lot about this, Ann," she said, sitting back in her chair.

Ann realized that she had been indiscreet, but she didn't want this reporter casting doubt on the veracity of the `unwanted' posters--this second one in particular. Letting Kate know what was really going on involved some risk, but it was also a golden opportunity to really discredit Barnes. In fact, if the story got into the Post, Barnes would probably have to resign at once, in total disgrace! Ann decided to show her the paper Tiffany Rodriguez had written for her Experiential Learning in Women's Studies practicum detailing what Cindy McMann had told her about Robert Barnes and their meeting with Ellen Stenkovsky of SASO. "I can't let you keep this," Ann said as she got the paper out from the top drawer of her desk, "but I can let you look at it here."

"Thanks," said Kate, taking the paper and reading through it quickly. There was one section in particular she turned back to. "It says here that he touched this girl's shoulder." Kate looked up at Ann. "Not a breast or even a thigh. This doesn't exactly sound like sexual assault to me."

"It was her bare shoulder that he touched," Ann pointed out. What was wrong with this woman? "All the elements of what we call a quid pro quo case were present: they were alone in his office with the door closed discussing her grade--which he exercises power over--when he first humiliated her and then touched her suggestively. As the paper says, he was clearly signaling her that he would raise her grade in exchange for sex."

"`Prof. Barnes touched me inappropriately,'" Kate repeated. "I suppose that refers to this incident with," she glanced at the paper, "Cindy McMann."

"I'm sure it does!" said Kate.

"But do you know for sure? Did Cindy tell you that she wrote that graffiti message in the woman’s bathroom?"

"No," responded Ann. "But I don't know what else that graffiti message could have been referring to--unless there's another female student Barnes assaulted!" If this was true, Ann hoped this second student would step forward and file a formal complaint. Then Barnes would really be history!

"Let's assume that the message in the bathroom does refer to Cindy McMann," said Kate. "Either Cindy wrote the graffiti herself--or someone wrote it for her."

"I don't think the latter happened," observed Ann.

"Why not? It appears that someone did this for Irene and Veronica. Why not for Cindy too?"

"Who would do such a thing?"

"How about you, Ann?" Kate asked, looking straight into her eyes. "You don't seem to like Robert Barnes much."

"I did no such thing!" Ann replied hotly. "You are going too far! What are you trying to prove?"

Kate raised her hands above her head, as if in surrender. "I'm sorry!" she said. "But a reporter has to think about all possible angles." She lowered her hands back down. "I doubt that it would be possible to prove that anyone in particular wrote that graffiti anyway.

"Another possibility, though," Kate continued, "is that this could be a case of mistaken identity. I understand there is another Professor Barnes here at NDU--in the biology department."

"That would be Jenny Barnes, the environmental policy specialist," said Ann, shaking her head. "I don't think so! Women just don't behave that way. Besides, we have Tiffany's paper indicating that it was Robert Barnes who touched someone inappropriately. I have no doubt that the graffiti refers to him."

"You're probably right," said Kate. "Still, the possibility of mistaken identity should not be discounted. Do you remember that one graffiti item that appeared in the first `unwanted' poster--`Charles Truehart fondled me?'"


"The article appearing in The New Dominion about the reaction to that first poster interviewed a student named Charles Truehart who denied having done any such thing."

"That's what you would expect from someone like that, though, isn't it?" Ann asked smugly. She knew men.

"He might have been telling the truth," continued Kate. "I looked through the NDU phone directory afterward. It turns out that there's another Charles Truehart here--a food service manager, apparently. Maybe the graffiti was actually talking about him, not the student with the same name."

"I didn't know there was anyone on the staff by that name," said Ann. Like most members of the faculty, she did not know the names of more than a handful of the non-academic staff besides those in her department's main office. And except for Ellen Stenkovsky, she didn't consider any of them to be worth knowing. She made a mental note to say something to Tricia Raditz about there being another Charles Truehart on campus.

Kate looked at her watch. "I've really got to be going," she said. "This has been a most interesting conversation."

"Thanks for coming by. So tell me? Are you going to write a story about this Robert Barnes business?" asked Ann hopefully.

"I don't think I can," responded Ann. "What Brian and Oscar did to Irene and Victoria was news. They committed criminal acts, and they were arrested. The only thing I have on Robert Barnes is that he touched some girl--sorry, woman--on the shoulder. Neither Cindy nor the graffiti author said that he explicitly asked her for sex, or that he got any."

"But..." Ann began to protest.

"I'm sorry," Kate interrupted, handing Tiffany's paper back to her. "This might make exciting reading here at the university, but what actually happened--if anything--seems pretty obscure to me. Everything I write has to compete with dozens of hard stories--murders, rapes, robberies--for space in the paper. Not even all these make it in. What little I have here about Robert Barnes would never make it past my editor--who, by the way, is also a woman. I'm afraid that this story is going to have to `await further developments,' as we say, if it is ever going to make it into the paper.

"Can I call you if I hear of anything?" asked Ann.

"Of course," Kate replied. She reached inside her handbag and retrieved one of her business cards for Ann. "The number's on here, but since I'm often away from my office, just leave a message on my voice mail—-or send me an e-mail."

"Okay," said Ann. "And here's my card in return."

Both then stood up, shook hands, and said good-bye. “I should have told her that Barnes is going up for tenure this year,” Ann said to herself after Kate had left.