Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Demonization and Victimization on Campus

Some good friends and colleagues of mine spent the last couple of weeks packing their kids, young men and women really, into their cars with all their stuff and then moving their children in to dorms at various colleges and universities across the country.  The hustle and bustle of moving in the college, of stepping out from their parent's shadow and immediate protection certainly made most of my friends proud, and maybe a little apprehensive. 

After the chore of moving into to the dorms, the parents departed, leaving their children on their own.  But what most parents didn't see or experience was the orientation seminars that took place on college campuses.  While some orientation sessions are to be expected, i.e. where to go if you are sick, where to go if you need to get something to eat, got to the gym, proceedures for signing up for classes or changning a schedule, there is one session, effectively mandated by law, that is guaranteed to scare the crap out of men and women--the sexual assault session.  I have no problem with sexual assault awareness seminars, but is there any college adminsitrator out there who thinks that this seminar is going to stop what is almost certianly going to happen hours after the seminar--the semi-anonymous hook-up fueled perhaps by a little alcohol? 

Certainly sexual assault is something to be avoided, but in the new rules of sexual behavior, a staple of collegiate activity, sex, can and should make men very afraid and women very angry.  Right now, as I write, I am willing to wager significant sums of my annual income for the next 10 years that hundreds, if not thousands, of college students are drunk and having sex.  But under recent guidelines promulgated by the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education, unless the "sexual initiator" (almost always assumed to be the man) has explicit consent for each act of sexual activity, from kissing a girl, to feeling her up, to grabbing her butt, right up to taking off her clothes and actually engaging in sex of any kind, that man has committed a sexual assault.  The consequences of his act can mean expulsion and the end of his academic career at the current school and indeed any school. 

Here's the next scary thing--the young woman doesn't have to bring the charges--it can be brought by anyone, including a bystander.  Here is the truly frightening thing--the young man, at most colleges, is not entitled to legal represenation when brought up before a "judicial committee" to hear the case.  At the same time, there is an entire bureaucracy on hand assist the woman (or the bystander) in filing the case.

The recent policy changes, applicable to every school that receives even a penny of federal funds including federal student loans (so effectively just about every school in the country), means that in place of a campus culture that puts a premium on personal responsbility, on growth and learning, we have arrived at the ultimate nanny state--one that blames men (no matter what actually happened) and coddles and degrades women (no matter how much they take responsibility for their role in what happened).  It is the perfect storm of predator naming and shaming and victim culture. 

The burden of proof of a sexual assault hearing on a college campus is not on the college to prove beyond a reasonable doubt or even on a clear and convincing standard, that a man committed a sexual assault.  Indeed the burden of proof is prepodnerance of the evidence (a more likely than not) standard.  Adding insult to injury, the burden is on the "initiator" of the sexual activity (almost always assumed to be the man) to prove that he had consent.  Absent written proof, the man will not have anything other than his word. 
At a time when men are disappearing from college campuses, why would a man risk going to college and knocking beer (or six) back and talking to a woman?  If he touches her, in any way, he could be doomed to underemployment or worse for years to come, a damage to his psyche and future that he may never recover from.

But lest you think that I am trying to stick up for men here, the policy is, in my opinion, just as bad in its treatment of women.  Women make up the majority of students on most college campuses today.  But this policy, at a time when women have made significant strides in higher education, treats them in a manner reminiscent of worst cliches we think of from the Victorian age.  This policy doesn't treat women as individual, adutl women--it treats them as if they are 8 year old girls rather than the young adults we want them to be.  They cannot, under this policy, admit to the mistakes (if it is a mistake) of sleeping with some random guy.  This policy doesn't allow women to be adults--it treats them like children.

Is there a problem with sexual assault on campus?  Probably, yes.  Is it as widespread as Vice President Biden and the Department of Education would have us believe?  Probably not. 

The true test of any policy is does it deal with the minority case as well as the majority case?  In other words, does this policy protect the male victim of a sexually aggressive woman? 

No one, man or woman, should have to suffer the indignity and violation of a sexual assautlt.

But no man, or woman, should be raped by a process that classifies horny teenagers predators and victims without regard to what actually happened (or whether the so-called victim thinks of themselves as a victim) when both participants are best classified, in the overwhelming, vast majority of cases, simply as college students being college students.

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