I’m a middle-aged reporter who likes working alongside younger colleagues. My boss asked me to be a mentor so many times that we jokingly decided I’d just take the title of “mentor-at-large” for the endless rotation of cub reporters near my desk.
It never occurred to me there’d be a downside until six months ago, when Human Resources called to deliver the news that I was being laid off, effective immediately.
As I awkwardly packed up my desk, I noticed that the young reporter sitting nearest to me had begun to cry as people came over to my desk to say goodbye. She was a sweetheart, just out of grad school.
Big girls, I demonstrated wordlessly as we hugged goodbye, don’t cry.
I’ve thought about her since, and about the look of horror on her face when she realized something bad was happening. I was deeply touched.
When I was her age, my feelings betrayed me at work, too. Countless people told me I needed to develop a thicker shell. Like most people, I eventually learned what the adult world expected and tried to conform.
Making it through that narrow passageway from college to adulthood can be a tough trip. Some have a harder time than others.
The Tyler Clementi case is a recent reminder of how emotionally-brutal, as well as criminal, dealings among college students can be. Clementi, a Rutgers student, committed suicide after a roommate used a webcam to spy on his sexual encounter with another man in a dorm room.
Earlier this month, a jury found the roommate guilty of 15 criminal charges, including invasion of privacy and anti-gay intimidation.
The It Gets Better Project, which is aimed at gay, lesbian and other youths who are targets of bullying, is an effort to reassure young people like Clementi that social and peer pressure eases by adulthood.
But there’s no such project aimed at young women like Lizzy Seeberg, a St. Mary’s College freshman who reported being sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player in 2010.
Seeberg, 19, also committed suicide, apparently overwhelmed by the threats and wall of resistance she encountered when she implicated a student athlete.
Melinda Henneberger’s story in The National Catholic Reporter says that the college revamped its sexual assault policy after the incident triggered an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office.
The article notes it was the first time in 30 years the federal government launched such an investigation without a formal complaint being filed.
After a seven-month investigation into how all cases are handled at the school, Notre Dame agreed to make policy reforms to get out in front of a potential loss of federal funds. But the gap between words and actions is such that Seeberg is still portrayed on campus as emotionally fragile and sexually aggressive, which seems a throwback to a dated hysterical female stereotype.
It's a reflex among colleges and universities that don't want any stains on their reputation. And it's one reason the federal government established the Jeanne Clery Act, which requires that they take certain steps to disclose crime information on and near campuses. First passed in 1990, the act is named for a student who was raped and murdered in her dorm at Lehigh University in 1986.
Had Clementi lived, he would have seen his roommate convicted on 15 criminal counts. Perhaps he would have taken some measure of comfort in the jury’s decision.
Had Seeberg lived, one wonders what she'd have thought of the justice system.
Lori Stahl is a Texas journalist who covers politics. Follow her on Twitter @LoriStahl.