OPINION | Faced with controversy, Erica Woodley should resign

Setah Alavi, Staff Columnist

Will Embree

Erica Woodley serves as the associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Tulane University. Among her many roles and responsibilities, she oversees Case Management and Victim Support Services, a resource that provides support to Tulane students who have been sexually assaulted, stalked, hazed or have been victims of domestic abuse and other crimes.

In a recent article published by The Tulane Hullabaloo, students anonymously shared their experience with sexual assault on campus. More than 20 stories were published in the article and among those, two students cited encounters with Woodley after reporting that they suspected that they had been drugged.

Rather than offering support and empathy to these students, these students accused Woodley of gaslighting and victim-blaming. According to the testimonies, Woodley accused these students of drinking too much and lying about being drugged.

Woodley’s response to these two instances brings into question her authority and role as an administrator whose top priority should be the well-being of the students she serves. Moreover, these testimonies are cause for concern that these were not isolated incidents. 

A petition calling for Woodley’s removal has already gained over 800 signatures and multiple comments condemning Woodley’s actions. One person recounted their own experience with Woodley, commenting, “She did the same to me. I believe her words were ‘you’re bigger than [them]. If [they] tried something you could just stop [them].’”

Woodley’s actions are inexcusable and irreconcilable, an unfortunate example of victim-blaming. Victim-blaming is the dangerous act of blaming the victim for their abuse, rather than the abuser for their actions. Blaming victims can have debilitating psychological impacts. It can make victims much less likely to seek the psychological treatment that may be necessary as a result of abuse. It also allows the abuser to continue their actions by avoiding being held accountable, perpetuating rape culture.

It may be easy to sympathize with Woodley as her role includes responsibilities that cover a wide range of administrative duties at Tulane. With overseeing student conduct, the Goldman Center for Student Accessibility, Case Management and Victim Support Services and the Office of Parent Programs, there is no doubt that Woodley, like all Tulane faculty and administrators, has a lot on her plate.

However, Woodley is also well-aware of her impact on the student body. In July of this past year, she told Tulane News, “I’m lucky to have a job where I can literally make a difference in someone’s life every single day. I can help a student see where they are getting off track a little bit, or in more serious situations – help a student and their family through whatever difficult circumstances they may be facing.”

If Woodley truly understands the depth of her impact on the Tulane community and has altruistic intentions, then her conduct would be drastically different. Yet, based on the numerous testimonies of students, she does not take her influence seriously, and it is deeply troubling that she continues to hold a role that allows her to act in a way that perpetuates rape culture and victim blaming.

Tulane has very high sexual assault rates, with 41% of female-identifying undergraduate students having reported being sexually assaulted, as of 2018. This rate is much higher than the national average of 20% of female-identifying undergraduate students found in a study by the Association of American Universities.

It is clear that the issue of sexual assault on Tulane’s campus is not just “an issue everywhere.” The sexual assault rates on Tulane’s campus are significantly higher than the national average. It is an issue that can be tied to an administration that allows for the perpetuation of rape culture and the blaming of victims.

Even if Woodley were to completely change the way that she interacts with students that come to her seeking support from here on out, Woodley cannot undo the harm that she has caused to the students that reported it. 

It is not just the students who have been directly affected by Woodley’s actions that are speaking out; others are doing so as well. Numerous comments condemning Woodley’s actions are found on the petition. Comments include, “This Dean is disgusting,” “She is not doing her job,” “Victim blaming is never ok!” and “There is a huge rape problem at Tulane that is not being fixed and [Woodley’s resignation] is one step to do so.”

The students that shared their stories, and potentially many more, have to walk around Tulane’s campus every day knowing that their institution does not have their back. The closest thing to reconciliation that Woodley could offer to those she has harmed is resignation.