Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

In re: Rape Prevention


To pick up on Nathan’s and Robert’s earlier discussions, there does seem to be a difference between conservatives and liberals on the issue of campus rape. Conservatives tend to sympathize with unfairly accused males, while liberals worry that women won’t speak up. But both sides have a lot to agree on. One is that those “honor court” proceedings are all wrong. As Harry Lewis and I wrote at the Forbes website, “The Office for Civil Rights should get out of the business of dictating the terms of college sexual assault trials. Colleges should stop the practice of ‘he-said-she-said’ trials.”

But there’s a more fundamental issue, and that is the fact that “acquaintance rape” (sometimes called date rape, but dating is rare these days) is caused by a troubled campus environment. Two specific factors foster acquaintance rape — alcohol and the hookup culture. University administrators encourage both.

They generally look the other way when it comes to alcohol. As for sex, see the latest report by the National Association of Scholars on the once-staid Bowdoin College, where a “generous supply of condoms is conspicuously available on every floor of every dorm and in other public places as well,” and where “‘consent’ is the central ethical vision of sex and sexuality,” say Peter Wood and Michael Toscano. “The overarching message of the performance [Speak About It, an explicit play about sex at Bowdoin, mandatory for new students] “is have sex freely, in the form that you deem desirable, but make sure that your sexual partner or partners agree that this form of sex is agreeable.”

In this environment there will be instances in which the question of consent is impossible to answer.

There is broader cause of acquaintance rape and its aftermath, however: immaturity. College students tend to be immature. Since colleges have given up serving in loco parentis, there’s no voice of caution or reason and, afterwards, little suggestion that their experiences should teach them a lesson.

Rather, the honor court is there to spur you to litigate — to blame someone else. The last person you are taught to blame is yourself. As Harry Lewis and I wrote (and his book Excellence without a Soul has much more about this): “Part of growing up is learning to avoid situations that should not be dangerous but are. The fairest and most sensitive judicial process is no substitute for responsible choices made in advance.”

Unfortunately, the adults who are supposed to help students learn this lesson have abdicated any role in doing so.


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