It’s surprising when an editorial reaction to anything coming out of the DeVos Department of Education, or the Trump administration in general, isn’t shredded for no better reason than Orange Man Bad. After all, even a blind squirrel finds the occasional nut, and while the new Title IX regs raise more questions than answers, they are certainly a step in the right direction. And the LA Times agrees, their Trumpian roots notwithstanding.
When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos decided to revisit the rules governing sexual assault accusations at colleges, some victims’ advocates feared she would make it too difficult to hold assailants responsible. But the rules released this week make reasonable changes for the most part, curbing some of the excesses of the previous system.
The editorial is, like most, shallow, demonstrating a superficial grasp of both the problem and the cure. After all, the new regs involve legal concepts and their application in a real world setting, and this is well beyond the scope of editorial writers’ world. That they recognized the virtue of giving the accused any opportunity to defend himself against a college bureaucracy dedicated to sacrificing the male, innocent or guilty, and if guilty, of what, an offensive act or an entirely consensual act that morphed into “rape” a few years later, is to their credit.
When you get an editorial like this, there’s a natural inclination to applaud it. After all, it’s mostly right and supports the general notions of due process. Why question your friends, particularly when there are so many enemies out there spewing deliberate lies? And indeed, to have a major paper end up on the right side of an issue is no small matter these days. The New York Times has yet to take a position on the new Title IX regs. Maybe they were too busy with other things.
But there is one deeply concerning aspect of the LA Times editorial that can’t slip under the rug, as it reflects how myths get created and perpetuated, quietly in the background as the warm hand massages other parts of the issue.
This has been a fraught topic from the start, its history one of pendulum swings. A decade ago, colleges and universities routinely swept allegations of sexual assault under the rug, discouraging victims from reporting, taking little to no action against their attackers and misreporting the numbers. Seeking to change that culture of denial, the Obama administration took strong measures to ensure that higher education took this matter seriously.
That this situation arose because “a decade ago, colleges and universities routinely swept allegations of sexual assault under the rug,” is false, a wholesale reinvention of history that creates the belief that there was legitimacy in the invention of campus sex tribunals, a very real, very bad problem in need of repair. It’s untrue.
First, a small detail of some crucial significance needs to be understood: Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex by the college. Not by the college’s students, per se, but the college. It can’t have boys’ teams but not girls’ teams. It can’t require boys to take shop and girls to take home ec.
It wasn’t until years of dedicated activism by Catherine McKinnon and her cohort that colleges became liable under Title IX for their own actions in failing to address sexual harassment on campus that impaired students’ educational opportunity by reason of sex. Still, it wasn’t the conduct of the students that invoked Title IX protections, but the inaction of the colleges to protect female students from sexual harassing male students.
The very notion that colleges “routinely swept allegations of sexual assault under the rug” has no grounding in reality. The rule back then was “no means no,” and the notion of “affirmative consent” or post-hoc regret would have been an absurd Dworkian wet dream.
Even worse, there was no requirement that colleges insert themselves into the routine peer-to-peer sexual relationships between college students. If two students wanted to have sex, that was their business. If they did it drunk, that was their choice. If the woman regretted her choice the next day, then she learned from her mistake and didn’t do it again. Or at least didn’t blame the man for raping her and expect the college to expel him. Women weren’t infantilized, but expected to be responsible for their big girl decisions.
There was nothing for colleges to sweep under the rug as colleges weren’t the sex police between rapey males and helpless females. That’s not to say there weren’t occasional scandals, where colleges kept their star athletes, for example, out of the news when they were accused of rape, but that reflected very different issues that were real at the time. The rapes would be handled by real police in real courts. And rapes were rapes, back when the word had meaning and the act was as awful as it’s still viewed by rational people.
To suggest that the Title IX regime on campus since the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter arose from an extant rape epidemic, rape culture, or routine sexual assault on campus that colleges swept under the rug, is to create a myth that normalizes a coup by radicals to recreate sexual politics.
To argue that colleges had anything to do with overseeing ordinary sexual relations between its male and female students is crazy. Indeed, students at that point wanted nothing more than to keep the bureaucracy out of their bedrooms. The days of all-girl dorms where boys had to keep one foot on the floor at all times was a vestige of the ’50s. The last thing college kids wanted was a nanny watching them.
There was no swinging pendulum a decade ago. There was no rape epidemic. There were no college admins ogling students doing the dirty. There was, however, a head of the Office of Civil Rights at the DoE who was finally in position to institute a plan to create this new sexual order. And now, as the LA Times rightly notes, there is an effort to bring some balance to an inquisition that was borne of a fevered view of helpless women in campus sexual relations and nothing more.