COMMENTARY | College life is an exciting, complex, and controversial landscape of freedom, exploration, angst, insecurity, aspiration, defeat, learning, and confrontation. Young people full of promise and vigor leave the shelter of hearth and home, many for the first time, and proceed to live with many other vigorous young folk full of hormones and dreams. Learning, aspiration, innovation, and exploration happens. So does bad stuff, often influenced by alcohol and other substances.
It’s no surprise that there has always been an undercurrent of sex, and sexual violation, in college life. Young people + social and pop culture pressures + hormones + alcohol – parental supervision – dress code = stuff that’s tough to talk about and tough to govern. We know that sex happens at college. We know that rape happens at college. Thus far, however, society has been pretty laissez faire about sex at college.
Now, as publicity about alleged “rape culture” at colleges and universities has become more prevalent, we may be on the verge of substantial changes in college “culture.” According to CNN, the federal government is now investigating campus responses to allegations of sexual assault at 55 colleges and universities, citing possible Title IX violations. Recently, many young women have blamed campus administrators for doing little or nothing in the aftermath of rape allegations.
Basically, colleges and universities are being accused of “hushing up” rape allegations, either to preserve the reputation of the campus, protect a prominent or wealthy alleged aggressor, or avoid a possible lawsuit from said prominent or wealthy alleged aggressor. Young women have been urged to drop their accusations, transfer to different schools, or accept laughably lenient punishments for their attackers. Obviously, such a system is abhorrent.
Forcing major changes in sexual assault response policies on college campuses will likely be an uphill battle, though: Blanket changes regarding reporting, response, protocol, and sex education policies may be seen as permanently altering “college culture.” Will students resist? Both young men and young women may loathe policies that effectively clamp down on alcohol and partying on campus.
How will students react to policies meant to minimize sexual assault that also minimize other prominent parts of “college culture”?
Will students allege excessive infringements on their freedom, claiming that policies meant to minimize sexual assaults intentionally, or unintentionally, treat them like children? Will they allege a “K-12ing” of higher education?
As a former college student, I know that bad stuff happens in dorms and at frat (and sorority) houses. Booze flows, bad decisions are made, and innocent people are harmed. As a father, I never want any child of mine to risk experiencing anything like that. As an educator, however, I do question making college campuses like high schools, where faculty and administrators are required to keep a permanently watchful eye on everyone.
How can we fight sexual assault while still keeping college a place for adults and not overgrown teenagers?