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Reader Feedback 3.5.03 

Porn on campus --- and our coverage

>As University of Rochester students, we all have a lot to learn about the world, just as every other human being does. The February 12 edition of City, with its condescending tone, successfully pointed out areas where we may be lacking. "Porno 101" did make some points, but there were a number of problems with the article.

                  While writer Chris Busby did attempt to contact some of the UR community, he didn't do very much reporting. Instead, he chose to rely upon the Campus Times for the majority of his quotes and information. This in itself is not inherently wrong. It is bad reporting, but it's forgivable. Busby, however, represents the campus as supportive of, or at least apathetic about, pornography.

                  Busby chronicles his supposedly exhaustive efforts to get a response from someone at UR. Considering that Busby searched the CT's archive for articles related to pornography, he would have come across the November 7 editorial board's "Porno Problems," which defames pornography and the Spring Porn. (That piece was in the same issue as the DVD article he quoted.) The campus response he was looking for was right before his eyes. He just chose not to include it. Just as he did with every other article he found in the CT, Busby should have, at the very least, taken a quote from that piece.

                  Sadly, UR does not have many traditions, and, even worse, the Spring Porn is one of them. As a result of the Porn being pushed as a tradition, many people go just because there are so few traditions at UR.

                  I would argue, from what my friends and fellow students have said regarding this issue, that people have a moment of realization during the Porn, asking themselves, "What am I doing here?" Busby fails to address this concern at all.

                  Beyond the text of the article, there were other problems. The illustration on page 8, for example, implies that all women are disgusted by the Spring Porn, while all men celebrate pornography. Some people, both male and female, do enjoy porn, just as there are others of both genders who wouldn't even consider approaching Hubbell Auditorium during the Spring Porn. The illustration simply does not depict reality fairly.

                  We are disappointed at not being represented fairly in your paper.

                  Chadwick Schnee, editor in chief, Campus Times, University of Rochester

I was frustrated reading Chris Busby's "Porno 101" (February 12); there was no concise thesis. The best I could surmise was that Busby was opposed to the University of Rochester supporting the public showing of pornographic films.

                  He said he was frustrated trying to get UR officials to speak with him, but he managed to interview more than 10 people. And UR Dean of Freshmen Deborah Rossen-Knill had even publicly said she disagreed with the university on this issue.

                  Busby suggested that by showing unequal gender treatment, "forcible sexual offenses" might increase, but then added that was apparently not the case.

                  He implied that the university is hiding the Spring Porn event by not including it in promotional literature, but did not say how this compares to the treatment of other campus events, especially other film events or events that are sexual in nature.

                  Was Busby trying to prove that the UR should not sponsor public showings of pornographic films? If so, I was not convinced. Was this just a factual article punctuated with the author's negative views of pornography?

                  I felt that I was supposed to be incited to act against the UR, but was not provided with any ammunition. I was disappointed with City for placing such a poor-quality article as the lead story.

                  From its title, I anticipated an article that avoided the classic censorship-versus-pornography stalemate and explored such topics as the morality of pornography on a modern university campus, or the difference between entertainment and exploitation to college students. Or perhaps something as innovative as the exploration of objectification as part of sexual play taken from a private situation to a public one.

                  Unfortunately, I am left only with disappointment.

                  Jason Olshefsky, Whiteford Road, Rochester

Chris Busby's response to Olshefsky and Schnee:

                  It's unfortunate that Mr. Olshefsky was frustrated by my article's lack of a "thesis." Perhaps he was confused. Though the piece is about UR, it wasn't a doctoral student's dissertation, and was not intended to be read as such.

                  He assumes I'm opposed to student-supported porn screenings at UR. I needn't tell you what happens when you do that.

                  Mr. Olshefsky was correct in assuming I was "frustrated" in my attempts to get comments from UR administrators and faculty --- at first. Once I realized that a gag had been put on key administrators, and found that UR faculty were unwilling to speak their minds, that simply became part of the story. (Note: sole administrative source George Morrison spoke to me before the kibosh was put on him, and, again, no professors called back).

                  As for Dean Rossen-Knill, I wonder if Mr. Olshefsky didn't also find it curious that her strong anti-campus-porn sentiment, expressed in the student newspaper Campus Times, had apparently melted a year later, when a more public publication asked her about the matter.

                  As for the Cinema Group's contention that their porn is gender-balanced, student reviews and the covers of the porn films themselves cast plenty of doubt on that.

                  I didn't need to imply that UR officials hide the fact porn is a tradition on campus. Comments by spokesman Robert Kraus and Student Senator Ilana Kaplan-Shain said as much.

                  And if the student body's take on this was unclear to Mr. Olshefsky, I invite him to join the club. Their reaction is just what was reported: some for, some against, most apathetic or too intimidated to speak up.

                  I agree that it would have been interesting get into some of the issues Mr. Olshefsky outlined at the end of his letter. And who better to discuss such academic topics than UR professors of film, gender studies, political science.... You see my predicament.

                  As for Mr. Schnee's contention that I "chose to rely upon the Campus Times for the majority of [my] quotes and information," that is "inherently wrong," as in untrue. Even a cursory reading of the article shows that quotes from the Times were used sparingly --- and they were attributed to the Times when they were used.

                  I did miss the CT's editorial on the matter, which is unfortunate, but hardly "unfair." All the same, I'm glad Mr. Schnee called attention to the editorial board's opposition to porn. Again, at least someone's talking about it.

City's "Porno 101," on the screening of X-rated films at the University of Rochester, quotes an e-mail from the UR Cinema Group: "It is our hope that of all places, a university is one where freedom of speech is guarded dearly, and censorship is not a reality.... In a world where freedom is at stake, even on our very own soil, we must step up to the challenge of maintaining that freedom that so many before us fought dearly for. The heart of this battle is here at the college."

                  It is gratifying to see freedom of expression being so vigorously championed. I was dismayed recently to hear the news that the overwhelming majority of Americans cannot name the particular rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. I am certain, though, that such fierce advocates of that amendment as make up the membership of the Cinema Group can recite it in its entirety, and this gives me some hope.

                  More importantly, I am encouraged to know that these young people are committed to the challenge of preserving our precious freedom of expression. They join the ranks of others who took up that same challenge, before the heart of the battle had shifted to the University of Rochester.

                  For my father, the heart of the battle was in Poland, where he froze his feet during an especially bitter winter. He brought the battle home with him, and not only in his feet. To the end of his days, in moments of reflection he would sit and tap his forefinger against his thumb, a practice he had picked up as a scout for an artillery unit; decades after returning from Europe, he was still measuring the interval between when the guns fired and when the shells landed.

                  For my father's brother, the heart of the battle was in the South Pacific. He did not bring the battle home with him; he did not come home.

                  I am certain that both my father and his brother would be thrilled to know that the members of the Cinema Group are still fighting the good fight. I am also certain that the Framers would be gratified to know that the First Amendment, which emerged from their basic conviction that the right of college students to look at dirty pictures must never be compromised, is still being defended.

                  Roger Freeman, Henrietta

When I attended Harpur College at SUNY Binghamton in the 1980s, an influential Women's Center protested the showing of a pornographic film by a fraternity.

                  The film was an infamous snuff movie in which a woman was murdered. To show their outrage, five or so Women's Center members and two men completely disrobed in front of the student center and held signs stating "Demystify Your Body" --- at around 4:30 in the afternoon.

                  It was a very effective protest, prompting students who were passing through the student center to question the frat brothers about why they wanted to show such a sick and twisted film. I specifically recall three young women leaving the line to get into the film in an absolute huff. Good for them.

                  I realize that none of the films cited in the article are snuff films, but the reasons not to show them or house them in the library is the same. Porn is just silly. Porn is juvenile and low-minded.

                  I was struck by the question of legacy: Are these really the films that the Senate of 2003 wants to be remembered for? To me, it's a question of the egos of the "yes" votes. Wow, what a way to leave your mark.

                  Bill Judkins, Rochester

Though founded by religious persons, the University of Rochester has a long and hoary history of belittling women. Susan B. Anthony headed a grim fight to get women admitted there, though they were segregated on a separate campus for years. The university was also an adversary in a long and tragic Title IX battle.

                  One wonders what is at the root of this misogyny. Generally speaking, society speaks up against the nurture of violence and hatred toward any group. Lynch mobs, for example, have gone out of style as an occasion for a "good time" for the good ol' boys, though there is an occasional reprise. Is lynching political speech?

                  The purpose of the First Amendment is to protect national political speech in the service of democracy. Is pornography political speech? Is pornography an affirmation that the university is a male preserve and that male students must rule?

                  The truth about pornography needs to be told. Not all speech is protected. Some speech is destructive and costly to society.

                  We need to ask some new questions about porn. For example, what kind of a social tool is porn? One that affirms community and speech, as has been suggested, or one that exhibits how base human beings can be?

                  Universities used to attend to character formation as well as intellectual development. Now is money the only goal? If so, make a video of the audience at the next Spring Porn presentation and put it on sale. Let the public also enjoy "the attitude with which the audience approaches it and the atmosphere which prevails."

                  Marion Strand, Hidden Valley Road, Rochester

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