On December 12, the senior went on Facebook to post a short list of "men to avoid" at Vermont's most prestigious college and solicited input from others. Not all of the accusers were female. A few cases involved males or nonbinary students identifying men responsible for sexual misdeeds, according to Dunn. Facebook removed the post within 48 hours, but screenshots of the list continue to circulate on campus. The incident gained national traction after it was covered on Babe.
In its Middlebury story, the website that proudly claims to be "for girls who don't give a fuck" blacked out the names on Dunn's list. Like Ansari's defenders, some say Dunn, 21, went too far: What began as overdue acknowledgment of a vast sexual harassment problem has devolved into unfair and unsupported charges against men.
Middlebury may expel Dunn, and she is worried that sanctions by the college could derail her plans to graduate in May and attend law school in the fall. But other observers see Dunn's list as an act of bravery and, perhaps, desperation. Women have issued warnings about men for a long time, and Dunn's list is a modern way to frame the message, Kornbluh said.
It's "like what we used to do with writing names on the bathroom wall," she said. That basically never happens," Kornbluh said. If I was an undergraduate, I might be writing on Facebook, too. Middlebury also offered financial aid to cover most of the cost of her four-year education. The teen was too busy with exams at the time to take advantage of an invitation to fly up and visit.
Dunn was eager to get out of the South and experience a new culture, a new place. But the transition for the African American daughter of a single hotel housekeeper mom was "jarring," as Dunn described it on a couch inside Middlebury's on-campus radio station, WRMC She hosts a weekly program, "Cannabis Feminist," that explores "the intersections of marijuana, feminism, race, class and the prison industrial complex. And, like many new college students, Dunn found herself navigating social situations for which she was unprepared.
One night during her first year, she attended a party, met a guy and went to his room. According to Dunn, the student, a senior, plied her with alcohol to the point where she was "very drunk. She never reported the incident to police or campus judicial officers because she did not want to face humiliating questions that "chip away at you" and blame the victim, she said. But she came to view the encounter as a sexual assault. And late last year, inspired by the MeToo movement — and the "Shitty Media Men" list circulating online with claims about professionals in that industry — Dunn accused the student in her December 12 Facebook post that quickly grew into a list of 36 men.
She revealed only his first name and encouraged other students to direct message, aka "DM," her on Facebook with the names of their abusers. She promised to add them to her list. Before Facebook took it down due to complaints, the post listed the offenders — almost all by both first and last names — along with various accusations after each one, from "serial rapist" to "emotionally abusive" to "treats women, especially black women, like shit. Before she headed home to Atlanta, Dunn got a call from a campus judicial officer asking to meet.
Initially, the purpose seemed to be to offer her comfort and support as a victim of sexual assault, Dunn said. But then the officer, whom she won't name, asked her to identify and provide contact information for those students who gave her the names of the men on the list. Dunn said she refused to cooperate because she had promised to protect the privacy of the victims; she has since deleted all of their messages.
Then, last week, Dunn said she was summoned again to meet with Middlebury judicial officers. On January 17, they told her she was officially facing college discipline for violating the privacy of other students — that is, those individuals she outed on the list. Middlebury judicial affairs has refused to take anything off the table right now," said Dunn, who is majoring in gender, sexuality and feminism studies.
The possibility that she might not be able to finish at Middlebury is sobering, she said, but she still feels she did the right thing.
It was like taking a moment to say, 'This is our experience. This is what happened to us. More than half a dozen males declined to comment on the record about the controversy, but each was aware of it. The roster continues to circulate, they said, because so many people took screenshots of the post before Facebook pulled it down.
Others said the post "freaked" students out but triggered necessary conversations. Samantha Valone, a Middlebury sophomore from the Boston area, said it was a good thing to call attention to sexual violence. But, she added, "I just kind of feel bad for some of the people who were maybe accused and are innocent, because their lives are pretty rough right now. After Facebook took down the list, some students decried the decision online and even accused the social media giant of being complicit in sexual assault, observed Nathaniel Wiener, a Middlebury College senior and a reporter for the student newspaper, the Middlebury Campus, which published a December 23 story on Dunn.
But other students immediately felt the list was unfair and still do, Wiener said last week. The controversy comes on the heels of another Middlebury mess that went national last March, when student protesters shut down a talk by The Bell Curve coauthor Charles Murray and injured a professor in the process.
Dunn helped organize that public demonstration, too, calling Murray's race-based theories about intelligence deeply offensive. On November 13, she took part in a "performance activism" piece in front of Proctor called "Laurie's Big Apology. To see the college headed back into the headlines over a new scandal upset a number of alumni, according to Wiener.
Some reached out to him to ask about Dunn's motivations with the list. It didn't help that immediately after the social media blast, the college issued emails to the student body that appeared to take one side, and then the other. The first urged victims to report harassment or assault to the college judicial office. The second urged people falsely accused to report that, too, to the same office. The messages just added to the confusion around the list, Wiener said.
The federal law known as Title IX prohibits Middlebury and other educational institutions from discriminating on the basis of gender. Although it is well known for improving women's access and participation in athletics, the statute also provides guidance on campus judicial reviews of sexual assaults.
College officials would not confirm that Dunn is facing possible sanctions, nor would they say if any of the individuals on the list might be.
A request to interview Patton was denied. But college spokeswoman Sarah Ray offered this statement on her behalf: Our policies encourage reporting of assaults and ensure that allegations are investigated thoroughly, fairly and confidentially. The public posting of allegations raises many issues for our community and has no role in a fair and balanced process. This is not the first time social media has been used in a campus sexual assault allegation. Alec Rose is a Santa Monica, Calif.
He's not representing anyone in connection with the Middlebury incident. One of his clients was recently cleared in a campus judicial review process, and the alleged victim chose not to appeal but later tweeted the young man's name with the accusation that he was a "rapist loose on campus" and that the college was whitewashing that fact, Rose said.
Meanwhile, the accuser could have channeled her anger into an appeal, he added. Using social media as it was in that case, and in others, can be deeply unfair, Rose said: It may be a situation where some of them may not be able to recover their reputation. She hasn't heard from lawyers for any of the accused young men.
Another factor is the veracity of the claim. Meanwhile, some female public figures, including French actress Catherine Deneuve, are warning that the MeToo movement is turning into a witch hunt. Is Middlebury an example of overreach on campuses? Historically speaking, sexual assault has "been a grossly underreported crime," and victims have not felt able to go to the courts for many reasons, Luna said.
A lot of sex assault victims blame themselves. Back at Middlebury, Dunn is waiting to see how the college disciplinary process treats her. Her friends are petitioning against punitive action , and Dunn is applying to law schools. She said she isn't concerned that her activism could adversely affect her chances of getting in. Dunn has heard nothing from the man she personally accused and has never directly told him how she felt about the evening.
Does she think he would view the incident as sexual assault? Reactions from men on the list haven't all been negative. Some of the accused have "glared" at Dunn in the dining hall or said "not very nice" things, she allowed. But others have approached her to discuss the allegations and even said they wanted to create a forum for broader conversation. Tyler McDowell, a junior from Pennsylvania, was accused on the list of making "fetishistic, racist, sexual comments about black women.
Still, he doesn't feel he was treated unfairly. I also would stipulate that other men probably shouldn't, either," said McDowell. The list was a "wake-up call" that should trigger discussion about the need for an end to the behaviors that were described on the list, he added.
It's "one way of broadcasting kind of a general call for culture change. Felicia Kornbluh called posting names a "weapon of the weak.