Ruth George's murder happened in my second home. From 2001 to 2016, I attended school, worked, and remained in affiliation with the University of Illinois at Chicago. Throughout my tenure as a student and employee, I parked my car in the exact lot where police discovered George's body.
Although I live in Antigua, the news of the crime felt like it happened in my backyard. From 2013 to 2016, I worked in the Honors College as a Post-doctoral Fellow in Teaching and Mentoring; I taught undergraduate courses and advised students. Ruth George, the nineteen-year-old undergraduate Honors student, murdered in the university parking lot, could have been a student in my class.
As the case develops, the known details should make your stomach turn. According to news sources, Ruth walked past a train station when she received an unwanted catcall. She ignored the man who then followed her to the school’s parking lot at 1:34 AM. In the university’s lot, he raped and strangled her in the backseat of her car.
The story made me upset. I thought about Ruth’s family and how distraught they must feel. My daughter’s future as a potential college student also ran through my mind. Then I thought about the young man accused of this crime and wondered how we failed to reach him.
Similar to other men, including myself, the alleged perpetrator was educated to ignore, “no.” We teach and reward young men for their perseverance in school, athletics, romantic relationships, and business. Dominant masculinity paradigms also inform us that violence is necessary when other measures don't produce results.
I am not excusing this man’s decisions to rape and murder. By no means can we justify the crime that took a young woman’s life. Ruth deserved to live and experience a full life without assault. We must use this unfortunate tragedy as a teachable moment for our young men.
Along with my wife, I talked with my boys about the importance of accepting rejection. They are six and seven years old, but I told them, "when a girl says no, that's it. You don't kiss, touch, or pursue them any further." I am sure that we will have to revisit this conversation multiple times into their adulthood, but I am laying the foundation now. I suggest you have a similar conversation with your children, students, and mentees.
Rejection should not lead to sexual assault and homicide. We must do better to encourage young men in understanding, that verbal and physical abuse is not the remedy to hurt feelings. Walk away, get your frustration out at the gym, talk with a mentor, pray, meditate, listen to music, do whatever it takes short of harming another person. There is always a healthy and productive solution to being ignored.
This week, let’s make it a priority to have a conversation with one boy or man who will listen. Use this tragic case to engage in real talk about sexual violence. We must do better in treating women with the respect that comes with their birthright to thrive and live full lives.
My thoughts and prayers are with the family of Ruth George and the University of Illinois at Chicago’s community.