Thursday, December 4, 2014
Media outlets have once again focused on the wave of sexual assault taking place on U.S. college and university campuses. The stories about the University of Virginia’s recent experience are illustrative of a national phenomenon. Of course the law has, through the Title IX provisions overseen by the Department of Education, been involved in the process. But is the fundamental purpose of these laws—to protect the young—really understood by all of those entrusted with the law’s execution?
Recently, I have been discussing these matters with Jesuit confreres who are on the respective campus committees of their schools that are attempting to assist these institutions in compliance with the Title IX provisions dealing with sexual assault. From discussions with these priests and friends, I think it safe to say that most schools are concerned about the need to comply with the civil laws. However, I question whether these committees in their entirety are looking at the root problems and the convergence of these problems that lead to campus climates where a combination of factors, not addressed by some interpretations of the law and therefore not addressed by the school committees, lead to the “perfect storms” of rampant sexual misconduct that bring great harm to many of our young people.
A friend of many of us here at the Mirror of Justice John Garvey, who is president of The Catholic University of America, has acknowledged that one of the underlying problems of these perfect storms is having young men and women live together in campus residence halls where their common life leads to sharing more than simply a roof overhead. Other elements of the perfect storms begin to enter the forecast, and these include: permissive attitudes about alcohol and other drugs on campus and, so-called, peer education programs that promote rather than deter sexual promiscuity. The forecast gets amplified by current trends to make toilet and shower facilities “gender neutral” so as to assuage the feelings of those students who “feel uncomfortable” with sex/gender assigned bathroom facilities. Another factor needs to be considered here: there are faculty and staff who find the sexual desires of students reflective of their own life choices. Consequently, some of these staff and faculty would not want to see their educational institutions make policy decisions pertaining to student housing and student life that contravene their own life-style choices.
All of these factors lead to the perfect storms of sexual assault that currently exist on American campuses and will likely continue to exist until the fundamental purposes of the moral law and the civil law are viewed in the light of protecting our young people from living and other institutional circumstances that are dangerous to their health and wellbeing.
I know for a fact that many of my colleagues in the academy will regard my perspective as old-fashioned and not with the times; however, my retort is that in spite of being old-fashioned and not with the times the principles that I would propose for student life—including separate housing for men and women, intolerance of on-campus alcohol and drug abuse, and a cessation of freshman orientation programs that teach our young on the intricacies of how to have “safe sex”—should have a noticeable and remedial impact on the campus culture of the present age that sustain the perfect storms bringing havoc to so many college students today. Trying to comply with laws in ways that avoid dealing with the root problems that lead to and sustain the perfect storms is not the way to go about protecting those entrusted to our care.