Students graded on #MeToo accounts of sexual assault for COM assignment

Other classes were given the freedom to write what they wanted

Updated: March 24, 2:02 a.m.

Students in Professor Jay Atkinson's CO201 class were asked to write memoirs about personal experiences related to the #MeToo movement. They were told to specifically write about their experiences with sexual assault or LGBTQ+ discrimination.

"The memoire just had to relate to the #MeToo movement or LGBTQ+ issues, it didn’t necessarily have to be negative," said Tessa Richardson, a freshman advertising major in Atkinson's class. "The assignment as it was presented to my class was to write a piece that was partially a personal memoire and partially reported material from an expert source. The scope of the assignment was limited because Jay wanted us to focus on learning about newsworthiness and the narrative arc."

Students in the class said for the assignment, not only did they have to write about their experience, but also consult experts who could comment on their stories.

Later, they had to read aloud their drafts to their class. This situation made the assignment and class environment much more uncomfortable than it ever was before.

Atkinson read and checked over their drafts, but for some, the critiques on their work were not what was expected. Atkinson wrote commentary based on the content of their story, rather than their written work.

Students did not know that this was not a normal assignment. Most CO201 classes include memoir assignments.

A second student in the class said today that students attempted to pitch other stories, including ones about mental health, but Atkinson said they could not use those ideas.

"The people I talked to– we just assumed it was part of the curriculum," said the second student. "The stories he showed to us from last year, although they weren't on this topic, they were tragedies."

"While I acknowledge that some students could have been made uncomfortable by the assignment and regret that, I really hope Jay doesn’t have to deal with serious repercussions," said Richardson. "I do hope that the visibility of this incident can help students and faculty work together to find a conscientious way to integrate real-world issues like sexual harassment with class curriculum."

Ryan Thurston, the Title IX Coordinator for the College of Communication, emailed the class Thursday, stating the assignment will no longer be graded and is asking for their help:

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"Due to several issues, we are asking that you submit the assignment, with instructor comments, to me as soon as you can," stated the email. "I want to stress that you are not in trouble and we are not looking to gather information on any experience you have written about."

Thurston also listed a number of resources for students to contact if they wanted to talk about the content of their assignments, including arranging a meeting with him.

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At this time, the matter is still under investigation by COM officials, but students in Atkinson's class do not know what will happen.

"We don't know what is going to happen," said the second student. "Are we going to have him the rest of the semester?"

We will update this article as more information is released.

We additionally note that as this is still an investigation, students who talked with us who wished to remain anonymous will remain unnamed.

Feature image taken by Kai Medina.

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