I have now sat through my mandatory Title IX training, which is to say I spent ninety minutes in an Orwellian swamp of doublespeak, barely hidden bigotry, and will to power, decreed by the Obama Administration and enthusiastically carried out by a combination of mid-level administrators and high-paid legal “experts.” For those of you blissfully unaware of this particularly harmful bit of social engineering, Title IX is the section of the Civil Rights Act that bars discrimination on the basis of sex. Most of us hear about it when schools get into fights over which sports team gets extra funding, and which gets cut, in the name of equality. As with all things, the Obama Administration upped the bar on meddling by intentionally misconstruing Title IX. In this instance, mid-level bureaucrats in the Department of Education have decided to misuse the law as a means of gaining power over the sex lives of college students.
This is a family on-line journal, so I will not go too far into the grisly details of the Education Department’s program. Moreover, I am all in favor of educational institutions exerting their traditional authority in overseeing interpersonal relations among students, particularly in the dormitories; a very few schools take this responsibility seriously even today. The problem is that the Obama Administration, with the enthusiastic support of administrators on college campuses, is seeking to regulate these relations in service to a corrupt, unworkable, and dehumanizing set of norms. Those norms can be summed up as “the hookup culture.” Brilliantly dissected in Tom Wolfe’s I am Charlotte Simmons, the hookup culture dominates American college campuses, essentially demanding that young adults dehumanize themselves through drunken and/or drug-induced trysts of a sexual nature, then pretend that they did not happen, or at any rate they did not have any importance for their characters or their souls.
This culture did not grow up on its own. First, the universities abandoned their traditional role in loco parentis, in which they worked to uphold some semblance of propriety regarding interpersonal relations on campus in support of the wishes of those generally paying the tuition (parents). With the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the partial substitution of government for parental or personal funding, support for universities in this role evaporated on most campuses—including, alas, most “religious” campuses. For some years there was a vacuum. Nobody was in charge of the dormitories. When I attended college during the 1980s one could smell the drugs in every hallway, get drunk pretty much for free at least four nights per week in any dormitory, and have the opportunity to engage in sexual relations pretty much wherever one wanted and on a regular basis. Still, it was possible for some people to avoid all this. There were some institutions, some “study dorms,” and some on-campus groups holding and living by other, more traditional values. The dormitories were akin to the island in Lord of the Flies, except that the university more or less kept the peace, allowing some students to find others with whom to live in a state of internal exile.
But the university, like nature, hates a vacuum. It was too much to ask, once they gave up their proper role in putting the brakes on adolescent hormones, for university administrators to hold off proselytizing for the “new” (in reality merely pre-Christian) morality. And so we began to have contraceptive giveaways and counseling sessions aimed at “helping” students partake of the most “open” and experimental aspects of the new orthodoxy. The result was the hookup culture.
Not surprisingly, this culture has turned out to be harmful and even oppressive. Young people end up engaging in activities they regret. Predators use the opportunities provided by mind-altering substances and an atmosphere of contempt for modesty and self-respect to push one another’s buttons for their own sexual and/or psychological pleasure. Frustration and an atmosphere of entitlement breed anger and even violence.
Time to rethink the hookup culture? Of course not. As I have been told repeatedly by those in the “mainstream” on such issues, “there is no going back,” and “we can’t do anything about” massive underage drinking or illegal drug use—let alone the actual hookups. As for the contempt for modesty and self-respect, very few on campus want to do anything other than foster this “liberated” atmosphere. So, instead of re-establishing something like common sense (let alone increasingly uncommon decency) universities are looking to the most radical and inhumane among us—educrats—to “save” the hookup culture from itself.
The results are rather horrific. I am not referring merely to the doublespeak to which professors are subjected in Title IX training sessions. Most professors are only too happy to see themselves as stamping out “patriarchy” by reporting offensive comments to the authorities. Here, the legal facilitators are hardly leading the charge when, as in the session I witnessed, they tell professors “good for you” for wanting to treat saying “women can’t be engineers” twice as sexual harassment, worthy of official investigation—not as rude, inappropriate, or even a cause for concern, but as in and of itself worthy of official investigation with the possible result of firing. I also am not referring to the atmosphere of anti-male hostility, with all sexual misconduct examples involving a male aggressor despite repeated claims to gender neutrality. I am not even referring to the fact that presumably intelligent, educated people are being told by lawyers that a naked power grab by petty ideologues in the Obama Education Department, encapsulated in threatening “Dear Colleague” letters with zero basis in actual law, is in fact “the law,” and hence a rule of action everyone must follow. The worst results do not involve the faculty, most of whom long ago made these deplorable assumptions their own. The worst problems, the greatest victims, are in the dormitories.
Again, I would welcome a trend among universities to re-establish decent rules regarding interpersonal conduct on university property. But the goal, here, is to save the hookup culture, not end it. And, because the hookup culture is intrinsically degrading to our very natures as human beings, the only way to save it is to attempt to change human nature. As with previous attempts to change human nature, the resulting failure will involve the sacrifice of many people in addition to a sustained attack on common sense.
The central “rule,” here, decrees that sexual relations will not constitute misconduct/assault when and only when there is “explicit consent.” This means that both parties must give knowing and voluntary signs of consent at each stage or level of contact. Stage or level? They are not defined. What is sufficient “sign?” Also not defined, though it must be open and obvious. In addition, one whose judgment is impaired (i.e., intoxicated or drugged up) cannot give consent. Moreover, if an impaired person appears to give consent and the “aggressor” knows or should know of the other party’s impairment, it remains assault—even if the aggressor himself is intoxicated.
Got it? Neither do I. And neither can any sane person, or for that matter university administrators. But the Department of Education will move against any university that fails to enforce this standard, up to and including through expulsion, on the basis of a “preponderance of the evidence” (more likely than not) standard. None of this includes the police investigating sexual assault because we would never tolerate investigations imposing such violations of our constitutional rights by police. But students so accused may have their lives ruined under a sub-constitutional and even sub-legal system using a standard of proof appropriate for deciding who was at fault in a fender-bender. The only rational response to such draconian rules would be to foreswear the hookup culture and return to a more normal attitude toward relations between the sexes. Then again, a kiss without a signed statement of consent also is hardly normal. Besides, as I have said, ending the hookup culture is not the goal. The alcohol, the drugs, and the cynical sexual attitudes must remain. Rather than admit that the rules are unworkable, then, universities will attempt to train students on how to navigate them.
Enter the pettiest of petty dictators: the consulting thought police. Students now are being subjected to mandatory training sessions paid for by the universities, carried out by small-time administrators, and featuring the twisted morality of educrats—members of the consulting industry making fortunes off the officially sanctioned graft that is “compliance training.” Most prominently, Campus Clarity, is a massive organization conducting faculty and student mandatory training sessions across the country. Their “Think About It” materials are intended to provide students with a “comprehensive foundation in four areas: sex in college, partying smart, sexual violence, and healthy relationships.” Hundreds of universities use their materials to hector students without allowing them to seriously question the sick culture in which they are being dumped.
My own favorite element from the Campus Clarity website, “The hookup culture typical of today’s college campuses can lead to misunderstandings. Think About It: Turning Points [the organization’s manual] prepares students to make informed decisions about what’s right for them.” We are, as a number of blogs and books out there put it, helping students to “navigate the hookup culture.” We assume the toxic culture will remain what it is. We assume students can and should choose how to interact with this toxic culture even as they are immersed in it. This is akin to giving an eighteen-year-old a map, then throwing her into shark-infested waters and telling her to swim to the opposite shore of an ocean.
I know this will sound horrible to most academics, but I submit that it would be better not to throw that student into the ocean in the first place.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.