June 2, 2016

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 ...

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.”

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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?

This Week's Show •

Black Lives On Campus

What does the second civil rights movement look like? Is a new struggle for equality, in feelings as well as rights, afoot on American campuses? It seemed possible this week when frustrated students toppled the president and ...

What does the second civil rights movement look like? Is a new struggle for equality, in feelings as well as rights, afoot on American campuses?

It seemed possible this week when frustrated students toppled the president and chancellor at the University of Missouri. We’re asking how the whole thing happened, and if it’s part of a new model for racial change. Our guest Daunasia Yancey, the Boston organizer who confronted Hillary Clinton on inequality this year, hopes so.

12189352_526606837496332_9141353326007512538_o (1)Martin Luther King wrote: “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” To many, the new activists at Mizzou and Yale — and, before this week, at UMich, UCLA and Arizona State — are living that lesson. They speak of pain, insecurity, and alienation in school — the stuff of Claudia Rankine’s poetry of microaggression and the polemic reporting of Ta-Nehisi Coates. Driven by recent history and the matter of black lives, the kids demand redress.

Others say the campus turn is risky. Our guest, the feisty blogger and professor Fredrik deBoer, worries that his liberal students are being illiberal in the name of sensitivity. There is a fear that big movements will start to focus on small, millennial things: Halloween costumes and misguided emails. A Yale senior screamed at her resident dean, and reasonable folks wondered “could life be so hard in the Ivy League?”

IMG_20151111_140844647 (1)Harvard students we interviewed this week say “yes.” One young man said he’s struggling to “sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.” He and hundreds of classmates gathered Wednesday to get recognition and testimony (but not much comfort) from Coates, the Atlantic writer we’re sampling in our program.

And we have two professors (pictured right), macro scholars on race and the law tasked with the micro events of student life. Ronald Sullivan and Stephanie Robinson are the first African American house masters (residential life deans) in Harvard’s long history. Many of their young charges are fed up, but Halloween passed without incident at Winthrop House.

So, tell us: What’s happening on your quad? What does the second civil rights movement feel like? And will the Ferguson spirit grow on campus or will it stall?

(Yale, above, in black and white courtesy of Philipp Arndt)