Law school scru­ti­nized for re­ac­tion to pro-life col­umn

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

All Madi­son Ge­siotto wanted to do when she met with the dean of her law school was to re­port a threat prompted by a news­pa­per col­umn she wrote point­ing out the high abor­tion rate in the black com­mu­nity. She as­sumed the meet­ing would last 10 min­utes. In­stead, she said, she was there for about an hour as three deans at the Ohio State Univer­sity Moritz Col­lege of Law cri­tiqued her on what they saw as prob­lems with her Oct. 23 col­umn in The Wash­ing­ton Times, “The num­ber one killer of black Amer­i­cans.”

“This is my free­dom of speech, but they kept go­ing on and on about how, ‘This is a flawed ar­ti­cle, it’s not a good le­gal piece, it’s not a good jour­nal­is­tic piece, ei­ther,’” Ms. Ge­siotto re­called. “They asked me to ex­plain to them why I would put that [line] in, what that means, and how I should have fol­lowed that up by say­ing other things to sup­port th­ese black women.”

A sec­ond-year law stu­dent who writes the Mil­len­nial Mind­set col­umn for The Wash­ing­ton Times on­line opin­ion pages, Ms. Ge­siotto said she tried re­peat­edly to steer the con­ver­sa­tion back to the threat made against her, but that the deans ap­peared to “blow it off.”

“I’m a very tough per­son. I very rarely get up­set or sen­si­tive about things,” said Ms. Ge­siotto. “But I was cry­ing in that meet­ing for about 30 min­utes, I was so shocked. I’ve never been in a sit­u­a­tion with peo­ple I re­spected and looked up to and felt so vi­o­lated.”

Ms. Ge­siotto knew that many of her peers at the law school would dis­agree with the col­umn. She ex­pected to take some flak. What she didn’t ex­pect, she said, was hav­ing ad­min­is­tra­tors show less in­ter­est in her safety than in tear­ing apart a col­umn en­tirely un­re­lated to her course­work.

Dean Alan C. Michaels said in a state­ment to The Times that the univer­sity “takes any al­leged threat against its stu­dents very se­ri­ously,” while not­ing that the fed­eral Fam­ily Ed­u­ca­tional Rights and Pri­vacy Act pro­hibits the univer­sity from discussing spe­cific dis­ci­plinary or con­duct cases.

“The univer­sity and the col­lege of law each have pro­ce­dures for as­sess­ing al­leged threats and for re­spond­ing ap­pro­pri­ately,” Mr. Michaels said. “Th­ese pro­ce­dures are used for each such al­le­ga­tion re­ceived.”

He added, “An in­clu­sive learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment that pro­vides a fo­rum for a wide range of view­points is cru­cial for a law school. We try to foster a cul­ture of re­spect­ful di­a­logue when ad­dress­ing tough, emo­tional top­ics as they arise in dis­cus­sions of law and pol­icy.”

Ms. Ge­siotto said she heard noth­ing from the dean af­ter the Oct. 27 meet­ing even as her ar­ti­cle stirred con­tro­versy on cam­pus. She did re­ceive a re­sponse the next day from Kathy Se­ward North­ern, as­so­ciate dean for ad­mis­sions, who as­sured her that she had in­ves­ti­gated the threat by speak­ing to stu­dents from the Black Law Stu­dents As­so­ci­a­tion.

“I am sat­is­fied from those dis­cus­sions that there was not an in­tent to threaten you with phys­i­cal harm,” Ms. North­ern wrote in an Oct. 28 email.

Even so, Ms. Ge­siotto wasn’t re­as­sured be­cause the stu­dent who made the threat is white and doesn’t be­long to the black stu­dents as­so­ci­a­tion, she said.

“I never com­plained about the BLSA,” Ms. Ge­siotto said.

Threat over ‘racist ar­ti­cle’

The threat ar­rived on Ms. Ge­siotto’s Face­book page as part of a heated back-and-forth shortly af­ter the ap­pear­ance of her col­umn, which cited fig­ures by the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion show­ing that black women re­ceived 36 per­cent of re­ported abor­tions in 2011.

The Face­book mes­sage said, “The gov­ern­ment can­not take ac­tion against you for your of­fen­sive and racist ar­ti­cle. But your col­leagues can.”

Ms. Ge­siotto, 23, said she be­came “ex­tremely ner­vous” af­ter read­ing the post, not know­ing whether the threat re­ferred to phys­i­cal harm. The mes­sage came from an­other OSU law school stu­dent, but not one she knew.

“What both­ered me is that I don’t know who this per­son is, I don’t know what type of ac­tion they were talk­ing about,” said Ms. Ge­siotto. “I just wanted the school to make sure it wasn’t any­thing phys­i­cally dan­ger­ous to me.”

She con­tacted Mr. Michaels’ of­fice and set up a meet­ing for later that day. When she ar­rived, she was sur­prised to see not one but three deans, in­clud­ing Ms. North­ern, and that all three had copies of her ar­ti­cle.

Lead­ing the crit­i­cism was Ms. North­ern, who “asked me about spe­cific lines in my ar­ti­cle and what I meant by those lines.”

“[Ms. North­ern] ex­plained that she thought this was not proper le­gal writ­ing or jour­nal­is­tic writ­ing,” Ms. Ge­siotto said. “She fur­ther ex­plained that in her mind this ar­ti­cle could be taken var­i­ous ways and left ques­tions to be an­swered.”

As far as Ms. Ge­siotto was con­cerned, how­ever, the con­tent of the ar­ti­cle wasn’t the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s con­cern.

“They have no say over what I have in my pieces,” Ms. Ge­siotto said. “First of all, it has no bear­ing on my ed­u­ca­tion. It should have no bear­ing on any­thing. It shouldn’t have been dis­cussed in the meet­ing.”

‘Bizarre’ re­sponse

The deans also urged her to re­move from her on­line bi­og­ra­phy her po­si­tion as a staff ed­i­tor of the Ohio State Jour­nal of Crim­i­nal Law, she said, say­ing it would con­fuse those who might think she was a fac­ulty mem­ber and not a stu­dent.

They rec­om­mended that she par­tic­i­pate in a “fa­cil­i­tated dis­cus­sion” with stu­dents who dis­agreed with the op-ed. She re­fused.

“The main dean said some­thing like, ‘Well, you said you feel un­safe. We’re try­ing to al­le­vi­ate the tension, so you can ex­plain to the other kids what you meant by your ar­ti­cle,’” said Ms. Ge­siotto. “I thought that was com­pletely out of line. It should have never been pro­posed. I was there to re­port a threat. And then they tried to flip it around and push me into a fa­cil­i­tated dis­cus­sion with other kids about my ar­ti­cle. It was bizarre and very dis­ap­point­ing.”

Ms. Ge­siotto was so wor­ried about the threat that she also re­ported it to the main cam­pus, where she said a coun­selor sug­gested that school of­fi­cials could talk to the per­son who made the threat but warned that do­ing so might es­ca­late the sit­u­a­tion.

The episode caused her to miss sev­eral days of class, al­though her pro­fes­sors helped her catch up with missed as­sign­ments.

“I put so much time and fi­nances into my ed­u­ca­tion, I’m not go­ing to let th­ese peo­ple get the best of me,” said Ms. Ge­siotto. “Luck­ily, noth­ing phys­i­cally hap­pened to me. But it could have. They never in­ves­ti­gated the threat.”

Cam­pus con­tro­versy

The ar­ti­cle touched off a chain of events on cam­pus. In a Nov. 1 state­ment pub­lished in The Lantern, the stu­dent news­pa­per, the Black Law Stu­dents As­so­ci­a­tion said its mem­bers took of­fense “at the racist un­der­tones of the opin­ion piece and ques­tion its jour­nal­is­tic in­tegrity.”

“By making such sweep­ing and ir­re­spon­si­ble state­ments re­gard­ing Black women’s re­pro­duc­tive health, the opin­ion piece fails to ad­dress a myr­iad of fac­tors that may in­flu­ence a Black woman’s de­ci­sion to ex­er­cise her re­pro­duc­tive rights,” said the let­ter.

Shortly there­after, the Ohio State Jour­nal of Crim­i­nal Law an­nounced a pol­icy change: Ed­i­tors who iden­tify them­selves as such when writ­ing for other pub­li­ca­tions must in­clude a disclaimer say­ing that their views do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect those of the jour­nal.

Mr. Michaels and Ms. North­ern is­sued an Oct. 30 mes­sage to stu­dents stress­ing the im­por­tance of an “in­clu­sive learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment.”

“Over the past sev­eral days, there has been broad dis­cus­sion in our com­mu­nity around is­sues of race, ide­ol­ogy, so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus and other mat­ters that in­evitably arise in a di­verse com­mu­nity,” the mes­sage said. “We understand and ap­pre­ci­ate the pow­er­ful feel­ings that many are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing and have ex­pressed.”

The on­line pub­li­ca­tion .Mic cov­ered the flap in a Nov. 12 ar­ti­cle, “In­side the Ohio Law School Con­tro­versy Fu­el­ing De­bate About #Black­Lives­Mat­ter and Abor­tion.”

‘Bul­ly­ing’ by lib­er­als

Con­cerned Women for Amer­ica Pres­i­dent and CEO Penny Nance de­cried what she de­scribed as the “bul­ly­ing” of Ms. Ge­siotto, who leads Young CWA, call­ing it “em­blem­atic of the left’s cam­paign to squelch the First Amend­ment rights of con­ser­va­tive stu­dents on cam­puses across Amer­ica.”

As a for­mer Miss Ohio USA who com­peted in the 2014 Miss USA pageant, Ms. Ge­siotto has more ex­pe­ri­ence han­dling pub­lic scru­tiny than most other peo­ple her age.

Even so, she said, she feels shaken by some of the ru­mors she still hears, such as, “I’m go­ing to drop out, I’m get­ting kicked out of school, teach­ers are hop­ing I drop out of school.”

“Just hor­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble things that just never feel good no mat­ter how strong a per­son you are,” she said.

Hav­ing said that, she has no re­grets about her ar­ti­cle or her de­ci­sion to con­tinue writ­ing the weekly col­umn, which launched in July.

“I’m definitely dis­cour­aged by the way that my law school has han­dled this sit­u­a­tion, but I’m not at all go­ing to back down from the things I be­lieve in,” said Ms. Ge­siotto.

“Th­ese are my be­liefs, and this is a won­der­ful plat­form on which I can ex­press them,” she said. “My col­umn reaches thou­sands of mil­len­ni­als across the coun­try ev­ery sin­gle week. I feel like by stand­ing up for what I be­lieve in I may be in­spir­ing oth­ers who have been pushed down to stand up for what they be­lieve in. And never back down.”

Madi­son Ge­siotto

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