Sex and Safety on Campus

For decades now, we’ve worried about an epidemic of sexual assault and un-safety at American colleges and universities.

But there’s a question of whether, amid the familiar panic and new paperwork, we’ve made real progress toward solving the problem.

Consider the numbers at Harvard as they appeared in a report last year:

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Harvard Law School professor Jeannie Suk begins the show with a provocative statement. In an article co-written with her colleague and husband Jacob Gersen, Suk faults universities for overcompensating, after years of neglect, on matters of sexual safety by built a paranoid atmosphere and a self-defensive “sex bureaucracy.”


On the phone, Alexandra Brodsky is one of the activists who saw to it that victims of sexual assault used the Title IX provision to involve the government in what used to be purely academic proceedings (which often produced no results).

This week she graduated from Yale Law School, but she’s still looking for ways to fine-tune the public resolution of sex claims on campus. Most recently, Brodsky proposed turning toward the “restorative justice” model put to work in South Africa, Germany, and Rwanda—an honest and possibly healing confrontation of victim and accused.

Beneath this and all sexual matters, of course there are hidden questions of selves, of gender, of privilege and bias—of what young people want and need. The writer-historian Moira Weigel discusses the socialization of women and the rise of dating (she just wrote a book about it), and the journalist Caitlin Flanagan, who nailed fraternities last year in The Atlantic, arrives to provide some wisdom.

And finally, it’s worth noting that the latest wave of the sexual-violence campaign arrives in a broader conversation about student safety, comfort and inclusion at schools. The New Yorker‘s Nathan Heller just captured the Oberlin version, but David Bromwich joins us to consider the ramifications of safety beyond the realm of sexuality.

What kind of safety are campus activists asking for? What kind can enormous, expensive universities provide? And what does the reworking of rules, patterns, and expectations on campus foretell for the world at large?

Guest List
Jeannie Suk
professor at Harvard Law School and contributor at The New Yorker.
Alexandra Brodsky
co-founder of Know Your IX, editor at Feministing, and brand-new graduate of Yale Law School.
Caitlin Flanagan
journalist, social critic, and author of "The Dark Power of Fraternities" in The Atlantic.
Moira Weigel
PhD candidate at Yale University and author of Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating.
David Bromwich
Sterling professor of English at Yale and author of Moral Imagination: Essays.

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