Emory Report

Mar. 1, 1999

 Volume 51, No. 22

College women defy 'victim' label applied by media

Female college students spend their days dodging stalkers, rapists, unethical doctors and con artists. At least that's what you might believe depending on your reading habits.

Consider the form letter my office recently received from a glossy women's magazine. According to the letter, the editors were looking for "strong narrative stories" involving young women, so they decided to reach out to college public relations folks for story ideas because we are "really in touch with the lives and concerns" of their readers.

Here are some direct quotes on what they're looking for:

  • "Tragedies: Why did a brilliant, beautiful young person commit suicide or live so riskily (sic) he/she came to an untimely end?
  • True crimes: the murder, rape, stalking, conning of young women
  • Muckraking stories: women mistreated in medical experiments that prey on financially needy campus women; opportunistic lawyers who bring bogus sex harrassment (sic) lawsuits; young women fighting anything from environmental dangers to lecherous professors
  • Stereotype-busting twists on old stories: young woman put herself through grad school by working for escort service" (Oh, in magazine-ese, if you claim to be "busting a stereotype," that means you can perpetrate it throughout the piece.)

The theme of "women-who-put-themselves-through-college-by-working-as-prostitutes" is especially popular among the media. Several years ago I received a call from a local TV reporter who wanted to interview female students about the "fact that they no longer had to work as prostitutes to pay for their college education"--they now had work-study programs as an alternative! This "news" story was to serve as a tie-in to an "entertainment" program on the same topic to air that evening--undoubtedly based on a true story.

The reporter was indignant that I would not allow her to interview and videotape female students working in our financial aid office. She argued that I would be helping young women to understand that they now had choices in life.

But according to most of what I read and observe in the media, young women primarily have but one "choice" and that's to be a victim. Not the young women I know. My college public relations colleagues and I are indeed in "touch with the lives and concerns" of our students, and here are just a few of the stories we can tell about our top female scholars:

At Emory, Humanitarian Award recipient and nursing student Rebecca Mikell organized a bilingual "Buckle Your Baby Day" campaign in Atlanta, was recognized by the veterans' community for her service to VA Medical Center patients and clocked more than 350 hours of service at the DeKalb Rape Crisis Center. This summer she will join a medical team traveling to Honduras for an outreach program.

Recent graduate Alicia Moore was the first national female recipient of the Jostens Trophy presented to NCAA Division III student-athletes for achievement in basketball, academics and community service. She's now attending medical school at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

Spelman College senior Nabulungi Mack-Williams, who is majoring in French/ pre-medicine, has volunteered in the Grady Hospital labor and delivery unit for three years, has mentored Washington Elementary School students, and is planning the first Lupus Awareness Week at Spelman this March. She performs with the African Cultural Dance Company of Atlanta and danced at the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

Georgia Tech's Melissa Byrd co-chaired a citywide community service day last fall called TEAM Buzz, in which nearly 1,400 volunteers worked on 30 projects including sorting food at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, renovating a playground at the Chinese Culture Center and planting trees.

Kennesaw State University's (KSU) Diana Cofelice, mother of two boys ages 10 and 12, is a Spanish major who plans to earn her PhD and teach at the university level. Cofelice is president of Kennesaw's Golden Key National Honor Society and has involved the group with the local center of the Georgia Devereux Treatment Network. The center cares for residents, ages 12-18, who are wards of the state. One of the group's goals is to introduce the young residents to the KSU campus so they will consider a university education as a possibility for their future.

It's a fact that all of us will be victims at some point in our lives, in one form or another. As a woman I am well aware of both a young woman's vulnerability and her resiliency. I don't know if any of these women have been "victimized" yet, but if they have, they apparently do not allow those experiences to label or define them.

That's the reason you're unlikely to ever see their personal stories in glossy magazines or on your TV screen.

Nancy Seideman is director of University Communications. This article first appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Return to March 1, 1999, contents page