UWM lecturer responds after petition calls for her termination over Facebook comments

Updated: Jul 5, 2020 12:39 PM CDT 

Milwaukee (CBS) ---University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee senior lecturer and Wisconsin Air Guard colonel Betsy Schoeller has since made a personal statement regarding the death of specialist Vanessa Guillen after her Facebook comment went viral this weekend. 

Schoeller apologized for her comments and said her original post was "interpreted out of context." Schoeller stated she was making a point about what women face in a culture of "sexual harassment and misogyny." 

The full statement can be read below: 

"First, may I please offer my sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of Specialist Vanessa Guillen. I am deeply sorry for your loss and pray that you find justice, and over time, some solace and peace.

I’d also like to offer my sympathies to all victims, women and men, of sexual harassment and sexual assault. NO ONE deserves to suffer this violation, under ANY circumstances.

When I was on a private Facebook page for veterans, I saw the article about SPC Guillen’s death and was shocked, horrified, and sickened by the tragic loss of this beautiful woman soldier. It was so brutal and so senseless. Senseless. We all try to make sense of these kinds of events. I continued reading, hoping to find some meaning in what others were writing about the article.

That’s when I saw a posting written by Zach Bigger, who was clearly searching for meaning as well. He was asking questions about ‘how’ this could have happened, and ‘why’. I knew immediately how and why. Because of the continued culture of sexual harassment in the military.

So, I posted a reply to Zach Bigger, “Sexual harassment is the price of admission for women into the good ole boy club. If you’re gonna cry like a snowflake” (or any other demeaning term), “you’re gonna pay the price.” I did not mean to imply that this is how I feel. I was giving voice to the messaging that women hear in the culture of sexual harassment: The message we receive from the culture is not only will you suffer from sexual harassment, if you squawk about it, you will suffer even more. Because it isn’t just the sexual harassment. That’s just the beginning. Then comes the agonizing decision about reporting. Or not reporting. The pressure applied by friends who know about it and only want to help. Having to ultimately stand up to that culture of sexual harassment on your own. Adding suffering on top of suffering. Some endure continued harassment and assault, being forced to work with the perpetrator. Sometimes even death. The sexual harassment culture is still here. That’s the ‘why’ I was looking for.

I am shocked and saddened that my original post was interpreted out of context.

The point I was making is that this is what women are facing in a culture of sexual harassment and misogyny.

It’s not easy to be a woman in the military. Not easy at all. There are some men who have adapted to the idea of working alongside women, but there are just as many who have not. I’ve seen many attempts to squash this harassment culture from the military. Zero tolerance. Reporting procedures. Trained personnel to help guide victims through the process. Sensitivity training for all personnel. Films. Discussions. Focus groups. Role playing. Sometimes as often as every six months. Always hoping that the next thing will be the one to make a difference. Somehow there was always one more case. Now SPC Guillen was dead. And I knew why. Because the culture of sexual harassment was still alive and well, despite our best efforts.

I do not believe in or support sexual harassment. Quite the opposite. I’ve seen the toll it takes on individuals and entire units. But I know it’s still here. Because SPC Guillen is not here.

Again, I am so sorry my words were misinterpreted. I hope this message provides the context that was missing from my original Facebook posting. Individuals cannot change the system alone. We need to stand together to be strong and to focus our energies on making sure that what happened to SPC Vanessa Guillen doesn’t happen to anyone else ever again."

Updated: Jul 5, 2020 11:19 AM CDT

MILWAUKEE (CBS) -- The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has since updated its statement regarding the social media post by its senior lecturer and Wisconsin Air Guard colonel Betsy Schoeller referring to the murder of Vanessa Guillen. 

UWM said they do not condone the comments, calling them "repugnant and terribly at odds" with the university's values.

"Betsy Schoeller, a senior lecturer at UWM, made comments via her personal Facebook page that are beyond thoughtless. They are repugnant and terribly at odds with UWM’s values. UWM in no way condones Ms. Schoeller’s comments, and we understand and empathize with the outrage and concerns we are hearing.

The murder of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen is horrifying. There can be no excuse or rationalization for the killing of SPC Guillen and the circumstances surrounding this tragedy. UWM is proud to be the largest educator of veterans in the state of Wisconsin and stands in solidarity with those opposed to violence against women, and anxiously awaits justice for SPC Guillen and her family. 

There are legal reasons why UWM cannot fire Ms. Schoeller for her social media postings, as some have demanded. This type of speech is protected by the First Amendment, as UWM cannot regulate the private speech of its employees.  

We are committed to a safe, welcoming and inclusive campus, and this includes support for anyone affected by sexual violence, as well as military members and veterans. UWM offers several support services for sexual violence survivors, including confidential resources as well as survivor-empowered reporting options. UWM also takes its Title IX obligations to ensure a community free of sex discrimination seriously. Please see our Title IX webpage for more information: uwm.edu/titleix/what-is-title-ix/. UWM also offers robust and meaningful support for veterans and active military through the Military and Veterans Resource Center (MAVRC) (uwm.edu/mavrc), which has operated at UWM since 2012.

We encourage any student affected by or concerned about this situation to seek out campus resources, including MAVRC, the Dean of Students Office, and the Norris Health Center’s University Counseling Services. We do not want the educational experience – or the sense of safety – of any of our students to be damaged by this appalling situation."

Published: Jul 4, 2020 12:00 PM CDT

MILWAUKEE (CBS) -- A petition to fire University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee senior lecturer and Wisconsin Air Guard colonel Betsy Schoeller was started on Saturday, July 4 after comments she made on Facebook referring to the murder of Vanessa Guillen went viral. 

The petition on change.org has over 20,000 signatures. According to multiple screenshots, Schoeller made the comments on Facebook stating, "You guys are kidding, right? Sexual harassment is the price of admission for women into the good ole boy club. If you're gonna cry like a snowflake about it, you're gonna pay the price."

The comment has since been deleted.

Guillen was murdered on April 22 at Fort Hood in Texas with a hammer in the armory room where she worked. Guillen was planning to report her sergeant was sexually harassing her before she went missing. Her remains were found earlier this week. The primary suspect in the case, Aaron David Robinson, was also a soldier and committed suicide before investigators could make contact with him. 

Schoeller is a senior lecturer at the UWM School of Information Studies and a colonel in the Wisconsin Air National Guard's 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee. 

UWM responded on Twitter saying they do not condone the comments, however, cannot regulate its employees private speech.

The Air National Guard is yet to comment. 

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