Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has a piece out this morning offering three suggestions on how to curb rape on campus.

Some of you may be cringing right now, as Douthat’s record on women’s issues is pretty poor, and indeed there’s a lot to cringe over in today’s column. But he’s getting at a real problem, and by my lights two out of his three proposals are worthy ones.

Douthat exaggerates when he says that “nobody — neither anti-rape activists, nor their critics, nor the administrators caught in between — seems to have a clear and compelling idea of what to do” about campus rape, but it’s true that the crisis is a persistent one, and that — as I’ve written before — there’s a lot of disagreement about how to approach it. It’s also true (though not quite, and not only, for the reasons Douthat offers) that after-the-fact remedies for sexual violence are a poor alternative to prevention.

Prevention is Douthat’s focus in this piece, and he admirably (mostly) refrains from victim-blaming within it. Instead, he proposes lowering the drinking age, cracking down on “Blutarskian excess,” and re-imposing some parietal rules — regulations restricting students’ private social activities. Let’s take these three one at a time:

First, Douthat is right that raising the drinking age from 18 to 21 three decades ago had the effect of driving much campus alcohol consumption underground. If you can’t drink freely in public, you’re likely to drink more copiously in private, and if you can’t be seen carrying around a beer, you’re far more likely to drink harder alcohol in a rushed and uncontrolled way.

Douthat fails to name the central factor linking covert drinking with sexual assault, so I will: it’s sexual predators and predation. The drunker students get, the more power rapists will have, and the more covert and unstructured drinking is, the easier it is for rapists to cajole and coerce potential victims to drink to excess. Lowering the drinking age would give students better ways to regulate their own alcohol consumption, better opportunities to look out for each other, and the increased safety that comes with openness. Crucially, as well, lowering the drinking age would free up colleges to reform their own alcohol rules, and remove fear of college sanctions and criminal prosecution as barriers to survivors of assault coming forward.

Douthat’s second suggestion, that campuses crack down on parties, is handled deftly. He is absolutely right to frame that problem not one of neglect but of complicity — as he notes, college administrators have an interest in keeping alumni, big-time athletes, and fraternities happy, and thus bear responsibility for their “often-misogynistic excesses.” Frats, jocks, and their alumni donors have too much power on campus, and are too often given the green light to wield that power in ugly, violent ways.

It’s with his third suggestion that Douthat and I part ways. Here’s the nub of it:

Finally, colleges could embrace a more limited version of the old “parietal” system, in which they separated the sexes and supervised social life. This could involve, for instance, establishing more single-sex dorms and writing late-night rules that apply identically to men and women. Bringing a visitor to your room after 10 p.m. or midnight might require signing in with an adult adviser, who would have the right to intervene when inebriation seemed to call consent and safety into question.

This need not represent a return to any kind of chastity-based ethic. The point would be to create hurdles for predators, clearer decision points for both sexes and —  in the event that someone sneaked an intended partner in, and the encounter ended badly  —  a reason short of a rape conviction to discipline or expel.

I don’t have a problem with posting someone at the door of a dorm requiring late-night guests to sign in. I’m sure that already happens at some campuses, and I suspect that where it doesn’t it’s at least as much a matter of financial constraints as it is concern for students’ liberties. Tasking RAs or RDs with gently monitoring guests’ (and hosts’) level of inebriation might also be reasonable, were current drinking policies reframed along less punitive lines.

But single-sex dorms were the rule back in the bad old days, and sexual violence on campus was rampant. Sexual predation thrives in artificially segregated environments, and our casual, day-to-day social openness across gender lines is an asset, not a liability, of the contemporary campus in the fight against sexual assault.

Penalizing students for sneaking in late-night guests, moreover, is no solution to the problem of rape. If the penalties are to be assessed solely against the perpetrator of such an assault then the policy will simply be a mechanism for punishing students for crimes of which they haven’t been charged or convicted, and further weakening of campus judiciaries’ already inadequate due process provisions. If, on the other hand, the penalties are meted out to victim and perpetrator alike, than the threat of such punishment will discourage reporting and make a just outcome even more difficult to obtain.

In order to effectively fight sexual assault on campus, we need to look to the ways in which current policies and practices foster such violence and aid sexual predators. Their policies should be reframed in students’ interests. Reforming drinking laws and campus alcohol regulations does that. Curbing the frats and the jocks and the alums does that. Imposing gender segregation and punishing students for bringing home guests does not.

Okay, so here’s a thing about last night’s Louie: Louie was angrier when Pamela tried to leave his house without kissing him than he was when she threw out all his furniture. A lot angrier.

That’s pretty messed up.

As bad as the almost-rape episode from two weeks ago was, this week’s pair bothered me more. Because the kind of pressure he was putting on Pamela this time was a hell of a lot more insidious.

Going in for the kiss when you don’t know if it’ll be reciprocated. Mooning around someone instead of asking them out. Wheedling to get someone in the sack instead of finding out whether they’re interested in doing so under their own steam. That constant push to get what you want, and then the pout when you don’t get it — every fucked up coercive trick guys pull to nag and guilt and cajole women into sleeping with them was on display on Louie last night.

And why? Because Louie’s goal was never to figure out whether he and Pamela could work together in a way that would work for both of them. His goal was always just to get her. Get her to kiss him. Get her to go on a date with him. Get her to fuck him. Get her to be his girlfriend. Get get get get get.

And no matter how often we get told that that’s romantic, it’s not. Because the getting isn’t about Pamela, and it’s not about them as a couple. It’s all about him. It’s always about him, just like it was with Amia, just like it’s been with every woman this season. And instead of interrogating that, instead of thinking about how we as men are constantly being socialized into that creepy predator role and brainstorming how to unlearn it — or having Pamela call him on his shit in a way that would have been far more shocking, far more transgressive, far more useful than the monologue he gave the fat woman last month — he gave his creep the happy ending.

Louis the writer populates his show with fascinating, smart women, but Louie the character has no interest in them. And since I figured that out, I’ve got a lot less interest in him.


A recurring theme in discussions of trigger warnings in college classes is the idea that students with PTSD should be going to campus disability offices, not professors, to ask for the assistance they need. This question has come up in my Facebook and Twitter feeds today, in response to the piece I just wrote for Inside Higher Education, and in the course of one such conversation my friend Andrea Chandler said a few things about her experience trying to work with the disability office at the college she was attending.

If you’re a professor and you think the disability office will handle this stuff, you need to read what Andrea has to say. If you think you don’t have a role in addressing these issues, you need to read what Andrea has to say. If you don’t understand that how you run your classroom could make the difference in which of your students graduate? Well, just read the damn thing:

Just getting the single accommodation I asked for, to bring my mobility service dog on campus, was a multi-semester nightmare.

Disability services on most campuses are an absolute joke. Try actually speaking to disabled students about what it takes to get even the simplest, most straightforward of accommodations. In my case, using my service dog meant first meeting the disability services guy, whose office wasn’t accessible. This is not unusual.

Then they wanted me to sign paperwork giving them access to my entire medical record, which would have disclosed more to them than I was willing to disclose. This was in addition to the specific paperwork from my doctor stating that my service dog was a medical necessity.

Finally, they wanted contact information for my parents or husband, to whom they would be reporting my academic progress.

It was only after I suggested we call the DOE Office of Civil Rights that they accepted that all they needed was that letter from my doctor. Until the following semester, when I had to have the exact same fight all over again, because apparently permanent disability is not a possibility schools have considered.

Meanwhile I was dealing with classrooms so stuffed with desks that they violated the ADA & Rehab Act standards on physical accessibility, instructors who constantly called attention to my service dog in class & who could never speak to me about class material without first trying to have a conversation about the dog, and even better were the instructors who made it clear they didn’t want a cripple in their classroom. When I suggested to Disability Services that the instructors needed training in dealing with disabled students *and offered to find DOE & DOJ training resources for free*, I was ignored.

So yeah, this isn’t my first rodeo where I’ve had someone come out and say I shouldn’t be in the classroom because I don’t fit their definition of what a student should be. I wish I were shocked by that attitude, but it’s very miserably common.

The biggest problem I see in the empathy-lacking anti-tw crowd is that they seem to believe that the prof-student relationship is all one way; in which student vessels receive knowledge from the prof and the professor does not hold a dialog unless it is of the Socratic type.

Maybe it’s just that I’m a long way from being an impressionable teenager but I’ll be damned before I deal with any more of that patronizing bullshit. What Angus has done with his content note and being willing to back it up by working with students is model a kind of education where the professor works in partnership with the students, offering them the basic respect of believing they know exactly what their capabilities are and that they *want* to be there, and to learn, but may need a hand. The profs I see on the other side are the kind that drove me (and others with disabilities) out of academia. They act like we’re faking disability to work the system, and forcing their own odious ideas of mental illness being something you can bootstrap your way out of onto students.

I honestly hope to God none of em ever end up in the same place I am, because I’ve seen it destroy people who do. And I hope they get the fuck over themselves.

(Reposted with Andrea’s permission.)

I’ve just written a piece for Inside Higher Ed discussing why I’m adding a trigger warning to my syllabi, and explaining what I see such content notes as contributing to the classroom environment. As far as I’m aware, I’m the first prof in the US to go public with the text and rationale for their warning.

Here’s an excerpt:

History is often ugly. History is often troubling. History is often heartbreaking. As a professor, I have an obligation to my students to raise those difficult subjects, but I also have an obligation to raise them in a way that provokes a productive reckoning with the material.

And that reckoning can only take place if my students know that I understand that this material is not merely academic, that they are coming to it as whole people with a wide range of experiences, and that the journey we’re going on together may at times be painful.

Read it all, if you like.

Almost exactly a year ago the Arizona state legislature passed a law, HB 2169, that banned the use of student fees to support independent student organizations, rendering illegal the referendum-based funding model that Arizona’s statewide student organization, the Arizona Students’ Association had depended on for nearly two decades.

ASA has been working diligently over the last year to fashion a new approach and identity for the HB 2169 era, and this weekend that work is bearing fruit with the Association’s first annual Student Congress.

Starting with a reception this evening, and continuing through Sunday afternoon, students from all three of Arizona’s public universities and about half a dozen of its community colleges will be meeting in Tempe to debate and adopt a new structure for the Association and to elect new leadership to begin the rebuilding process in earnest.

It promises to be an exciting weekend, and I’m excited to be in Tempe — the folks at ASA asked me to come down to deliver a kickoff keynote tomorrow morning and to stick around to consult and advice as the Congress progresses. I’ve been reading the draft governance documents as they evolved, and there’s some very interesting stuff in them. More on that soon, I hope.

In the meantime, I expect I’ll be tweeting a fair amount about the festivities in the next 48 hours, so check that out if you like.

About This Blog

n7772graysmall is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

To contact Angus, click here.

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