Following the publication of a story by The Ithacan detailing a no contest plea by Ithaca College President Shirley M. Collado to a sexual abuse charge, the campus community has engaged in a debate about Collado and the ethical implications of The Ithacan publishing the story.
The story is important for its contribution to transparency. It’s unacceptable that the Ithaca College Board of Trustees wasn’t forthright about Collado’s past when they chose to hire her. While for some, such a revelation would have been a violation of Collado’s privacy, those in positions of power however, give up some rights to privacy because it’s important for those they lead to know who they are, possible flaws and all.
In addition, some reactions to the story have followed a dangerous logical thread. A common argument by the story’s critics is that because Collado is likeable and has been a breath of fresh air, we should believe her denial of the sexual abuse allegation. But that attitude opens the door to free passes in the future and saps the community of the will to hold Collado accountable. In addition, complete belief of Collado’s denial rejects her accuser at a time when speaking up about sexual abuse is encouraged.
The argument has also been made that the criticism of Collado following the story is racist and/or sexist. However, the end result of this argument seems to indicate that women of color in positions of power shouldn’t be criticized in any way — a dangerous line of reasoning.
That being said, The Ithacan’s story does have flaws. The original headline was misleading, and The Ithacan scrambled to change it after criticism on social media. The story is also heavy on “he said, she said” reporting and is likely to leave most readers unsure of what actually happened. It’s unclear what could have rectified this, as the story is exhaustively researched, but the “he said, she said” element is still a problem, especially in a story where someone’s reputation is at stake.
While increased transparency and the precedent of listening to accuser’s stories are positive aspects of the article, it’s hard to see what other good the story generates. Given that the patient who accused Collado didn’t want to discuss the case, and that there seems to be no pattern of behavior by Collado that indicates an unfitness to serve as the college’s President, the story might have actually caused some harm. Such harm could include bringing up painful memories for the patient and creating doubt about Collado’s presidency for something that, given the evidence presented, may or may not have happened.
This isn’t to say the article shouldn’t have been written, but that there are pros and cons to the story. What is clear is that the article should be spurring thoughtful discussions about sexual abuse, power and journalistic ethics. And while some of this has taken place, thus far nuance has too often been severely lacking in the debate.