Universities: Unsafe at any Speed

Back in 1965, Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile warned that the automobile industry was resisting design innovations that would make cars safer. Twelve years later, journalist Mark Dowdie got hold of a cost-benefit analysis from Ford Motors, showing that Ford was aware of a potentially fatal design flaw, but decided that it would be cheaper in the long run to pay off lawsuits than to change production.

Have universities performed a similar cost-benefit analysis when it comes to handling sexual violence? As details about Greek life are exposed by journalists — at Dartmouth; at the University of Virginia;  at Wesleyan; at Brown; and nationally, universities have several uncomfortable options. They can defend the existing Greek system on the basis of its community-building activities, its philanthropy, the fact that students apparently are demanding the kinds of experiences that the Greek system is said to deliver. On my campus, in fact, one administrator told a public meeting that he believed that sororities provided young women with support networks that could help prevent sexual assault.

They can  take measures intended mainly to protect their public image. The University of Virginia took the bold step of suspending all fraternities  . . . until January 2015.

Or they can stick their heads back in the sand and hope the whole controversy just blows over.

The bottom line is, well, the bottom line. Greeks boast that “members on average donate more than four times as much to their respective universities as alumni than do non greeks”  and that “Greeks give approximately 75% of all money donated to universities.”

I don’t know if those numbers are true. Universities are notoriously protective of their donor data. But true or not, institutions behave as if this is the truth: to take on the Greek system — even if it is in the interests of protecting students from alcohol poisoning, drugging, sexual assault, falls, fires, etc. — well, that’s to take on powerful financial interests.

Dependent on donors said to be invested in Greek life, Big Sports, and a party culture, university administrators (many of them products of systems that have for decades protected perpetrators and enabled the cultures of silence and shame that are only now being challenged) are weighing their moral and ethical obligations to students against the economic bottom line. A

nd like auto manufacturers, it appears that they’ve decided that it’s far more expensive to change their production process (e.g. acknowledging the extent of the problem, putting the brakes on Greek system) than it is to settle Title IX lawsuits (which, as a lawyer recently reminded me, are much harder to win than lawsuits brought by perpetrators).

It’s a shit system.


Why Research Institutions Should Not Sign up for the AAU’s Sexual Assault and Campus Climate Survey

Universities around the US have only recently, partially, and unevenly begun to reckon with campus sexual assault and sexual violence. For years, these problems have existed on campuses, cloaked in secrecy and shame.

The White House’s “Not Alone” report identified campus climate surveys as the single most important step toward identifying and addressing these problems.

Instead of proceeding transparently, openly, and scientifically, many universities are signing onto the AAU’s survey (which they have proposed as an alternative to the survey being developed by the White House for reasons they don’t care to specify).

I’ve attached a letter written by a number of scientists who have been in the forefront of studying sexual violence for years. Please read it, share it, and urge your administrators not to carefully weigh their options, and not rush into this.

Scientists to AAU Member Presidents 17 November 2014

Student article on Greek Life

Below, I’m sharing a comment I posted on an article in our student newspaper, because I’m not sure that the moderator will approve it. And because I’m upset about the obvious ethical violations — the article is clearly a public relations move by FSL and its supporters. That’s not what a student newspaper should be publishing.

Here’s the link to what is essentially a puff piece for Fraternity and Sorority Life, as it’s described here. Not only did the author not bother to contact the faculty member who did the campus climate survey, she didn’t bother to contact anyone who might be the least bit critical of FSL or mention, for example, that at least one fraternity is currently on social probation because of a reported drugging or that FSL no longer requires Greek.edu training, as minimal as that is.

“I am writing as the co-chair of the Senate Task Force to Address Sexual Violence and Survivor Support and also as a Professor in the School of Journalism and Communication. I am alarmed by the ethical violations that abound in this article. No sources outside FSL were consulted for the writing of this article and nowhere does the author reveal her own relationship to FSL at UO.

I am assuming that the author is the same Kiley Miyatt who enthusiastically liked pages on the now defunct Facebook page UO Confessions, including the following:

“My roommate got so fucked up she wore a sunbrero [sic] around town with no shirt on. She also peed in a shower, and fell asleep sitting upright on a counter at a party. I’m sooooo proud of her.” (https://www.facebook.com/UOcon…

“I got a boner when those two girls kissed on kiss cam. My girlfriend then noticed and now I’m single. Where you at ladies???” (https://www.facebook.com/UOcon….

I cannot begin to tell you how disappointed I am that the Emerald published a piece that has absolutely no balance and that contains no independent research or thought.

We have a lot of work to do on this campus.


Carol Stabile, Professor”

Surprised again

When convicted sex offender and former radio personality Adam Ritz was brought to speak at the University of Minnesota in October 2011, the Interfraternity and Panhellenic councils apologized to their community.

When he visited Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, in that same month, the school newspaper criticized him for equating his rape of a college student he had hired to babysit his children with “poor decision making.”

When he visited the University of Southern Indiana in October 2011, the student newspaper took the Activities Programming Board (APB) and Phi Delta Theta fraternity to task for “paying a convicted lifetime sex offender $1,800 to speak on campus.”

But when Ritz was paid $4,000 in May 2013 to provide “alcohol awareness and sexual awareness training” to University of Oregon football players, we didn’t even know he was here.

Athletics at UO, as elsewhere, is pretty much a closed system. Efforts by people who know a thing or two about sexual assault prevention and sexual violence to provide educational efforts have long been met with a defensive wall of silence. Athletics departments provide training to athletes, advocates around the country have been told, and they know better than anyone else how to reach student-athletes.

I think we all know better than to believe that at this point, especially in light of investigative reporting on sexual assault in college football in particular, like the New York TimesWalt Bogdanich‘s coverage of sexual assault at Florida State University.

Athletics departments and Greeks around the country made poor decisions in bringing a sex offender and media personality to campus whose only credential (aside from his ability to work the media) was his crime (there are plenty of testimonials from football players on his website, but it’s not clear how that translates into effective educational content).

We need to start demanding more information about how education about sexual violence is being conducted within campus subcultures that are most at risk like football, basketball, Greek systems, band, and debate, to just name a few.

We’re universities, for heaven’s sake, where we have some of the brightest minds in the country working on and researching these very issues. Why not bring some of them in to talk to students in at risk subcultures rather than a sex offender turned campus lecture circuit speaker whose main argument is that raping a baby sitter can happen to anyone?

World War II Consent Form

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My partner was going through his family archives (he does this periodically — I’m still surprised that he finds anything new, but he tells me he does and this kind of proves it) and he came across this form. It was paper clipped to a bunch of jokes, so from the context it would seem that this was meant to be a joke.

Still, it speaks to considerable anxiety during a period in which many women were enjoying freedoms that would be shut down in the Cold War that followed.

And joke or not, I found myself wondering, wouldn’t it be a huge improvement if we all very clear about what we wanted and where we stood vis a vis sexual encounters? What’s wrong with getting enthusiastic consent, written or otherwise?

Banning Fraternities

Amherst College has banned fraternities — never thought I’d see the day. But see the New York Times’ article on fraternities: “Numerous studies show that members of Greek organizations drink more heavily than other students, and alcohol abuse is strongly tied to other forms of misconduct.”

One student at Northwestern was quoted as saying, “I got very jaded because of the way certain frats handled rush, focusing on alcohol and girls too much.” That’s the equivalence that I find disturbing — one that’s so prevalent these days — that somehow there’s an equivalence between objects of consumption like alcohol and “girls.” 


Eugene Weekly Cover Story on UO and Sexual Assault

Eugene Weekly Cover Story on UO and Sexual Assault