Thursday, May 07, 2009

Zenith Campus Lockdown: Watching, Waiting and Meditating on Violence Against Women

Well we have a suspect in yesterday's campus shooting at Wesleyan, and there he is on the left. For whatever posts remain in this series, I am forgoing my normal pseudonym for the college, "Zenith," because none of my commentary should be perceived in any way as not-real, or as making light of what is a difficult and shocking situation. Furthermore, I have been alerted by my site meter and by at least one comment that people in our extended community (including parents) are checking this blog for actual news about the brutal murder of Johanna Justin-Jinich.

I'll tell you right up front: I don't know anything that you don't know.

This picture will probably become iconic as the tragedy plays itself out to its predictable finish, where we find out through an attorney, or through a deranged group of documents, that this man "had" to kill Johanna because he "loved" her. The image depicts the perp, marching through Broad Street Books, probably shortly after the murder. In his right hand, which you can't see in this photograph but you can see in others, is a handgun. I do not know whether it is the murder weapon or not, since we are being told that evidence processed at the scene gives the police reason to believe that he is armed. I can only guess -- and I want to emphasize that it is only a guess -- that this means the gun abandoned at the scene (along with the wig he wore to disguise himself long enough so that he could ambush his victim successfully) did not match the ammunition that killed Johanna.

Advocates of the unregulated, Constitutional right to carry a concealed weapon will, undoubtedly argue that Johanna's life might have been saved if everyone in the store had also been carrying, or if Johanna herself had been well-trained in the use of a handgun and was able to draw and fire first. And I just want to tell you in advance: you are completely and totally insane. At no point yesterday, as we stayed in our locked building wondering if a killer was coming up the hill to continue his work did any of us (and at least two of us do know how to handle a weapon, however imperfectly) say to another, "Gee, too bad we don't have a loaded handgun at the office." Turning our university into a shooting gallery won't restore our sense of safety, I'm afraid.

For those of you who don't have fantasies about turning the whole world into the OK Corral, the suspect's name is Stephen Morgan and he is 29. He is (we are now told officially) Johanna's ex-boyfriend from her hometown in Colorado (a former teacher? The reason she was sent to boarding school in Pennsylvania? A summer fling who couldn't let go?) The name "Johanna" and rumors of an angry ex popped up quite early in the crisis on a student blog, which caused me to assume initially that the murderer was another student. I am glad to say that is not true. It also allowed me to stop worrying on at least one other count: I know another female student who was brutally attacked by a male student a couple weeks ago. Although he was expelled, he apparently returned a few days later to throw the fear of G-d into her again because it was, of course, her fault that he had been expelled. But let me qualify what I just said by saying that relief like that is fleeting, because in the end it doesn't matter whether it is a student you know or don't know. They all have friends, families, teachers and webs of people who will mourn them.

As I said above, news I cannot really promise you, however, only my own thoughts and a sense of the climate here. The administration appears to be fully in charge, and the faculty and staff are at home, many of us riding an emotional roller coaster, waiting for news, and fielding phone calls from family and friends. Most of us know nothing worth knowing, although I suspect that Johanna's friends know a great deal about what preceded the tragedy that they are wisely not telling anyone for the time being.

Should this play out as such tragedies often do, eventually I am sure we will hear from someone -- the perp, a defense attorney, shocked relatives and friends of the indicted man -- that he killed her because he "loved" her.

The police are saying that they are "interested in talking to him" because they "believe" he shot her. So let's emphasize: the police are not committing to Morgan's guilt, but they believe in it enough to publish his picture. And if, by any chance, you should see him, or if you met him through Johanna, no matter what he says, assume he is dangerous. Unless Wesleyan is being way overly cautious, the police must have some reason to believe that Morgan -- or whoever the shooter is if it is not Morgan -- is still in the Middletown area, because the campus is still locked down. We got another message at 6:45 this morning telling us not to come to campus, but even if I went to campus I don't think I would know anything. Last night the library was closed, as were several dining halls. The student center was kept open, but then swept at some point. According to this student blog, which is doing a pretty good job of collating the local news and not spreading unfounded rumors, the police stormed one of our seedy motels on the edge of town last night and questioned someone, but no dice.

I'm going to risk speculation here: they can't find him because he's already dead. That is often how these things end.

Things in the larger Wesleyan community are, as far as I can tell, perfectly under control, in the sense that the administration has a plan and is keeping us informed. Simultaneously, we are in complete disarray because we can't do our jobs and we have no idea what, of our tattered classes, can be recouped at this point and how. The end of the semester has its rituals: faculty meetings, thesis presentations, office hours, take-home exams, and a million other things. Everything is on hold for now: with no library, how can they finish their work, even if they are able to concentrate -- and since I can't, I doubt they can either. Many of them will, I am sure, be going home today if they are able to do so.

But can I say one thing? I am sad, but I am also angry. I am sick, sick, sick of men beating, brutalizing and killing women and children, of boys brutalizing their girlfriends, of fathers raping and killing their wives and daughters. All these years after second wave feminists first raised this as a fundamental problem in our culture during the 1970s, the media, the police and our judicial system still treats each of these things like an isolated incident of individual pathology. And there seems to be no organized feminist movement left to insist, in contradiction to this vapid construction, that the hatred of women by men is a systemic cultural and political problem in the United States. I am sick of men who think they acquire ownership rights to women because they fall in "love" with them, men who think that "love" entitles them to do whatever the hell they please to keep women under their control so they can "love" them even more. I am tired right now and have nothing eloquent or intelligent to say on the topic, but if this short rant feeds your feminist outrage too, go to this post by Historiann about the Loyola University tragedy, where Daddy decided that his life wasn't worth living and then imagined that the rest of the family would be better off dead too, a not uncommon scenario. I end with a quote from Historiann's post:

Just curious: how many women and children (especially girl children, as in this case–2 women and one girl were the victims here) have to die before someone notices? One woman is accused of a child murder out in California, and that’s all we hear about all day long. But husbands apparently have carte blanche when it comes to murdering the women and girls who lived in their homes?

What’s your guess, friends? (Are you holding your breath?) If 2,100 women and children are killed simultaneously on live television by their male partners and fathers, even if it’s not by jetliners crashing into buildings, do you think anyone will notice then?


10:00 update: documents have been found. The community has just been informed that "Although [the suspect] apparently had a direct link to the victim but no other connection to the Wesleyan community, we have now been made aware that he expressed threats in his personal journal toward Wesleyan and/or its Jewish students.

10:55 update: A group blog called Jezebel reports that, according to friends, the late Johanna Justin-Jinich's "passions included writing, her work in public health, and women's issues. She had volunteered at various Planned Parenthood offices in Colorado and Connecticut and had a summer internship lined up on Capitol Hill with a women's organization."


JackDanielsBlack said...

Women should learn real self defense --from the NRA, which stands ready to teach all of you how to really defend yourselves. If 2100 beleagured women blew away their tormentors on national TV, do you think anyone would notice? Bet they would.

Anonymous said...

What a horrible tragedy. My thoughts are with you and with the entire Wesleyan community.

Zach said...

Thank you for posting what information you do have, and your thoughts. Several of my coworkers are also Wes grads, and it's this terrible elevator/water-cooler conversation, "have you heard?" "yes, my brother's a senior" etc.
anyway, our thoughts are with you and all wesfolks.

Anonymous said...

More guns are not the solution, the easy access to guns in this country and the poor regulation of firearms in general leads to countless senseless deaths. If Johanna had had a gun I'm not sure it would have changed anything. Maybe she would have been able to shoot her attacker, but that wouldn't have given her her life back.

Arming women doesn't go to the root of the problem of systemic violence against women. The root of the problem is what society teaches men about what constitutes appropriate behavior towards women. Until we address this issue we will continue to see these senseless tragedies.

Susan said...

TR, I'm so glad you reminded us of the larger context. This is an individual tragedy, but the patriarchal assumption that men should possess women -- that women don't have the right to leave them -- makes this part of a larger story.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your words during this tough time. I just wanted to let you know that the picture of the suspect you have up (that Wesleyan sent out) is of the wrong guy-- a sociology professor from Cornell who unfortunately shares a name with the suspect. A picture of the actual suspect is available here:

Anonymous said...

Please change the picture that you've posted in this entry..... it's a mistaken identification of the suspect. Actually a picture of a Cornell Prof. who is also named Stephen Morgan, not Jinich's stalker/boyfriend with the same name.

Anonymous said...

It may be time for you to take a trip over to Twisty's blog. There are many of us who are going to make sure feminism stays front and center.
I am so very sorry for Johanna and all who truly did love her.

GayProf said...

Stay safe.

Leah said...

Thanks for writing about this so eloquently. And given that wesleying's been so overloaded that it's been down more often than not today, I appreciate having the updates here too.

Ahistoricality said...

he expressed threats in his personal journal toward Wesleyan and/or its Jewish students. In skeptical circles there's a concept known as "crank magnetism": someone who believes one absurd, pseudoscientific thing will often, perhaps usually, believe others. Something similar is at work here: lethal misogyny does not exist in isolation but is often accompanied by, even reinforced by, other forms of supremacist and conspiracist belief.

JackDanielsBlack is right: people would notice if women began killing their tormentors in larger numbers. Fox News would probably declare it a "heterosexual genocide," accuse them all of being lesbians and gold-diggers, and question whether women should have the right to guns or the vote.

TR, it's a terrible time, and our thoughts are with you all.

Magda Teter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Digger said...

Apparently she'd been a target of his as early as two years ago at New York U. A target to enough of a point that she reported it. How much did she deal with before taking that step? How much do we all put up with? I can't let the fear of this happening again keep me silent.

TR, thanks for posting.

historiann said...

I find it interesting (and predictable) that the murderer started by using the internet (e-mail) as a tool of harassment. Something to keep in mind, especially for those of us with blogs and high internet profiles.

Wes '03 said...

Prof. Potter, thanks so much for your commentary on this situation. The alumni community is obviously shocked and saddened by what has happened up in Middletown and many of us are trying to follow the story. I appreciate your candid thoughts--they ring true.

Bavardess said...

I'm so sorry you and your students are having to deal with this. I feel sickened and outraged that (as is all too often the case) this poor young woman was been persistently harassed and tormented for years, but nothing gets done until it's too late. You're absolutely right - her murder is the all-too-predictable result of a fundamentally screwed up system.

Knitting Clio said...

Thanks for posting such thoughtful comments. I'm glad the perpetrator has been caught and things are safe at Zenith for now.

Just wanted to mention that from a disability rights perspective, throwing around terms like "insane" is not appropriate. See my post:

Anonymous said...

excellent reminder about chronic and pervasive violence against women. thank you.

Stephen Karlson said...

Another Grad Student, this morning: "The root of the problem is what society teaches men about what constitutes appropriate behavior towards women."

Once upon a time, society had a concept called the gentleman, who learned from early on that smacking women around, let alone shooting them, was not appropriate.

For now, mourn Johanna.

Later, consider whether some of the institutions and traditions that produced gentlemen might have been weakened by supposedly more progressive concepts.

Anonymous said...

My sympathies are with the Wesleyan community during this difficult time. I am sympathetic with the feminist reading of these events and deplore violence in general and directed toward women, in particular. But I might offer a small word of caution. If this individual was mentally ill, and some of the evidence suggests as much, we might want to think a moment before we regard his behavior as symptomatic of larger misogynistic strains in society. Mental illness is, just that, an illness and particularly difficult one in that it can imitate so closely (in an uncanny way) "rational" or socially acceptable choices and decisions within society (no matter how distasteful these behaviors). Pointing to a mentally ill man and associating his behavior as part of a larger social problem of violence toward women is, for me, too close to identifying other kinds of illness with behaviors in society rather than with treatable, medical conditions. I understand that medicine and illnesses are socially constructed and deeply problematic to deconstruct. All I ask for is a bit of patience here especially as distance and disclosure will make issues more clear.

If this man was sick, then the real crime is not not simply against women, but against a society that allowed him to resort to such desperate measures to seek peace in his disturbed mind. That is a society that allowed him to gain access to a gun, to a society from which he was so alienated that he did not receive treatment, and, yes, to a society that makes violence in general and towards women in particular accessible.

Digger said...


He may be mentally ill, that is true. However, the bigger issue is that this kind of thing keeps happening. It keeps happening because somehow, it is "ok" in our society for men to target women -- to beat them, abuse them, kill them. This is most especially ok if the man knows the woman, and even moreso when they are in a relationship. The crime against women, in this case, includes the fact that he'd been harassing her at least two years ago, and despite it being bad enough that she filed a complaint, nothing was done. The fact that the police "couldn't do anything" because Johanna chose not to press charges (there are a million reasons why this might be so) just indicates that the very problem is so pervasive that it has been codified into law.

DCJ said...

This shit is just awful. To the issue of patriarchy and male violence against women, what I wonder is what can actually be done about it. I'm not convinced at all that this is an American cultural issue, or a Western cultural issue, given that male violence against women is endemic around the world, in countries with access to firearms and in countries where firearms are forbidden. In fact, given what I read about in the African newspapers, I wouldn't be surprised if violence against women here is more common than in the States. It just receives less publicity. (As does violence against American women who are non-white and less educated.)

In this instance, I'm more tempted to reach for a biological explanation, combined with a culture of patriarchy that is virtually world-wide. I cannot even begin to fathom how this can be dismantled.

Anonymous said...

Bob Herbert's op-ed column in the NYTimes today calls attention the misogyny and burden of perceived male primacy at the root of violence against women. (Three months to the day after you did, but who's counting.)

Anonymous said...

The Gods offer clues about the ownership group. Not having any blacks working in-house was a clue not only did these proprietors have a family history against blacks but they also have a personal history in a prior life!!! Also, the "romance" event was a clue they are preditory on women as well.
I'm tired of hearing about them.
Carte blanche is a bitch, ain't it?