New graduates walk into the chapel before their commencement at Princeton University in June 2013. (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

Like lots of people, Julie List had seen what a fellow Princeton alumna, Susan Patton, had to say in her book about the importance of finding a man at college. (Manicures and weight loss recommended). List held her tongue.

But when she heard that Patton, who has become known as “the Princeton Mom,” had said some date rapes weren’t rape so much as clumsy hookups that could be a “learning experience” for women, List couldn’t take it.

“I became really enraged. I was boiling mad,” said List, a therapist in New York, after hearing about Patton’s December interview on CNN. “She’s basically telling these young women that it’s their fault that they got raped.”

List and a group of alumni from the class of ’78 wrote a letter to the editor, published in the Daily Princetonian, objecting to Patton’s views and to having them linked to the university name.

“Sometimes you just can’t stay silent,” List said.

Patton had touched a nerve — one that was raw not only at Princeton, by any means, but around the country. With scores of colleges under investigation by the federal government for the way they have handled allegations of sexual assault, with the president and member of Congress and countless advocacy groups weighing in, with some particularly horrifying cases making headlines and scores of other allegations simmering within campus communities, it’s a minefield.

Not everyone disagreed with Patton, who is president of the alumni class of 1977.

When List and several other alums, furious, reached out to others, they found that many were quick to sign on to their letter of opposition, more than 100 in a day or so. They also found some who didn’t want to give Patton any more publicity. Some agreed with Patton, or felt the issue was too complicated to just offer a blanket rejection of her views. Some said the culture of drinking and hooking up was a problem too big to ignore; others worried that the pendulum could swing so far toward protecting those claiming rape that it would leave men accused of the crime without recourse.

Patton said some of her comments have been misunderstood: “I have never said that rape is a learning experience. What I said is when women drink a little bit, get a little tipsy, have consensual sex with a man they know they shouldn’t have had sex with and wake up in the morning and think, ‘Oh my God, what did I do?’ — that is not rape. It’s a learning experience. It’s a wake-up call to use better judgment moving forward. To call it rape is an insult to victims of actual rape.”

Ann Daniels, one of the alumni who wrote the letter, said hearing someone advise women to just get up and leave set the whole conversation back. “I don’t want any organization with which I’m affiliated to be associated with comments like that. I think they trivialized date rape, acquaintance rape. I think any form of rape is something that needs to be taken seriously. Rape is a crime that needs to be treated as a crime. The victims of a crime should not be blamed, should not be dismissed. Anything that trivializes any form of rape is very offensive to me.”

When people take the issue seriously, Daniels said, people can do something about it; work on education, work on prevention, work on supporting the victims.

Patton said the issue of assault on campus has been wildly exaggerated. “I don’t think campuses are anywhere nearly as dangerous a place as they’re sometimes reported to be by liberal groups and antagonistic feminists who are just looking to amplify their case.”

She said false accusations are rampant, pointing to well-known allegations that were later discredited, including at the University of Virginia and Duke University. “It’s very troubling to me that nobody seems to be standing with the victims of false accusation,” she said, “and troubling that there are groups of antagonistic feminists that seem to almost be encouraging women to go down that path of victimhood regardless of what actually happened to them. As if there’s some nobility in being victimized. I think it’s terrible. I think it’s dangerous.

“We have to remind women they’re responsible for their own safety; they’re responsible for their own happiness; they ‘re responsible for their own success,” she said. “It’s women’s job to keep themselves safe. Empowerment comes from control, and control comes from taking responsibility for yourself.”

List had been annoyed by Patton’s opinions before, which she thought of as a throwback to an earlier generation, “but at least she wasn’t actively damaging anyone. With this, I strongly felt she was really, really undermining the young women who might have finally gotten the courage to come forward if they were raped by an acquaintance or on a date.” Universities have been trying to make that process easier and more comfortable for women, she said, but they still have a long way to go.

For alums of this time period, the issue had a particular resonance; those who graduated in the 1970s were the first to experience Princeton as a coed institution, in the midst of the feminist movement and the sexual revolution, at a time when it was still controversial to have women in the classrooms there.

David Abromowitz, one of the authors of the letter, said they’re part of “the first generation that went through a lot of these issues on campus. I think a lot of my classmates had the kinds of negative dating experiences that we’re hearing about now and handled it differently. Here’s somebody from the same era with a real throwback attitude — that most of us thought the world had gotten past.”

No one talked about date rape at Princeton back then, some alumni said.Some have, since then. One of their classmates, Tina DeVaron, wrote an opinion piece, 40 years after an alleged acquaintance rape on campus at Princeton.

Many of that generation now have children who are college age, so the issues hit home in a new way, one of the letter-writers said. Patton’s two sons both went to Princeton recently.

List said, “I would like this one woman who has this moniker and wears orange and black during all her interviews to be dissociated from Princeton.”

She didn’t give herself the nickname “the Princeton Mom,” Patton said; she thinks someone in the press did. “But I love the name.” She loves her alma mater, “and the nature of the advice I’m offering is maternal. But no thinking person is going to think I’m speaking for the university or I’m speaking for my class. I’m speaking for myself.”

Besides, she said, Princeton is a place that seeks, and welcomes, a plurality of opinions. “There’s no need to shut down any voice.”

Here’s the letter:

“Date Rape is not a “Learning Experience”: Members of the Class of 1978 Speak Out

We are members of Princeton’s Class of 1978 who feel it necessary to speak up about sexual assault and acquaintance rape in response to the undue repeated attention the media has given to the self-proclaimed “Princeton Mom.” We believe we speak for the great majority of Princeton Moms and Dads — as well as alumni who do not have children — in saying that rape in general and date rape in particular are inexcusable, that rape survivors deserve our help and support, and that anyone who sexually assaults another person should be prosecuted legally.

Unfortunately, the Princeton name continues to be associated with the “Princeton Mom’s” views. In a recent CNN interview, she belittled accusations of rape as merely the aftermath of a “clumsy hookup” and called sexual assault a “learning experience” for young women who drink too much alcohol or who don’t fend off their attackers by explicitly telling them to “Stop and leave.” To fail to challenge such views damages decades of efforts to help women come forward after being sexually assaulted. It suggests to college women — indeed to all women — that it is really their fault that they were raped.

Rape and sexual assault are violent crimes against persons of any gender.  It is particularly disturbing when college students violate the trust of people they know. The mix of social pressure, alcohol and drugs, misguided beliefs about entitlement and power, and unclear messages from peers about what constitutes appropriate approval for sex all contribute to this phenomenon.  Rape survivors may have years of post-traumatic stress disorder, lack of trust in others, depression and anxiety; long-term effects can be exacerbated when the rape is committed by a date or an acquaintance.  We know this first-hand— some of us from personal experience at Princeton and elsewhere, others from the experiences of our children and friends.  And while we know that Princeton, like many other colleges and universities, has been struggling to find the right balance between the rights of the accused and protections for the victims, we believe that for far too long the attitudes of the so-called “Princeton Mom” have pervaded many campuses, even if not spoken as loudly.

Fortunately, we are hardly alone in our opinions. In March 2014, The Daily Princetonian quoted the “Princeton Mom” as comparing a woman who gets raped to someone who doesn’t look both ways before crossing the street and gets hit by a car.  Over 200 faculty members signed an open letter to the paper deriding these comments and expressing their support for survivors of sexual assault on campus. Numerous groups, including the University’s Men Against Violence Resources and Intervention Project and the editorial board of The Daily Princetonian, also spoke out.  In response to her latest comments, U.S. News & World Report asked why CNN “allow[ed] the ‘Princeton Mom’ to air her insulting views on rape?”

Yet the wider world continues to see this woman dressed in orange and black associating her out-of-touch personal beliefs with our alma mater. We—along with many other alumni— see these views as outrageous and unworthy of being associated with Princeton. We ask the Princeton administration to continue its efforts to create a campus climate whereall accusations of sexual assault are treated with the seriousness they deserve, and we invite those who share our views to raise their voices to join ours.”

Read other topics being debated in campus papers these days here.