The Trauma of Reasons

Justin Dillon wrote an op-ed for the Chronicle of Higher Education about the proposed changes in Title IX sex adjudication, which opened with a curious line.

Thank God for Betsy DeVos.

It’s not clear what God has to do with it, nor even DeVos, for that matter. The changes are a fairly tepid undoing of a radical and subconstitutional system unilaterally created by an unelected bureaucrat who abused her position to ram her agenda down the throats of American universities based upon a series of lies that took decades to become the accepted narrative. But that was Justin’s choice, to open by thanking God, and to thank God for Betsy DeVos.

With the release on Friday of the proposed new rules for adjudicating campus sexual-misconduct cases, the education secretary has taken an important step toward restoring common sense and sanity in how these cases are handled.

This follow-up line holds up no better. Common sense is the palliative phrase of people for whom thinking is too much trouble, and there was nothing insane about what Catherine Lhamon wrought. It was quite brilliant and effective, no matter how contrary to due process. She wanted to create a system where women would prevail and men would not, and managed to make it happen. Malevolent and Machiavellian, but by no means insane.

But then, this was Justin’s op-ed, not mine, and he’s entitled to express his views, and express them in whatever way he chooses. Whether I agree (which I mostly do,* even if he expressed things in different ways than I would) or not has no bearing on his right to speak his mind and should I, or you, or anyone, disagree with Justin, then criticize him all you want. This is America.

A letter to the editor of the Chronicle, however, reveals a different approach. It’s not about agreeing or disagreeing. It’s about how Justin’s op-ed, in itself, traumatizes “survivors.” And then it digs one level deeper, accusing the Chronicle of Higher Education, which has shown little reluctance to hide its institutional bias, of siding with rapists for publishing an op-ed that was traumatizing to “survivors.”

We, a group of current student-affairs professionals, want to highlight some specific quotes and explain why they are at issue.

“Thank God for Betsy DeVos.”

This proposal has been criticized by sexual assault survivors, advocates, and Title IX coordinators as being anti-survivor. Saying that we should “Thank God for Betsy DeVos” ignores the negative impact that this proposal will have on survivors.

This also ignores the total harm that DeVos has done to the rights of transgender, gender non-conforming individuals, low-income students, and students of color.

The opening sentence said, well, nothing of substance. It was a throw-away line, and even as such, it was vapid. That four “current student-affairs professionals” found it sufficiently awful to be worthy of attack because it “ignores the negative impact” is astoundingly vacuous.

Even worse, that an expression of appreciation for DeVos “ignores” the unmentioned “total harm” to a list of preferred students begs the question, thus doubling the fallaciousness of their “logic.” Has she “harmed” the rights of students of color falsely accused of rape? They might not think so.

In a world where sexual assault survivors rarely get justice and the higher-education system has repeatedly intimidated survivors, protected assaulters, and not followed the Title IX process, this essay only does more damage to the Title IX process. The publication of this essay by The Chronicle puts its stance of supporting survivors in question and will be a mark on its reputation. We worry that sexual assault survivors, whether they are students, faculty, or staff, will feel traumatized and unsupported by this article.

It’s one thing to argue that a victim is traumatized by rape. It’s another to argue that an accuser is traumatized by being put to the burden of proof of their accusation. It’s another still to argue that an expression of reasons why a system deliberately designed to deprive the accused of basic due process may traumatize “survivors” because it doesn’t “support” their outcome.

And how dare the Chronicle, by publishing Justin’s traumatizing words, “put its stance of supporting survivors in question.” Is it not their duty to promote only the interests of “survivors”?

If four “current student-affairs professionals” feel compelled to put their flagrant, if vapid, bias on display, that’s entirely their choice. Mind you, should any student be accused at one of their colleges and they play a role, any role, in the adjudication of guilt, this letter to the editor can and should be used to demonstrate their prejudice.

But the crux of their attack is that they can tolerate no dispute with their position. Nor can they tolerate the Chronicle of Higher Education publishing a challenge, and it will be a “mark on its reputation.” It’s not just that Justin is bad for saying it, but the Chronicle is bad for publishing it, because words of disagreement are, themselves, traumatic.

*There’s invariably a self-promotional aspect to these op-eds. The odor is unpleasant and unmistakable.

20 thoughts on “The Trauma of Reasons

  1. Skink

    From the letter:

    “ ‘To be sure, this will be hard on accusers — but it should be.’

    Why should this be hard on accusers? Why is this author saying that the process should be hard on someone who has be[en] assaulted?”

    I mean this in all seriousness: how does this get bought by anyone that isn’t plainly stupid?

  2. Elpey P.

    They apparently agree with the editorial’s assertion about drunken sex that is regretted later, but they just don’t like people bringing it up. And they add another loophole.

    “You say you asked her, and she said ‘yes’?”
    “She did.”
    “But was it an ‘enthusiastic’ yes?”
    “Well, it was more of a solemn yes.”

    1. SHG Post author

      Saying that accusers regret a night of sex and therefore reporting that they have been assaulted is a common argument of men’s rights activists and rapists themselves.

      Saying that they didn’t commit the murder is a common argument of people accused of murder because sometimes they didn’t commit a murder.

  3. David Meyer-Lindenberg

    I’m not commenting on DeVos’ reforms. But I find it amazing that these people felt comfortable putting their names to a letter with the premise that it’s morally unimaginable to support a proposal by the Secretary of Education. Nor can they make their case without committing all kinds of sins of persuasion, grammar, and logic. Between the ridiculous premise and the poor execution, the letter wouldn’t pass muster in a decent English class. But it was sent in anyway, and to a marquee publication on higher ed.

    Kudos to the Chronicle for publishing the letter, and apparently not editing it very much. It’s revealing, and a reminder of the importance of examining your own beliefs, lest they lead you somewhere absurd.

      1. David Meyer-Lindenberg

        The CHE is doing yeoman’s work by publishing this stuff. If it were in the NYT, it’d be horrible for the same reason legally ignorant op-eds are horrible there: lots of people who don’t have subject-matter knowledge will spread it around. In the CHE, on the other hand, it feels a lot more like Duchamp’s urinal.

        1. SHG Post author

          Which is worse, quantity or quality? The NYT is a bigger soapbox, but CHE is more focused on the power players in Title IX adjudications.

          1. David Meyer-Lindenberg

            I think quantity’s worse. Doesn’t matter if it’s education, law, or anything else: The only way you take a claim like this at face value is if you’re underinformed or a true believer in the authors’ politics. Since true believers won’t change their minds anyway, it’s better they see it than those who might buy it.

            Plus, the letter ought to raise eyebrows among the knowledgeable and skeptical. That was the clever thing about Fountain – it wasn’t just a joke on the art establishment, but a submission that forced the more skeptical kind of observer to ask, “What unexamined beliefs do I have about what art is?”

            1. SHG Post author

              But true believes aren’t dissuaded by sound challenges. You can’t change a heart by talking to a head. What they want is the validation of their peers. The support of the mob is great too, but it’s the peers upon which you take real comfort.

    1. Rojas

      Consider it’s reasonable to assume that these “professionals” or “survivor advocates” or “activists” each had input on their respective employer’s student codes of conduct and adjudication process and it’s fairly clear how the bottom rail ended up on top.

  4. Leo

    “Thank God for Bazooka Bubble Gum” ignores the negative impact of finding gum on the sole of your shoe.

    Sometimes, probably always, things are good AND bad. Why not thank God for the good?

    1. SHG Post author

      As I occasionally remind people who attempt to put in their two cents on a substantive issue, nobody gives a shit how you feel, but they may care why you feel that way.

      1. Patrick Maupin

        Some people use “Thank God for” as shorthand for “This is good news.” Bless their hearts!

  5. B. McLeod

    These so-called “professionals” should not be indulging in affairs with students, as their relative degrees of power and influence on campus present the prospect of coercion, and the students (due to their inferior positions in the campus community) are presumptively incapable of adequately consenting to participation in the affairs. To the extent they evidently fail to grasp this (somewhat basic) point, they have no business passing judgment on anybody’s comments about God, DeVos, Title IX, or sexual conduct among students.


  6. DaveL

    “Student Affairs Professionals” sounds so much better than “University Bureaucrats”. You’d almost be fooled into thinking they had licensure, and binding rules of ethics.

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