The post, originally published on the evening of Oct. 9, 2018, was an article written by a Franciscan University alumna titled “Franciscan University vows to stop sexual assault, but victims need convincing” about the university’s mishandling of sexual abuse on campus.
The article included several female students’ stories in graphic detail and sparked an angry and proactive response. This came out in harsh online conversations as well as a petition to remove the assistant vice president of student life.
The group, public since 2013, was created to address student questions and promote the Franciscan community’s online presence. It consisted of current students, alumni, faculty and potential students, and it required a few entrance questions to ensure authenticity of members and continue its mission of serving the community.
After the debatable post, many members became enraged at employee Catherine Heck, assistant vice president of student life, who was referenced to in the article as being incapable of performing her job to the satisfaction of sexual assault victims. The conversation focused around whether the author of the article was credible, whether the story should have been written in the first place and whether the university is doing enough to handle Title IX abuses.
By the time the post reached 46 comments that night, admins became concerned at the abusive language and controversy it was creating. They turned off the comments.
Administrator Rachael Alexander posted on Oct. 10 at 1:14 a.m. that the admins “turned off comments temporarily on the original post because we felt that the attitude of some of the comments was nasty, combative, or argumentative.” She further explained that the admins would be meeting the following day to discuss the issue further.
This led to posts from students, such as: “I thought that this was called Frannies Talk To Each Other, not Frannies Shut Conversations Down.”
On Oct. 10, before the admins were able to meet, the group was archived by former admin and graduate student Joe Antoniello, and all posting was disabled.
The admins have since decided to leave it archived indefinitely. Rachael Alexander said, “There’s other places people can go to talk about this issue. The issue addressed … needs to be discussed, but maybe Frannies Talk to Each Other, or Facebook in general, isn’t the best place to talk about it. Off of Facebook people are less likely to insult each other.”
Since the archiving of “Frannies Talk to Each Other,” many groups have sprung up, ranging from “Frannies Talk about Frannies Talk to Each Other,” to “Frannies Talk 4 Each Other.” Most popular of these so far is “Frannies Talk Two” with 230 members, created on Oct. 10.
The tag line for the new page is, “You want freedom. You have freedom. Try not to be rude, but that’s up to you. Nothing posted here reflects the views of the admin(s). Every person’s comments and posts are their own responsibility.”
A Facebook profile with the name Bob Anderson, a member of this group, began a petition against Heck on Oct. 11, 2018. Within the first three days, it had received over 1,000 signatures. It stood at 1,100 as of Monday, Oct. 15.
Fliers appeared on campus the same day, branded “To Heck with Heck,” which were taken down by members of the university faculty and staff within a few hours. Several professors and faculty members called it “verging on harassment,” and students continued to post about lack of freedom of speech.
According to university administration, the signs violated the qualification from the Student Handbook that signs be “consistent with the University’s identity and mission as a Catholic Franciscan institution” because they publicly degraded one individual. They also did not contain the full name of the sponsoring group, as required by the handbook.
Notably absent in Bob Anderson’s profile, as pointed out by multiple posts and questions in the group, is anything to identify him. He maintains no profile picture, friends or association with the university. It is assumed he has adopted this identity in order to remain anonymous.
Anderson posted on “Frannies Talk Two”: “In order to clear up any misunderstanding, the point of the petition is to not hate on Cathy Heck. … Please do not hate on her, but in the end things need to change and replacing her is just a step in the right direction.”
The next day, students began to voice concerns about who Anderson is and where the petition is going when Anderson is finished. Group administrator Joseph Patrick commented on Anderson’s most recent post, “Bob, when are you going to deliver the petition? To whom?”
Several group admins then privately messaged Anderson, asking him to clarify exactly what he would do with the petition.
Marilynn Marie, a group admin who graduated in 2015, said on Oct. 13 that Anderson messaged her the following: “An online petition is a useful tool in bringing things to light in hopes of changing the problem of corruption within the administration … That’s why the petition was made, so as more people sign it the hope is that more people will come to the school (administration). No further action is necessary.”
However, on the following day, Oct. 14, Anderson updated the petition description to indicate that the petition will in fact seek to remove Heck, as well as “call … for added measures to better educate the student body as to make campus a safer place for everyone.” He further wrote: “We want to make it clear we are not trying to destroy Franciscan, we are trying to uphold the virtues it was founded on.”
Anderson confirmed this with the Troubadour in a message, saying, “We have recently reached out to the university and are waiting for a response.”
The Franciscan administration, when asked by the Troubadour, pointed students to the Policy on Discrimination, Harassment, and Sexual Misconduct on the university website that covers all aspects of sexual misconduct, including unwanted advances, dating violence, consent, and a detailed list of reporting options and resources.
In a letter sent out to all students in April 2018 and updated in August 2018, as well as an article published in the Franciscan magazine entitled “A Safe Home,” administration clarified that over the past seven years, the University “has reviewed all existing policies and procedures regarding sexual misconduct, strengthening or clarifying them when needed.” Since then, almost two dozen new programs have gone into effect at Franciscan to educate and ensure the safety of students.
One example is the Dignity Project, which is an ongoing effort to prevent sexual assault on campus. The project is hosting ALIVE, the local Sexual Violence Advocacy Center, on campus with an information table and workshops the week of Oct. 15-19, including educational seminars and a self-defense class.
The online controversy has sparked discussion, and Franciscan students are seeking resolution and a way to prevent sexual abuses in order to build up the community. Yet the bigger question from most students is what their own and their peers’ roles are in that goal.
While it remains to be seen what the university’s response will be to Anderson’s petition, students hope there will be an adequate platform for them to respectfully engage in dialogue. Whether that will be on Facebook’s “Frannies Talk Two” remains to be seen.