Finger Lakes Times: Remember empathy

Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2014 5:00 am | Updated: 3:07 pm, Mon Jul 21, 2014.

Julia Hoyle

Ever since last Sunday morning, when I was awoken by my spouse to read “Reporting Rape, and Wishing She Hadn’t,” my mind has been spinning.

I have seen hatred directed at Hobart and William Smith Colleges for what Anna underwent. I have heard Anna attacked as a liar. I have read many online comments, including one from a Hobart alum who claims “the school is being blamed for finding the accused innocent. The school’s investigators, GPD detectives, and afterwards the family’s lawyers all reached the same conclusion that she gave a false story.”

Anna is not a liar. And the uncomfortable truth, the reason my head is spinning, is that her account of sexual violence is not unique. The statistics are unsettling, that one-fourth of all women will be victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault, that many men and women who report sex crimes to the police will not bring the case to court and, for the few who do, even fewer guilty verdicts are given. A rape kit holds evidence to support a victim’s story, but did you know that after 30 days it is burned if the victim has not yet pressed charges? It is one of a laundry list of ways in which our justice system too often fails victims.

These facts are so disturbing that we try to take refuge in arguments of “true” and “false” rather than confront the harsh realities of Anna’s story, the horror that one person could so violently attack another. But in this reaction, and in comments like the Hobart alum’s and so many others on social media, we forget empathy in our effort to inflame the emotions of others.

Why is that so important? Because empathy does not let us forget Anna or our role in what happened to her and will happen to another woman or man as I am typing this. Empathy should humble us, make us step down from our soapbox and talk to the people around us. Empathy makes us human, and ultimately allows us to make our world and ourselves better.

It is in our empathy that I see hope in Anna’s story. Conversation, openness and courage will help change the HWS community in a positive way because empathy makes us uncomfortable and makes us think about our justice systems, both on campus and in the courtroom. Think about why we have these systems: to protect victims and the greater aims of our society.

So in the back-and-forth banter between the two sides fighting over HWS and Anna, do not forget empathy. For me it always leads back to two Quaker queries that our entire community of current students, alums professors and other professionals of the Finger Lakes would do well to reflect upon: Do I weigh my day-to-day activities for their effect on peace-keeping, conflict resolution and the elimination of violence? Am I working toward eliminating aggression at all levels, from the personal to the international?

These are not about “true” or “false,” this story, or any other; they are simply about doing better. There should be no quarrel with that. We can make Hobart and William Smith Colleges a safer place for all students, but it requires deep reflection and at times being uncomfortable.

Julia Hoyle graduated from William Smith College in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies and French & Francophone studies. After working abroad in Senegal and France she has returned to Geneva and currently is the assistant winemaker at Sheldrake Point Winery on Cayuga Lake.


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