By Kerwin Holmes, Jr.
Here is the Title IX legislation that forms the crux of this discussion. This is a very serious and emotional issue, so this post will be long enough without me explaining all of Title IX. But right now, what I want to stress to viewers is that, while reading this, vigilance to our integrity and genuine compassion to all victims of sexual assault be maintained in all cases, no matter where they arise.
Before I graduated from college, Vice President Joe Biden gave a speech to college students in Atlanta on the topic of campus sexual assault. This may seem minimal, but the event had a certain gravity to it. Any serious sexual conversation between college students tends to jar the emotions and radicalize the words used in the exchange. Though sex is oft treated as passively entertaining in the everyday, the second that sex hits college policy the atmosphere turns icy. Before Vice President Biden appeared in Atlanta, my school posted several posters and reminders that “No means no.” Now, certain students found the posters particularly offensive, especially those who gave campus tours to parents and prospective students. I partially understand their nervousness: seeing those posters all over campus has the potential of making the already awkward college tour questions even more awkward. Yet, I was more disturbed by the root reason for the posters. For me, the real dilemma was that posters went up in order to remind college students that rape is wrong. They were posted in order to remind college students that rape is wrong.
But, I wasn’t ready for what happened after Biden’s appearance. Shortly after the event, I received an email from my institution to partake in a voluntary survey asking my opinions on proper sexual conduct. Sexual activity and sexual assaults are things that I have been raised to take very seriously. My Christian religion holds sexuality and intimacy as very sacred to our personal integrity, and I took the survey mostly from doubts that enough of my classmates would do the same. Obviously my school was reaching out to see the effect that Biden’s speech had on our campus (although I was too busy studying to attend it). So I thought, what better way to help promote high-quality sexual education policy than to add my own Christocentric viewpoint to a survey that could potentially be used to change existing laws and policies for personal sexual safety?
And that is exactly where I messed up. The email stated that the survey was directly inspired by the legislation that Title IX enforced for educational nondiscrimination according to gender. But when I took the survey, I was amazed at the questions I was asked. Every single one of them was a leading question with limited multiple choice answers that seemed offended by my own gender.
The questions interrogated my character, like whether at a college party I tried to interfere when a college student (man) was being too sexually aggressive towards another student (woman). The same question came up again except that the circumstance was modified with the woman being intoxicated or under the influence of a drug. I was even asked whether I found myself in the same situation and stopped flirting with the woman when I noticed that she was drunk.
First of all, I’ve never been in any of the circumstances these questions asked me. In fact, I’d never been in any of the circumstances from the survey. I did party a little in college, but I never was around anybody who was being too aggressive in their flirting. I tended to be the lookout man whenever a group of us went out because I was more environmentally aware than most of my friends. At the parties that I went too, most people showed up with their own boos and booze (if alcohol wasn’t provided), and the only aggressive flirting I noticed at one party were the few college women who would go around twerking on the single men standing against the walls. That was it. Of course, many people leave parties saying that they were lit (under the influence) and such, but often the people I saw leaving were barely buzzed– most likely because they sweat a lot of the alcohol out on the dance floor. Now, try to fit my life’s experience into a survey question like this:
When you noticed a male student aggressively approaching a drunk female student in a sexual manner, did you
a) Ignore the situation because you thought the woman was sober enough to make her own responsible decisions
b) Leave with your friends to avoid getting wrapped up in a particularly bad party situation
c) Believe that the flirtation was already consensual, and choose to ignore what you saw
d) Try to flirt with the student yourself
*Note, these are not exact examples, but they are roundabout examples to some of the questions and answer choices I was given.
Yeah…I was wondering all throughout whether the people who made the survey already knew that I was male and whether that made them assume that I didn’t give a flying rat about the safety of the women around me. The questions continued, giving me various situations of intoxicated college students copulating and asking me to judge whether the activity they engaged in could constituted rape. Almost never was detail given of whether anyone was forced against their will, but a lot of attention was given to…guess what…intoxication. I already mentioned that at one point I was posed a question of a situation when I was intoxicated at a party. Now, so far in my life I have had the healthy privilege of never getting intoxicated, so the entire question was shot at the start. AND THERE NEVER WAS AN OPTION FOR NOT APPLICABLE OR ANYTHING OF THE SORT FOR ANY OF THE QUESTIONS THE SURVEY ASKED.
The survey researchers asked my genuine beliefs on how we students should conduct ourselves in sexual encounters, but then totally assumed that I was a raucous partyer who needed alcohol at every single leisure event. What type of survey already assumes answers to questions it’s designed to be asking? Answer: a biased survey– or a rigged one…take your pick. Worse, when the survey ended it asked for sexual strategies that could be utilized in sexual education to encourage a safer sexual environment on campus, and sexual abstinence wasn’t even an electable option. I literally had to write abstinence into the blank box inserted for my personal input. Where the devil was that box in the earlier 20-something questions?! The survey turned out more like the script for an HBO cable series than a serious study of college students’ opinions on sexual behavior.
And it sucks, because sexual assaults do happen on college campuses…but nowhere near the 1 in 5 ratios that Vice President Biden, President Obama, and so many others from all walks of life love to parrot.
One night, I was watching Fox News (getting my dosage of grape Kool-Aid) and I came across a special called “The Truth About Sex and College.” After I witnessed what my survey answers may have really done in the efforts to change current educational policies, I immediately emailed the appropriate leaders of my college to voice my concerns.
With all of these shoddy statistics going around, political leaders and college occupiers create an educational environment full of very bad misinformation. Most people don’t realize that the 1 out of 5 statistic also includes people who were groped and persons who were intoxicated during their sexual encounter and later came to regret having sex. Those two situations possess a ginormous difference to actual rape, and the situation of groping comes way closer to rape than the latter even though it is still a degree too short to measure up. The 1 out of 5 statistic trivializes true rape victims’ painful injustice and it lumps the violation of their humanity together with the emotions of other individuals who only regret having too many drinks and sleeping with a less-than-attractive individual. There are real legal cases where victims of sexual assault are shoved under the rug like an annoying piece of lint that won’t get into the dustpan. But using shoddy evidence for a so-called “rape culture” does not make anyone safer nor does it make our justice system any better than it isn’t already.
You see, when we are quick to label others using sketchy research, we create an environment more hostile to the problem than is actually needed. And when paranoia strikes, it is hard to get people to calm down; and with an issue as serious as rape and the great weight of social angst that comes with every accusation, we create an entirely new problem for ourselves that shouldn’t be. Dishonesty breeds more dishonesty, even if the resulting dishonesty comes with good intentions. Because today, Americans statistically see a whopping 20% of college women being raped at a certain time of their educational careers; it potentially creates a reflexive notion that 20% (or 1 out of 5) of college men like myself are rapists (not potential rapists, but actual committed rapists). Furthermore, when efforts are made to compile data to rectify the “problem,”we get the shoddy surveys that I took with the leading questions and atypical answer choices.
And I really cannot fault Vice President Joe Biden or President Obama for being so radical in wanting to expand awareness within this issue. I mean, President Obama’s oldest daughter is going to college later on this year. I cannot, and refuse to, fault a good dad for being a good dad. But I can find fault in a good politician making a bad political move.
So here are a few things that need to be done. Let’s reassess our current situation and rework the research that has led us to these conclusions by using methods that strengthen the weaknesses of the survey data that we currently possess. Let’s also encourage more transparency in our colleges for sexual assault cases and develop the standard of sexual justice that Title IX was intended to provide. Causing such a systematic change takes a literal heart change for persons in the upper echelons of administration. Realistically, we can’t always change people’s hearts, so some people will need to be removed from their position in order for justice to roll out. AND their removal should be processed by each individual educational institution in a transparent manner with due process of law and legitimate legal reasons for their removal using the said Title IX standard.
The only way I can see this being enforced is if the federal government engages its legally limited power by making incentives for schools through threats to revoke funding to educational institutions that do not comply to sexual assault standards. Ooo, no more mullah for a college/university if it doesn’t judge sexual assault cases with open transparency to the state and federal justice systems! Won’t this almost certainly make colleges and universities comply to the law since federal funding is sometimes the only thing keeping these institutions afloat? Whelp, problem solved.
Admittedly, we do have a real problem on our college campuses, and it’s really a reflection of the sexualized society that we live in. I’ll give one example that I witnessed in real life.
Once, a group of college men at my school were accused of assaulting a woman who was a student. But later, it was allegedly revealed that the woman was intoxicated, and that she had already established a sexual relationship with one or more of the students she accused of assaulting her. Furthermore, it was allegedly revealed that she willingly went with them in a similar manner of behavior they used before engaging in sexual activity. Even worse, she was allegedly so intoxicated that one of the persons she allegedly accused wasn’t even at the scene when the sexual activity allegedly occurred. But it was too late, the images of all the students along with their names had already been posted on public news networks. Though one suspect was cleared through a DNA test, since I last heard the case is still ongoing for all of them. And their lives, I am sure, will never be the same again.
But don’t get too comfy in your social outrage over the one incident of alleged false-identification.
In one of my classes, I was sitting with a majority male students–most of them upperclassmen. They were outraged by what happened to the male students before the court determined all of the facts. Already a tweet another outraged student made went viral with a very sexualized and misogynist manifesto essentially saying that the woman was no better than a prostitute who was asking for it. I am glad that I no longer remember the jokes that were told between several of the students in my class (not all of them, mind you). The gross sexual jests that flowed from their mouths showed me up close and personal that modern society contains a real problem with how nonchalantly sexual activity is viewed. Sexism is also a very ugly monster to witness; and I stared at its virile eyes that day and began growing increasingly disgusted with my school, society, and gender population.
People view sex so perfunctorily in our society that it’s literally become a commodity that one should expect, like having a car with car insurance or a cummerbund on a tux. If you’re of legal age (or not, even), then sex is what you are supposed/assumed to be doing. The survey that I took showed me that the federal government thinks the same way. This societal expectation should not be the reality. The very seriousness of sexual crimes testifies for strong evidence to the potential gravity sexuality has on the lives of human beings. Sex is far more than physical activity; there is a binding of persons on a soulish level within every sexual encounter. Within the binding act itself and the normal biological result of producing human life, sex demands the acknowledgment of its sacredness instead of our modern-day sacrilege.
Because of this we need to be careful with our labels, and we should honor our research on sexual activity with the same measure of respect that we ought to view sexuality itself.
But this demands a heart change…for each and every one of us.