In the Clouds | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

In the Clouds

Tailpipe has noticed that college campuses tend to drift into a kind of cerebral über world, where young men and women, intoxicated with the poems of Sylvia Plath or the principles of cantilevered bridges or managerial techniques in a pre-recessionary economy, suffer diminished skills at simple tasks. You've seen it. Suddenly people can't remember how to cross the street or unlock their apartment doors. It's a benign malady that unfortunately starts to affect college professors and administrators.

Tailpipe has also noticed that the malady becomes less benign when the real world intrudes in a brusque, jostling way.

Such was apparently the case last fall on the Boca Raton campus of Florida Atlantic University. At 1 p.m. on October 21, 2005, a female student was walking near the Glades Road entrance to campus when she was sexually assaulted by a suspect described as "a muscular black male in his 20s." FAU responded by issuing a police crime alert to the student body — two weeks later. (The university says that Hurricane Wilma, which landed a few days later, slowed their response.)

A small cadre of student feminists, dissatisfied with the school's lack of urgency, thought that a campus rape required a stronger response. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon: When one of your campus colleagues gets raped, a woman should do something about it. But it's hard to get people worked up on this vast, windy campus with its sterile white buildings. The feminists organized a demonstration — and 15 people showed up. Naturally, the school administration didn't respond at all.

FAU senior Tara Laxer and women's studies graduate student Stephanie Kunkel plowed ahead. They launched a letter campaign asking the university to meet with them to discuss the rape. When the two finally did succeed in getting face time with university officials, their requests for campus improvements were met with refusal. "They basically said there was no funding," says Laxer. "But I found out that they received a million-dollar donation from their alumni center two days before meeting."

What did the feminists want? Better campus lighting. Of course, Tailpipe doesn't have to ply FAU's walkways at night, but the demand for lighting seemed irrelevant to a rape that occurred in broad daylight. Nevertheless, the university changed its tune, promising to create the new infrastructure that the women had asked for, pledging half a million bucks to improve lighting on campus.

As for the rape investigation itself, university spokeswoman Kristine McGrath insisted that FAU was doing all it needed to do. "This is obviously an isolated incident," she told the 'Pipe in January.

Yes, except that at 12:30 p.m. on February 26, 2006, another woman was raped at FAU, the circumstances of the assault suspiciously similar to the first. This time the crime alert was emailed to the student body two days after the fact. Things were looking up. The description of the rapist was similar to the first one — though it was so broadly drawn that it could probably apply to half the black men in Broward County.

FAU President Frank T. Brogan, a Jeb Bush appointee who lives in a 14,000-square-foot domed mansion in the middle of the campus, gave the student body a heads up: "It goes without saying that this week's reported sexual assault is an act we will not tolerate at our University." Way to go, Frank. You're doing a heckuva job.

The student activists are at last seeking other solutions. Forget the lights, they say now. "The lighting issue is really not the issue, because we know that the rapes happened during the day," Laxer says. Now, they're pushing for a student wellness center, to allow more rape victims to come forward — which, the 'Pipe says, is a fine way to comfort the victims but a backasswards way to prevent rapes.

Fortunately, the administration is putting on its thinking cap and considering creative approaches. In preparation for another meeting with Laxer and Kunkel on March 17, the administration bounced one no-nonsense rape-prevention idea off them: "They've proposed getting all the students mace," Laxer says. "I told them that no, that probably wasn't a good idea — you'd have thousands of students spraying each other."

Tailpipe wants to throw another idea into the mix. Take that $500,000 and hire some campus security. It's a time-honored approach.


As New Times went to press Tuesday, Tailpipe learned of a breaking development in the FAU rape case: According to an e-mail from FAU President Brogan, sent at 5:30 p.m., the February 26 rape never happened. "It became clear to the investigators that the reported sexual assault never occurred," Brogan noted.

The Palm Beach Post reported that the alleged victim of the rape admitted to police that the intercourse was consensual, FAU Chief of Police Will Ferrell said.