Phi Beta Cons

An Intellectual Cocoon

On Tuesday, Brown University hosted a debate about “rape culture” and due process on college campuses. The debate featured libertarian Wendy McElroy and feminist Jessica Valenti. Before the event, Brown’s president, Christina Paxson, e-mailed the entire campus community, writing, “I disagree [with McElroy]. Although evidence suggests that a relatively small number of individual perpetrate sexual assault, extensive research shows that culture and values do matter.” Previously, McElroy had contended that there is no pervasive “rape culture,” and that only a small group of sexual predators are to blame. She’s also questioned the legal burden of proof for college sexual assault cases, which she believes are often rigged against male students. 

When Paxson sent her e-mail, she was preemptively inserting herself into the debate, an unbecoming act for a university leader. But she went further, announcing to Brown students that a counter-event, titled “The Research on Rape Culture,” would be held at the same time as the McElroy/Valenti debate. A promo for the event stated, “Students who may feel attacked by the viewpoints expressed at the forum or feel the speakers will dismiss their experiences can find a safe space and a separate discussion.” 

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s Samantha Miller has put the entire ordeal into clear perspective: “Given the debate organizers’ prior arrangements to provide support to anyone who actually felt the need for it, Paxson’s choice to counterprogram the event makes little sense in terms of ‘emotional safety.’ But it makes all the sense in the world if you assume the real goal is to provide an intellectual cocoon for students – an effort to create an ideological bubble on campus in which students’ beliefs will be free from challenge.”

Jesse SaffronJesse Saffron is a writer and editor for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a North Carolina-based think tank dedicated to improving higher education in the Tar ...

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