Monday, February 24, 2014

Cluttered thoughts about "holistic" and campus assault

Rape on campus is in the news again, because, presumably, of the prestige of the campus where the rapes in question happened. Whenever the topic of violence along these lines comes up, at whichever school, I always want to say the same thing: skip the school, call the cops. This is true whether or not fraternities are involved. (For more on the Flanagan article, see Miss Self-Important.)

My advice, then, to any college students reading this: If something goes wrong, you'd be better off thinking of yourself as an 18-19-year-old who just happens to live in whichever jurisdiction than as a member of your campus community. At least at first. Once things have been sorted out, you can then bring up issues relating to the culture of the campus, or the student status of the young man in question.

So why don't young women in such situations just call 911? Why is the first thought to go to the school? Maybe it's something idealistic about wanting to change a misogynistic culture at whichever institution, or maybe it's the disillusion over the fact that a school that offers however many courses in gender studies somehow allowed this to happen. Maybe it's that some such instances are sufficiently ambiguous (i.e. tremendous amounts of alcohol were involved all around) that a young woman is correct in thinking her claim wouldn't stand up in court, but does point to a problem with how campus social life is organized. 

Maybe this, maybe that, but ultimately, there are plenty of clear-cut cases - not just of rape, but of other forms of legally-defined abuse - that go to the school rather than the cops simply because, if you're barely out of high school, and have been fed a certain myth about what college is all about. College isn't just the place you take classes. It's your all-encompassing, holistic community. It's your gym, your dining hall, your social life, your movies and musical performances.

That warm and fuzzy community, for which everyone's been - if we're talking an even slightly selective school - hand-plucked for their impeccable character, well, that community includes whichever man gave or is giving you criminally-actionable problems, if he's also a student. He won't merely be innocent until proven guilty as in a court of law. He may end up never really charged, just charged with breaking school policy, which at the end of the day doesn't mean anything. The school might agree that an incident occurred, but simply not do anything about it.

"Holistic" has, in a sense, replaced in loco parentis. By definition, nothing terrible could happen at college, among students, because of the impossibly high bar set to be a student at whichever institution. Once every student is officially of upstanding character, as vs. merely someone who met whichever academic requirements, it becomes that much more complicated to make sense of how students can be criminally terrible to one another.

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