A Northwestern professor’s article demonstrates the administration’s perverse attitude towards sexual assault on college campuses.
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Sexual assault on college campuses is a systematic problem that many, from small student organizations to the White House, are trying to address and solve. The conversation has focused primarily on the issue of students assaulting other students, but colleges have also been combatting sexual assault in the classroom by banning sexual relationships between professors and students.
Laura Kipnis, a Northwestern University professor, recently wrote an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe,” defending and supporting student-professor relationships and lamenting the current climate of college campuses, including Northwestern, that prohibit these relationships. She seems to think that this attitude stems from the belief that professor-student relationships operate in a Hobbesian world of sexual terror, instead wistfully wishing for the glory days, a la Animal House, when professors and students “partied together, drank and got high together, slept together.”
She says that back then, it would be unthinkable for professors to take advantage of students, asking, “how could they?” Kipnis’ logic is flawed; she deludes herself in thinking that the power dynamics of the classroom, where professors outline expectations and determine grades according to performance, would not follow a student and professor into a bedroom. Kipnis fails to acknowledge that college campuses are a microcosm of society and that a professor could inappropriately use their position of power to promise a student grade inflation in exchange for sex much in the same way a boss can threaten to fire an employee if they refuse to sleep with them.
The lack of empathy and victim-blaming in Kipnis’s article is also deeply disturbing. She suggests that sexual assault survivors should instead be called “accusers” because to her, it is “a horrifying perversion of language” to use the term to describe “someone allegedly groped by a professor” and someone who went lived through the Holocaust. What makes this article even more cringe worthy is Kipnis’ description of a sexual assault case at Northwestern last February, calling the ensuing lawsuits by the undergraduate student and the accused professor a “melodrama.”
Kipnis’ delegitimization of sexual assault survivor’s experiences ignores the ever-growing evidence about the adverse psychological effects of sexual assault on a person’s mental and physical health as well.
Her article was met with intense backlash from the Northwestern community. In a letter to North by Northwestern, a student publication, student activists wrote:
“We are disturbed that a Northwestern professor stands in such vehement opposition to a principle that occupies a sacrosanct place in the moral fabric of every modern academic community. We are concerned that Kipnis’ arguments have the potential to further erode the few protections for vulnerable students on campus that have not already been exposed as a cruel joke. And we can only hope that the Northwestern community will meet Kipnis’ toxic ideas with resounding opprobrium, because they have no place here.“
There have been no statements released by Northwestern University regarding Kipnis’ article; however, it’s clear that the conversation about sexual assault on college campuses is more necessary now than ever.