The name has become synonymous with a lot of things here in Isla Vista. First, it was soccer stardom. Then, almost overnight, he went from being a hero on the field to a defendant in the courtroom, after being charged with the alleged rape of a 19 year-old UCSB student last February. After the initial announcement of Frimpong’s alleged assault on the woman, another woman came forth claiming that he had also sexually assaulted her.
Now, although the Ghana native is still a UCSB student, he is no longer a UCSB soccer player and his popularity with the student population has waned considerably. Shortly after Frimpong’s initial arrest, I wrote a column detailing the show of support UCSB students had signaled via the popular social networking site Facebook.com. At that point, pro-Frimpong sentiment had manifested itself in the creation of “Eric Frimpong is a pimp!” and “The Eric Frimpong Legal Defense Fund” groups, each with a healthy roster of members and lively discussion boards decrying the women accusing him of assault.
Now, almost a year since the initial accusation surfaced, the defense has rested its case and attorneys for both the accused and the accuser made closing arguments on December 14. Meanwhile, “The Eric Frimpong Legal Defense Fund” group has disappeared from Facebook, along with the unfortunately-titled “Eric Frimpong is a pimp” and the mention of his name in the UCSB soccer fan group, “Numero Uno Gauchos.” I’m not exactly sure when Facebookers lost interest in Frimpong, and there’s no way to really pinpoint it now. But, suffice it to say, that given the vehemence with which Frimpong’s Facebooking supporters virulently decried his accusers, it’s hard to believe they would give up their group so quickly.
Then again, maybe it’s not so hard to believe. Fads have a way of burning out pretty quickly on the World Wide Web, and particularly in the wonderful world of social networking sites. One minute everyone is double-clicking to save Darfur, and the next minute it’s on to debating just how drunk Britney Spears was during her Video Music Awards performance. One Million Strong for Barack gets replaced by 1,000,000 Strong For Stephen Colbert, and the Pink for Victoria’s Secret Group overtakes the Pink Ribbon Group in your search results.
The same thing happened a few years ago, when UCSB’s very own Associated Students’ President Cervin Morris was charged with assault after allegedly bludgeoning another student with a beer bottle, among other things. For the first few months after the announcement of his accusation, people were provoked into powerful displays of support for Morris. Flyers were handed out, t-shirts were sold and the campus was buzzing with discussion about whether or not he was guilty of an actual felony and what the consequences of his alleged actions would and should be. After a while, consciousness of Cervin faded into the background, with his only reappearance on the collective collegiate radar coming in the form of a brief blip of an article in the November 6, 2007 Daily Nexus discussing his detainment by authorities after a trip to the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital.
Meanwhile, if you ask the average student who David Attias is, you will most likely be met with a blank stare. Unless of course, you happen to be talking to a Daily Nexus staffer or some sort of super senior who’s been in college since 2001. Barring those circumstances, most students do not know that Attias killed four of Isla Vista partygoers while speeding down Sabado Tarde Road in Isla Vista on February 23, 2001. After a jury found Attias to be legally insane, he was sentenced to a mental institution, and the I.V. population has pretty much forgotten about him since.
Of course, when it comes to I.V.’s institutional memory in these cases, a sort of transient nature is to be expected. After all, most students spend only four years in Isla Vista before moving on to lives in lands far from Santa Barbara’s sunny shores. And, most major court cases take at least a year to make their way through the system here in Santa Barbara - if not more than that. The Davidson murder, for example, were still making headlines nearly a year and a half after the initial implication of the people who would eventually be named as responsible for his death.
It makes sense then, that the ephemeral world of Facebook would set the pace for what most people pay attention to here in Isla Vista. After all, the term ‘old news’ exists for a reason, and once people have moved out of the collegiate milieu, social networking sites become much more about, well, social networking. News that would previously have been posted on people’s walls and communicated with the kind of urgency that only a massive group message can convey becomes much less important in people’s daily lives once the stock quotes on CNN start really dictating what their day to day livelihood is going to look like.
Meanwhile, the defendants in all these major cases move through the court system and out of the collective collegiate consciousness. And, it’s not until someone else makes headlines for something similar that their names find their way back into the newspapers and, possibly, the posts on Facebook. From the initial outrage over the implication of one of I.V.’s own in any sort of serious crime to the day the Facebook groups are taken down, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for us Isla Vistans to really contemplate the crimes at hand.
Sure, we all have our opinions over whether or not Frimpong is the one who sexually assaulted the girl in question, but there has not been any sort of collective, community-wide attempt to address the fact that the assault happened at all. Or the fact that, according to the 2006 Clery Act, the number of forced sexual acts in Isla Vista rose from seven to ten during last year. After Attias, there was a brief push for better mental health services in and around campus, and counseling was made available to students and staff who needed it. But, since then, it is rare for the school’s staff to relay the cautionary tale of David Attias to UCSB students - even though it serves as an incredibly good reminder that we are all responsible for making sure that everyone gets the mental help they need to make it through college. Meanwhile, not once in my time as County Editor did I hear someone react to the Cervin Morris incident as an impetus to discuss why exactly so many drunken Isla Vistans get into so many fights.
The simplest thing to do would be to go the route of folks like those running The Dark Side of UCSB and even certain commentators on my very own column. We could blame the Isla Vista residents’ drunken revelry for fostering an environment where propriety and caution take a back seat to partying and carousing and safety is eschewed in favor of the silly antics of a bunch of hormonally charged college kids.
I don’t think anyone with half a brain and more than a cursory knowledge of both the college and the community that surrounds it could endorse such a superficial reading of the situation. UCSB students are not a bunch of wild adolescent animals, desperately trying to debauch at all costs. We’re actually a rather rational and well-regarded group of students whose time in college is all the more well-rounded because we do reserve the right to really enjoy our entire college experience.
What I do think is that any community with such an inordinately high concentration of residents, given its relative size, is going to face certain challenges having to do with the sheer number of people versus the relative resources available to it. Although there is only so much one person - or even one whole Facebook group - can do to really affect all of Isla Vista, people still felt the need to create entire crowds of official Facebook supporters when Frimpong was first accused of assault. And yet, since then, no one has taken the time to organize any sort of serious, community-wide dialogue about the reasons the girl was raped in the first place, or the things we can do to stop something similar from happening again.
Like I said, I don’t blame the drinking. I don’t even blame the debauchery. As far as I’m concerned, after three years of actively engaging in both, I can safely say that there are ways to enjoy the more - ahem - exciting elements of college life without endangering yourself or others. But, although there is always an immediate collective outcry after something like the Frimpong, Morris or Attias incidents occur, there is rarely - if ever - any sort of reflection as to what the reasons behind them are, not to mention the simple steps we as a community can take to prevent them from happening again.
Isla Vista does not have enough streetlights, safe sidewalks, or properly-lit pathways through its many parks. There are sheriff’s deputies and CSOs, but far too many students do not know that these resources exist as anything other than enforcers of antiquated drinking laws and people whose priority is putting your improperly parked bikes into impound. Not enough of an effort is made to ensure that students know that the sheriffs and CSOs can actually also walk you home at night, and will gladly escort you without any attendant legal or financial charges so long as you behave in a relatively responsible and respectful manner.
Meanwhile, mental health counseling, while readily available, is not given the kind of publicity it deserves by the people in charge of advertising for A.S. and the administration. And, there is still a serious stigma attached to asking for that kind of help. Not to mention the prohibitive cost of attaining therapy outside Student Health’s hallowed walls.
And, when a girl does suffer the incredibly unfortunate act of sexual assault, she still has to deal with being as stigmatized as her attacker does - if not more so, in the case of the initial outrage after the Frimpong accusations were announced. Our community still has not collectively advanced beyond blaming women for drinking too much, for dressing in too little and for the myriad of other reasons men have been rationalizing rape for far too long. Just read the things Frimpong’s defense has been saying about the alleged assault victim.
These are just a few of the things I, as a senior student and longtime observer of all things Isla Vista, have come to conclude about our community. It is by no means an exhaustive list of all the reasons why things like the rape of which Eric Frimpong is accused occur. But, I guess that’s my point. Sometime, before the case wraps up and everyone forgets it even existed in the first place, we as a community should come together to discuss the deeper issues it brings up, before our community’s consciousness moves on to the next pressing post, interesting issue or exciting event clogging up our collective computer screens.