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Ashamed

I received this e-mail from a current Williams student. She gave me permission to print it here (anonymously) and was even surprised that I wrote back to her.

You don’t know me as we have never met, but I am a sophomore at Williams and recently discovered ephblog.com. After reading all of your comments on the Mark Foster/Maryl Gensheimer case, I have only this to say to you: You should be ashamed of yourself.

I don’t care what you have to say about the facts or the outcome of the case. Your response to the entire situation is truly shameful. I love everything about Williams College and would be hard-pressed to find something negative to say about it. You, Mr. Kane, made me feel ashamed of this school for the first time in my life. I resent the fact that we share this great school in common, because to me you represent everything that Williams is not.

I don’t know who you think you are, or what right you think you have that allows you to so readily judge the moral character of a man whom you do not know. I am also in no position to judge your own character, and won’t presume to be. What I can say with absolute certainty is that I despise the way you have handled yourself in this situation.

I would assume, or at least hope, that the motivation for your frequent blogs is a continuing interest in and love for your alma mater. If that is the case, and you truly care about this institution and its students, then do what is best for us all and find something more useful to write about. It is people like you that make it so difficult for our community to recover from incidences like these. No one has benefited from anything you have said, but many have been hurt.

In all honesty, I expected more from a Williams graduate. The extent of my disappointment you do not even know.

Heartfelt stuff. Strangely enough, I actually take more pride in my writings on this case than 99% of my other posts. If this doesn’t strike you as a balanced, honest and thoughtful account of the issues involved, than you should never bother with my drivel again. It won’t be getting any better, and most days it will be much worse.

Some of my other commentary has, at times, been edgier. See here and here.

I am sure that this young Eph believes that Foster is completely innocent, that he was unjustly accused by a vengeful and/or confused ex-girlfriend. And, she might be right! It is more than possible that Foster is completely innocent, that any of us viewing a videotape of the night in question would conclude that he did nothing wrong.

I do not think that this is likely, but it is certainly possible. I also believe that Gensheimer and her family/friends have a very different perspective on the matter.

So, I can understand why this Eph takes exception to me writing about the case, why she is infuriated with me for bringing this up time and again. I’d wager that she probably knows Foster (who will graduate this spring) and can’t believe that he deserves the appellation “accused rapist” for the rest of his life.

But her fury is not reason enough to end discussion and debate. Indeed, once Foster graduates it will be easier to ponder this case in all its messy reality. Sexual assault is a real problem, even at Williams. If you don’t want to know about it, don’t read EphBlog.

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#1 Comment By Another ’04 On February 15, 2006 @ 6:42 pm

Frankly, the only drawback I see (as a fellow Eph) is that we drag his name up on Google for repeat, recent postings here at Ephblog. Also, we offer plenty of opportunity for people to make passing and unreflective comments on him.

Still, what I’d say to my fellow anon soph. Eph is that while coverage is bad, at least people at Ephblog might have SOME vested interest in getting the facts straight and also following up on the case. David’s posting that he was acquitted is a case in point. Nobody else is going to give much thought to how balanced their representation is, or to following up the case.

One compromise might be for Ephblog posters to use care in listing an Eph’s full name. I’m not saying we should always use euphemisms, but that we should only be writing someone’s directly traceable name if we are very sure we feel like justifying our coverage of that person. (This is an extra duty I think we owe to fellow Ephs.)

Would we rather have no Ephblog coverage of the rape case? Perhaps. Would we like Ephblog coverage if there is other, less focused and potentially careless coverage? Definitely. This holds true for any Williams-related info I can think of.

#2 Comment By David On February 15, 2006 @ 7:43 pm

With regard to the full name issue and the rankings on Google, a couple of points.

1) The “nice” thing about having a name like Mark Foster, at least in this context, is that there are a lot of you. But, more refined searches certainly bring one to EphBlog pretty quickly.

2) A name like Maryl Gensheimer, on the other hand, finds this case immediately.

3) There is a double standard here in terms of names. If Gensheimer had not told her story to the Globe, I (and the Record and the Eagle) would not print her name. Foster, as the accused, receives no anonymity.

4) It is important not to get too hung up on current technology. Google (and every other organization with an interest in large numbers of people) is crawling the web even now, compiling dossiers on all of us. You can like this or hate it or not care, but the notion that a few more usages of the name Mark Foster will make a meaningful difference in how “secret” these facts are in a few years time is wrong. The facts will out, like it or not.

5) My prediction is that this will soon go as far as facial recognition. Our Eph porn star may have thought that, as long as she kept her name out of it, future employers would not be aware of his youthful adventure. Think again.

#3 Comment By (d)avid On February 15, 2006 @ 8:38 pm

I don’t know about euphemisms, but ephemisms seem ripe for this venue.

#4 Comment By Alexander Woo On February 15, 2006 @ 9:40 pm

You know – this is one of those posts that has me worried about the state of critical reading in our society.

David does a reasonable job in most cases of being clear in differentiating facts from his opinions and speculations. In a couple months of reading Ephblog I have learned pretty well how to distinguish between them and consider them with appropriate degrees of seriousness, especially with the help given by all the comments.

Our anonymous Eph does not trust others to read critically in this way. She is probably correct.

What can we do to improve the ability of all our citizens to read critically?

#5 Comment By frank uible On February 15, 2006 @ 10:41 pm

In every day life, emotion as a human motivator trumps analysis every time. It behooves persons who dwell in the realm of the rational to appreciate this truth.

#6 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On February 16, 2006 @ 12:07 am

It is also very difficult to respond to the young woman, above, without knowing anything about her and why she says the above. I will assume– for assuming’s sake– that her core concern is David’s seemingly harsh judgement.

While I have indicated to David that I would temper my previous treatment of Foster, and my first response to David’s most recent exploration of responsibility indicates somewhat of how and why I might qualify my treatment, my judgement is still that it is fair to call Foster a “rapist”– in the sense of someone who has committed that far-too-common act, while by no means wishing to employ the demonization that often comes with that word.

That continued judgement rests on two factors: my sense of the Berkshire County District Attorneys’ Office while I was at Williams, and the very low probability that they would pursue such a case if they did not beleive strongly in its underlying merit; and the combined facts that I’ve received no information that would seriously cause me to question Maryl Gensheimer’s word or motivation– despite the fact that her testimony is not consistent–, and that no one seems to have come forward to defend Mr. Foster.

These are difficult issues. We should certainly expect a woman who believes she was raped to be distraught enough to be unsure of and perhaps change her testimony; and yet, on the other hand, we have another report, elsewhere on ephBlog, that a young woman stabbed her own leg to implicate someone else. The latter is certainly a possible scenario.

How do we negotiate such waters? In each situation,– regardless of “truth,”– what is the right response that is demanded of us? And how do we judge between each situation?

Alex is right to turn us to interpretive and critical skills, and Frank to emotional responses versus reason. I might also add one of Norah Vincent’s recent comments– translating into something of my own language: that her judgements at twenty were both rash and filled with anger– and that her current perspective is somewhat “politically incorrect” in comparison (her term while in quotes). Our judgements of these issues often remain both “rash” and ill-considered, structured along lines of ideological and other preconceptions, unwilling to take the responsibility to look closely at difficult realities.

Stephen Trattner ’84 killed his wife, an act I can hardly defend and hardly would wish to defend. But why? But I can (likely very poorly) try to enter the moments and hours and days before such an act, and the emotions and desperation of a marriage falling apart, and try to come to some understanding of why and how. See Responsibility.

I can suspect that if Trattner does not already, he will regret that terrible act for most of his remaining days. I can pray that he wishes that his character in such a situation had been far different, and I suspect he will spend many hours and days and years considering his action and that he did not immediately call for help.

Ethan Zuckerman does not have personal responsibility for those events, and none of us may as such. But we have– or should have– every responsibility to address why they occur. Violent and sexual assault is a real problem– and certainly at Williams. I take one of Ethan’s points to be that we are hardly not responsible for the actions of Tracy McIntosh ’75 and Stephen L. Trattner ’84. Whatever the character and patterns of behavior that lead individuals to extremes of behavior, they certainly practiced those behaviors at Williams.

And Williams should be a shelter against such darkness. It should instruct, guide, and build character. I take it that David hopes that it does to some extent– as do I– but I also certainly wonder, with David, if we are doing what we should.

It’s been a long time since Jeanne Bergman and I sat and discussed stories of the primate rituals of men in Greylock in ’75 peeing on women’s rooms , but I’ve come to wonder if McIntosh was one of those men. Speaking of tolerated asocial behaviors, Jeanne and I were also reviewing recent revials of the ritual in ’93, and it was still practiced in ’98. Violence is not random; its practice is structured, learned, and transmitted. None of us are innocent.

I am proud that David keeps bringing up these subjects– and reminding us that not everything about an institution we all cherish makes us proud. I am equally grateful that he does not allow us the comfort of looking away– and keeps prodding on topics where I certainly need prodding.

And I am equally thankful for his suggestion that higher standards of character and behavior and judgement can pave the pathway through the dark storms above.