Will Giving Low Income College Students the Best Dorm Rooms Stop Rape?

No, the title isn’t a joke. No, it's not a typo. It refers to a "serious" proposal for eliminating college sexual assault. And no, not to the proposal of a lone internet crank. To the proposal of professors from Princeton and Columbia. To one favorably reviewed by Psychology Today, Kirkus and NPR. To one promoted by the training seminars of an influential activist organization.

It's On Us was founded by the Obama administration to "combat rape." In reality it disseminates ideological propaganda. Its recent series of "training seminars" included a two part series conducted jointly by Princeton’s Shamus Khan and Columbia’s Jennifer Hirsch on July 26 and 29. They provided an introduction to the theories of their book Sexual Citizens—pompously subtitled A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus.

All Khan and Hirsch really do is apply to sexual assault an unquestioned and unproven assumption—that misbehavior results from "inequality of power" rather than individual choice. Incidents are misinterpreted through that lens to provide "proof." The "contribution" of their book? It doesn't stop at blaming "power inequalities" between men and women. It claims each and every form of "power inequality" contributes to rape. College campuses are "dominated by inequality of power." On that basis, Khan and Hirsch call for a total overhaul of campus life.

Giving the best dorms rooms to "underprivileged" students is one idea Khan and Hirsch suggest. They think this would: 1) Minimize students' inequality of status. 2) Put control of "social space" into "underprivileged" students' hands. 3) Counteract broader "cultures of inequality." Of course the real world works differently. Possession of the best rooms would be a standing joke. Students would see them for the sop they would be. Social life might become centered on the inferior rooms of higher status students. If not, the "power" of "underprivileged" students will actually be reduced. Their rooms can be centers of social life only if high status students effectively dominate them. The centers of social life—wherever they are—will be dominated by those at its apex. If assigned rooms at the margins of social life, "underprivileged" students will control the places they live in.

Khan and Hirsch go downhill from there. They also propose to combat student on student rape by giving all professors offices that are equal in size, convenience of location, etc. For them the equation is simple: Inequality among professors contributes to a "culture of inequality." Rape results from a "culture of inequality." Their conclusion inevitably follows. Inequality among professors causes students to rape each other. Eliminating the latter requires eliminating the former.

Khan and Hirsch explicitly reject the fact that rape results from individual choice and can only be reduced by changing individual behavior. But the incidents upon which they build their argument prove them wrong. 

One example concerned a girl who took a subway to a boy's apartment. She arrived soaked through with rain, after walking from the station. She removed her clothes. The two smoked marijuana. He wanted sex. She didn't. She remained because she had no money for a cab. She eventually stopped resisting his attempts at sex. Khan and Hirsch blame "inequality." They emphasize that the girl couldn't afford a cab because she was from a low income family. They claim the boy felt "dominant" in his apartment, the girl "under another person’s control." In reality, both made free choices. The girl chose to go to the apartment. She chose to take her clothes off. The boy chose to use his "dominance" to mistreat someone. Others use their stronger positions to be protective. The boy was probably influenced by a casual attitude towards sex. Both chose to use an illegal drug that impairs self-control. Had they not made that choice, the incident may not have occurred. Khan shrugged that choice off as if were "no big deal." That is a core problem of the two professors' theory. They want people to be able to have wild, irresponsible, "liberated" lifestyles without the inevitable consequences.

Those consequences will not be eliminated by eliminating "power inequality." Some people will always be physically stronger. Some will always have stronger personalities. Some will always have the prestige of higher status. And it doesn't matter if that status is conferred by wealth or athletic ability or academic success or anything else. Pummel status out of one aspect of campus life and it will reassert itself in another. Instinctive recognition of status is normal human behavior. Reducing rape requires changing individuals' behavior within a normal status system. That requires an inculcation of responsibility and restraint—not indulgence.
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