This recent Rolling Stone article about rape at the University of Virginia is pretty upsetting.
It’s just the latest in a string of horror stories over the past year about rape culture, lack of empathy and denial, both generally and on American campuses in particular. It seems hard to separate the brutality in the frat house, students’ misogynistic ideas about social hierarchy, negligence and mishandling of complaints by campus security, and a sweeping-under-the-rug attitude by PR-minded administrators. This is a pervasive values problem. As the article notes,
UVA’s emphasis on honor is so pronounced that since 1998, 183 people have been expelled for honor-code violations such as cheating on exams. And yet paradoxically, not a single student at UVA has ever been expelled for sexual assault.
My first response was to try to pin the horror safely on the South. The data, however, don’t cooperate.
A search for “rape at Princeton”—my alma mater, safely up north and recently ranked #1 in undergraduate education for the nth time by US News and World Report—turns up an official figure of 5 rapes on campus last year. Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad; it’s lower than the CDC’s estimate of rape incidence in the US overall (about 1/1000 of the population per year). But how real is this figure? It seems that the same Title IX investigation now digging into mishandling of sexual violence complaints at UVA is also targeting Princeton, along with more than 50 other American universities. I’ve put the complete list at the bottom of this post, for the interested.
I don’t know for sure why Princeton is on this list, but a piece in Jezebel from earlier this year might supply a clue. It describes a rape survey report conducted in 2008, which the University tried to bury, concluding that
One in six female Princeton undergraduates said they experienced “non-consensual vaginal penetration” during their time at the University.
Sounds like rape to me—if narrowly defined. Assuming four years at college and a student body of 5000 with the genders evenly split, that would amount to over 100 rapes per year. Could this number have gone down by a factor of 20 between 2008 and 2014? Really?
Despite decades of lip service, it seems at first glance like nothing much has happened for women’s rights since I went to college in the 90s. But in the next decade, gender and sexual politics may really—finally—start to change. Let’s be optimists. Perhaps the parade of absurdist horror we’ve seen in the past year (more campus rapes, the Bill Cosby scandal, gamergate, Mattel’s Computer Engineer Barbie book, etc., etc.) heralds a shift in the wind, a collective sense that we’ve finally understood as a society that something is very wrong, has been for a long time, and that we’ve had enough. As The Guardian points out,
[...] it’s no coincidence that anti-feminist backlash happens most often when women’s rights are on an upswing.
Maybe we’re finally getting it.
The Title IX investigation list:
|Arizona State University
|Butte-Glen Community College District
|University of California-Berkeley
|University of Southern California
|University of Colorado at Boulder
|University of Colorado at Denver
|University of Denver
|University of Connecticut
|Catholic University of America
|Florida State University
|University of Hawaii at Manoa
|University of Idaho
|University of Chicago
|Harvard University—Law School
|University of Massachusetts-Amherst
|Frostburg State University
|Michigan State University
|University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
|University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
|Minot State University
|Cuny Hunter College
|Hobart and William Smith Colleges
|Sarah Lawrence College
|Suny at Binghamton
|Ohio State University
|Oklahoma State University
|Carnegie Mellon University
|Franklin and Marshall College
|Pennsylvania State University
|Southern Methodist University
|The University of Texas-Pan American
|College of William and Mary
|University of Virginia
|Washington State University
|University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
|West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine