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Where Does Controversy End Up? The Aftermath of Princeton's Op-Ed Fallout

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As quickly as things got heated in Princeton, they cooled down. Following the controversy that erupted after The Daily Princetonian publishedan op-ed about sexual assault, the buzz fizzled and many students think the charged debate over rape hasn't changed campus culture.

The op-ed, written by freshman columnist Iulia Neagu, sparked a nationwide controversy regarding the role of consent in drunken hook-ups, with Princeton at the epicenter. The piece argued that an inebriated female "knew what would happen if she started drinking."

In the piece, Neagu argued, "We all know that the more people drink, the less likely they are to make wise decisions. It is common sense."

Immediate student reactions ranged from the outraged to the sympathetic and the piece generated more than 200 comments within hours of its publishing, and now has more than 400.

And they were right: given the string of snide comments in response to the post, rebuttals abounded.

Similarly, college dailies across the nation reported on the controversy at Princeton. Letters to the editors at The Daily Princetonian poured into the newsroom. Members of sexual awareness committees printed a response in the paper the following day, and subsequent weeks saw numerous columns in the paper taking sides on the issue.

Some students, though, think the on-campus student response amounted to a lot of smoke and little actual fire.

"The reaction was indicative of how Princeton deals with sexual assault -- which is to cloak it in silence," said junior Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux '11, editor of campus feminist blog Equal Writes.

She noted that the eagerness of students to comment and discuss the op-ed piece anonymously online or behind closed doors has not translated into efforts to actually create a culture of greater accountability. 

"When there are actual incidents of sexual assault on campus, we completely shut down," Thomson-DeVeaux said.

However, others think the response has been active and constructive. Katie Rodriguez, a junior and co-president of Princeton's Sexual Harassment and Assault Advising, Resources, and Education (SHARE), said she feels the op-ed has pushed forward an ongoing conversation on campus about the role of consent and has heightened concern about the issue.

SHARE hosted an event on March 3 that discussed the issue. "It was very well-attended," Rodriguez said, "and I think it was definitely a way in which students were able to continue the dialogue in a constructive way." 

The op-ed came only a few months after a series of sexual assaults on campus by the "campus masturbator." This student response prompted an anti-sexual violence group to encourage students to take the issue seriously.

The piece's controversy also coincides with the increasing troubles the administration faces with alcohol on campus. The administration established the Alcohol Coalition Committee two years ago to reduce high-risk drinking at Princeton, in response to the death of a student at a neighboring university.

The op-ed's concern with the role of alcohol in hook-up culture suggests the blurring lines of accountability in a college environment that fuels binge drinking and random hook-ups. The brief firestorm touched off by the Princetonian illustrates that alcohol poisoning is only one of many concerns about binge drinking.

The strong vocal response paired with little change in student culture adds up to a demonstration of what freshman Giri Nathan called "typical Princeton passivity."

Numerous students declined to comment on the record for this story, citing the controversial nature of the subject and the Huffington Post's high visibility.  That Princeton students can be uneasy about publicly stating a position may partly explain this apparent "passivity."

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