Friday, April 09, 2010

Student Sexual Assault Safety Depends Partially on Privilege




For years, student activists have fought to combat the disturbing numbers of rapes and sexual assaults which routinely occur on college campuses. Actual statistics are tough to come by because many victims are too intimidated and scared to report them, which is often compounded by apathetic university administrators who grant only cursory attention to the matter or try to sweep things under the rug. Colleges and Universities are unfortunately run like businesses these days, and none of them wants to entertain even the faintest hint of scandal. Fighting for tuition money, grants, and endowments trump keeping female students safe and protected. The amount of administrative staff in higher education is staggering, and no one wants to stop piling on layer after layer of middle management, even when most of it is entirely unnecessary.

In any case, props to the students at American University in Washington, DC, who have recently fought back against an offensive column (or two) in their campus paper by mobilizing to stand united against rape apologists.

Much of the protest centers around this particular passage, written by columnist Alex Knepper in the AU student newspaper, The Eagle.

Let’s get this straight: any woman who heads to an EI party as an anonymous onlooker, drinks five cups of the jungle juice, and walks back to a boy’s room with him is indicating that she wants sex, OK? To cry “date rape” after you sober up the next morning and regret the incident is the equivalent of pulling a gun to someone’s head and then later claiming that you didn’t ever actually intend to pull the trigger.

“Date rape” is an incoherent concept. There’s rape and there’s not-rape, and we need a line of demarcation. It’s not clear enough to merely speak of consent, because the lines of consent in sex — especially anonymous sex — can become very blurry. If that bothers you, then stick with Pat Robertson and his brigade of anti-sex cavemen! Don’t jump into the sexual arena if you can’t handle the volatility of its practice!


A previous passage noted, as well, that

Feminist religious dogma, long ago disposed of by neuroscientists and psychologists, states that men are essentially born as eunuchs, only to have wicked masculinity imposed on them by an evil society. This is usually presented as “social construction theory".


I am understandably pleased to observe such an outpouring of righteous indignation and with it a desire to push back and push back hard. Still, I am also struck that it takes a college flush full of money, privilege, and students already inclined to activism to set up such an elaborate response in the first place. Offensive as the passages are, I can at least follow the author's "logic", even though I disagree with it strongly. As someone who is not a native of Planet Progressive, I reflect back on my own upbringing in a solidly conservative state, where, to refer back to Knepper's column, no one talks about social construction theory, even in conversation with fellow students, nor does anyone acknowledge or have even the faintest notion of why it is offensive to use the term hermaphrodite in place of intersex.

As for me, when I was in college, I was not privy to these sorts of dialogues. And, for that matter, most students now enrolled in schools across the country are not, either. I attended a state school which gave perfunctory and short-lived attention to topics like educating men about precisely what constituted consent, and never spoke as any unified voice. LGBT students were greeted usually with a shrug, and it took years of effort to even establish same-sex partner benefits for university employees. I do recall that a scandal broke during my time there involving an early enrollment student who began her freshman year at age fifteen. She was then later revealed to have been frequenting the beds of athletes. Though the sexual contact was consensual, it was still statutory rape due to the female student nonetheless being under the age of consent. As is typical, the matter was dealt with internally and invisibly until the parents filed suit. Even then, once the matter became public, there were no protests, raised fists, or plans among the student body to go to the news media and raise hell. Most people were ambivalent to the matter. The lawsuit stalled and was eventually thrown out of court. Among many it has been forgotten altogether.

But to draw a contrast, I would expect nothing less than this sort of coordinated protest from a place like American, but again, I can't help but wish I'd see it in areas of the country not quite so blue and not quite so well off. This is not to say that women in predominantly liberal, highly competitive, and affluent schools don't face the chance of being date raped or assaulted on campus. That risk, unfortunately, never goes away completely, but the odds do increase dramatically when the framework meant to counter sexual assault and rape simply does not exist or exists so weakly as to become ineffectual. A program designed to accomplish this need not be as detailed and exacting as what American University is now doing, and indeed, a school with a much more modest budget could not begin to mimic that of a wealthier institution.

Being that I live in Washington, DC, and associate with several American students and employees, I know for a fact that the student who wrote the columns in the first place purely meant to provoke a response, not necessarily out of some inward conviction in his supposed cause. Taken this way, he was little more than a troll, and we all know how trolls love to needle us just to see us roar in response. Even though the writer might not have meant what he said in totality, I still think it's important that the students have adopted an important cause and are fighting to advance it. Again, I think it is imperative of them to spread the message to other schools across the country if they wish to fulfill their idealistic ambitions. It honestly breaks my heart to see just how much of that which is proposed and adopted in blue circles stays there and never leaves. Being that I grew up in a red state, I always feel somehow slighted when I see clear-cut evidence of all the things that money can provide with a snap of the fingers. This is bold evidence of classism and one of the deepest ironies of all is that it is on full display even in efforts designed to improve conditions for marginalized people whose voices have been ignored or silenced.

1 comment:

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