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.