The Real Problem of Sexual Assault on Campus?

Fenster writes:

The conservative Jewish publication Commentary has an article running here on the “real problem” with sexual assault on campus.  It’s a neocon mag with something of a Victorian scold temperament on cultural matters so while the readership here, such as it is, may raise an eyebrow at a Commentary take Fenster’s view is that the article is on a right track, so to speak.

Note: this is a pay site and can ask for a subscription before viewing but if you are under five articles a month, as I was and you are too I venture, you may be able to access the article with a Facebook “like”. If you are willing to go public with that you probably can get to the article.

The authors looked at the on-campus assault statistics for all US News listed colleges and analyzed the data using various cuts.  Is the college religious or secular?  Does it have alcohol consumption restrictions?  Does it have single sex dorms along with limitations on access at certain hours?

What they found was that the rate of reported assaults was significantly less at schools that are more restrictive.  The gist of the article: that sexual assault on campus is largely a function of a culture that is permitted to be out of control by the administration.  Their conclusion is that regulations work, and that in essence a return to a more restrictive approach is the most straightforward and simple way of curbing the problem.

I don’t buy the 1 in 5 notion at all.  And the new 1 in 4 statistic, supposedly new and improved over the flawed 1 in 5, is also “misleading” in its own way.  Still, it is hard to escape the conclusion that while “rape” as we know it in criminal law is nowhere near as prevalent as the studies suggest, something is happening on campus.  The idea that campus environments are conducive to certain problems–whatever you choose to call them–does not seem outlandish.

I am not sure the authors of the Commentary article have it nailed.  For instance, they try to control for different variables in the analysis but nowhere do they mention the issue of self-selection.  Dry, prudish campuses are the exception nowadays and it takes a hardy soul, whether parent or student, to find the prospect appealing.  It would be better if the authors dealt with this issue in some fashion.  At the least it would be interesting to know how many colleges in their large sample even made the cut to no alcohol no co-ed dorms.  I’d think it would be a very small number.

If self-selection is at work it clouds their main policy conclusion: that regulations themselves work.  It may be that the large difference between different categories of institutions has more to do with the students who select each than the actual regulations in effect.

Be that as it may, it is hard to escape the conclusion that tougher regulations would over time have some effect.  I mean, if the University of Miami actually banned alcohol in a serious way, re-instituted single sex dorms and stopped the intercourse of differently gendered students between the dorms in the evening–well, wouldn’t that have some effect?  The occasion for partying on campus would have been taken away.  Yes, that would result in more off-campus partying but a crackdown on fraternities and other such venues might also bear fruit.  So I am persuaded both by the authors’ general point about the “real problem” but also, to some extent, by their contention that tougher regulations would make a difference.

Of course, as they acknowledge, the underlying problem here is a lack of will on the part of campus administrations.  And the underlying problem to that is that students (and parents) see a party culture as part of the undergraduate experience.  And the underlying problem to that is that we do not live in a Victorian culture.  Whether we are headed there in a rhyming sort of way is another question.  The Commentary article may be less important as a specific policy prescription than it is as a bellweather of sorts.

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
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7 Responses to The Real Problem of Sexual Assault on Campus?

  1. JV says:

    I agree, the social control angle has not been given much consideration in this discussion. However, I question the assertion from the article:

    “Here is what we found: In recent years, assault rates have been 3.1 to 4.4 times higher at the most permissive colleges and universities than at their more restrictive counterparts (see Table 1). That difference is substantial.

    Consider two campuses—one permissive, the other restrictive—that both house 3,000 female undergraduates in their residence halls. The permissive campus is likely to receive somewhere between 65 and 100 more reports of sexual assault over a 10-year period.”

    While every case of sexual assault is tragic, is it really a “substantial” difference that, over a 10 year period wherein 30,000 women would have been housed in residence halls, 65 to 100 more women reported a sexual assault in colleges allowing alcohol and coed dorms? I don’t know, maybe I’m being callous, but it doesn’t seem to be that great a statistical difference to the point of considering regulations. I started the article fully ready to agree, because I’m generally in favor of more traditional rules in schools, including colleges. But those numbers don’t suggest that great an improvement.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fenster says:

      Alas I did not save the article and now have been locked out. And I don’t want to subscribe to Commentary again. I was a subscriber some years back for a while but dropped it when I shed myself of the neocon haze that was clouding my vision. I did get nice candles from some Jewish organization or another over the Jewish holidays on accounta the subscription and my German name, which is more often Jewish than Christian. That’s not enough to get me back as a subscriber.

      So I don’t have those tables in front of me and can’t reliably reason through your numbers. I would have thought the absolute number per campus would be greater but don’t know. But even if the 65-100 number is sound, you could interpret the meaning differently. For one, a four times difference is great on the face of it so if assaults are worth curbing at all, they’d be worth curbing for that kind of delta. Perhaps they are not worth curbing at all. If, say, commenter Mircea is right that it is all hysteria then OK 4 times hysteria may just mean more hysteria. But as I wrote in response to that post I think there is a real “x” that is not a good thing, rape or not.

      Additionally, if in fact “x” is not a good thing then why is an additional 65-100 not a troubling thing? That’s not a national number. It is just a number connected to a small to medium sized college with 3,000 women students in dorms. 90 a year, say, equates to 10 a month during the academic year and that equates to an “x” happening every three days, on a small campus. Trivial?


      • fenster says:

        oops my bad on the math. i see it is 65-100 over a 10 year period, which means the difference would equate to one extra incident a month rather than every three days. less dramatic for sure but i do wish i could get the article back. it seems low but those are the authors’ words.


  2. The study also fails to in any way account for the obvious falsity of a good half of the reports, and the rather plainly probable falsity of a much larger percent of them.

    Teenagers seek attention, as a proxy for validation. If that attention is doled out (like it is in various heavily Catholic thirld world pestholes) for “finding images of Mary/Jesus/Whatever in a potato”, then of the large section of teenaged females that spend their days cutting up potatoes a few hundred each year will find “images of Mary in the cut potato”. If that attention is instead doled out (like it is currently, and by all expectations briefly) for “being sexually assaulted”, then of the large section of teenaged females that spend their days obsessing over their own body and their scant social ability and marginally dysfunctional social integration a few hundred will “have been sexually assaulted”, at least according to them (and to respect self-imagined rights, please don’t inquire with the other party – nor provide any sort of fact finding or other reality-based checks on the narrative).

    This story has played itself out over the particular subculture (the subculture of nags, or in other words of women past their sexual prime chiefly interested in discussing what the sex life of other people is like) time and time again since their “liberation” (from having any useful occupation whatsoever). If you’re bored enough to inquire through the accumulated debris of hundreds of fake “rape” complaints that have meanwhile been thoroughly debunked you may indeed discover there is scant if any actual reality whatsoever to be found.

    Of course (and in a rather typical cultish fashion) this does not dissuade the nags in question. Instead, their fact-free, preference-tailored narrative liberally restates events – like that instance where an attention whore wasted millions of private parties’ monies and a degree of magnitude more in public funds because ~she wished~ the local lacrosse team fucked her somehow becomes an example that supposedly strengthens the case of wholly imagined rape as a real thing. And like hundreds of very similar stories. This behaviour, exactly like the behaviour of the amateur “investor” whose horrible defeats in the markets and endless string of blown accounts end up somehow narcisisstically twisted into certificates of his own delusions of competence, ability and success, and exactly like the behaviour of the eternally scammed spam-responder who nevertheless STILL responds to unsolicited email, is to be explained by the woes wrought upon society by mishandled abundance, and the attendant problem of too many people with too little actual anything to do. They’re bored.

    They’re bored, and they’ll eventually move on. Just like the “childhood abuse” nonsense was here for a while, burned incredibly hot for a decade or two (ruining families and tearing apart communities, like any witch trial, like “dekulakization”, like any social scapegoating party ever) and then disappeared into the night (hey – who knew that if you ask five year olds taylored questions you can get any answers you wish for!). Just like every moral-panic flavoured intellectual fashion of a mostly idle and broadly useless population, this nonsense is not here to stay.

    But that’s ok, brace yourself for the next one. It will be important! It will matter! It also won’t exist, and will also be forgotten!


    • Fenster says:

      One’s choice of lens determines a lot. If people insist on viewing the “x” on campus (whatever it may be) through the rape lens you get the current debate, which has a cul-de-sac quality to it. I would rather not assume “x” = either rape or non-rape and ask what “x” might be.

      Maybe a total tempest in teapot. Kids drink and fool around no big deal, just like American Graffiti except now with hysterical co-eds. My guess is that “x” amounts to more than that–not a rape crisis but something unwelcome that is a function (as are all things in a culture) of a collusion/collision of tastes, preferences, rules, etc. Perhaps because I am a recovering college administrator I see it through that lens: what is the role of the college in all this mess? Alas, it has not been stellar. It has been an enabler.


      • It is altogether probable that young people today feel much more uncomfortable with their physical enviroment, direct and distant, and with their corporeal form than they did a decade or a century ago.

        Autism is after all a spectrum disease, you don’t just get an autism epidemic without a much larger general awkwardness epidemic. So, yes, there’s something unwelcome. It’s called reality. And the “x” is “the subject’s own defective socialization”.

        The proposition that contemporary adult daycare centers masquerading as colleges have anything to do with the historical institution is endearing. To quote Greenspun,

        Chuck Vest, the president of MIT, in a private communication to some faculty, once described MIT as “a no-praise zone”. My first week as an electrical engineering and computer science graduate student I asked a professor for help with a problem. He talked to me for a bit and then said “You’re having trouble with this problem because you don’t know anything and you’re not working very hard.”

        The last time you did that is the last time you participated in collegiate life as part of the European academic tradition – as opposed to participating in “human services” as part of the McDonalds tradition of management.


  3. Iggy says:

    I agree with Fenster. We have gone too far; what is needed is a less permissive culture. Whether all this “triggering” and “safe place” rigmarole is, as the psychologists say, “a cry in the dark,” for a little more common decency , i.e. 1950’s “up-tightness”, I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

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