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`Thresher' editors guilty for role in `Trasher'
by Joel Hardi
Marty Beard's distribution on campus two weeks ago of 3,060 copies of a letter of apology to 1997 Hanszen Alumna Allison Price Fine made startingly public what had been widely rumored at Rice since last spring -- that Beard and Vivek Rao, 1996-'97 editors in chief of the Rice Thresher , had been found guilty of sexual harassment and harassment for publishing an April Fools' Day parody publication called the "Rice Trasher."

Beard, then a junior, and Rao, then a senior, were found in May by Assistant Dean for Student Judicial Affairs Patricia Bass to have violated Rice's sexual harassment policy by publishing an "article" titled "Alice N. Whine makes `Hustler'" which mocked the September 27, 1996 Thresher article "Fine honored as one of top 10 `Glamour' '96 College Women."

Beard and Rao claimed that the "Trasher" article was a parody of the previous article and not intended to harm Fine, who argued it was meant to retaliate for her involvement in organizing an open forum to discuss the November 8, 1996 Thresher backpage titled "Rice Women are Like ..." and the campus climate for women.

Fine stated in her final statement to the Judical Affairs subcommittee which heard the case that the "Trasher" article "substantially interfered with my welfare and academic performance and created an intimidating, hostile, offensive and demeaning educational environment." The article, she held, included graphic sexual commentaries about her, such as describing the criteria for a " Hustler Top Tit list" as "willingness to hook up," "blow job proficiency, followership, mindless giggling [and] breast size."

Beard said that the sexual nature of the piece was not meant to single out Fine, because the entire 1997 "Trasher" had a sexual theme. She also confirmed that the "Trasher" staff felt that substituting Hustler for Glamour was an appropriate way to spoof the original article, because both magazines focus on images of the female body. Beard and Rao argued that the article's fake names and outrageousness made it obviously untrue and satirical, and that parodying a public figure is protected under the First Amendment.

Rao, a graduating senior, was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service before he could receive a final transcript while Beard was initially suspended for a semester, put under disciplinary probation for the remainder of her time at Rice and ordered to perform community service as well. Both students maintained their innocence and appealed to Vice President for Student Affairs Zenaido Camacho, but he allowed the decision to stand.

Beard's suspension was deferred, however, by Camacho, on the condition that she distribute an approved apology letter, and that she serve on an ad hoc committee charged with examining the Thresher 's relationship to the University.

Beard's letter broke the rule of confidentiality that governs all student disciplinary matters in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. Rao said he is outraged that his rights were violated.

"Now that it's gone public like this, people are going to get the wrong impression of my character," Rao said. "This could interfere ... with my ability to pursue a career in medicine. Sexual harassment is a very serious concern." Rao feels that, because Beard's letter was part of her punishment and Camacho approved its wording, the university is at fault. "It's one thing for the participants -- the students -- to make this info public, but it's another thing entirely for the university to do so."

The Thresher decided not to report the story in depth because so many of the people concerned declined to comment. Future reports will follow.

This item appeared in the News section of the September 19, 1997 issue.

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