To the Editor:
radford Richardson and Jon A. Shields are to be praised for proposing in their essay [“The Real Campus Sexual Assault Problem,” October 2015] the simplest and most sensible solution yet to the problem of campus “rape culture,” for prudently avoiding the messy business of defining “consent,” and for maintaining a sober tone, which educates without a hint of moralism. And yet, precisely because their proposal is most sensible and elegantly simple, it is impossible and prudish. By its very reasonableness, it fails to see into the depths of the problems of our time. Like the universities that, as Richardson and Shields point out, “should show more concern for the souls of their students,” their argument shows a lack of concern for souls by its refusal to see those souls. “Student resistance to new social regulations may undermine their effectiveness,” their argument blithely runs. I’ll say.
Today’s students will resist the regulations Richardson and Shields propose across the board, excepting smaller religious schools where levels of piety are more uniform—a distinction the argument fails to make between religious schools.
The majority of students do not want effectiveness. Like young people in every generation, they want to party and get drunk, or experiment with strange drugs and strange people, or yearn to have an adventure, which may or may not become a mistake, perhaps even a tragedy. In these dangerous moments, they feel in their souls that they have the chance to truly learn something about life. This is what they went to college for. The fact that they seek self-knowledge in partying and adventure rather than in reading books or in having profound conversations reflects the basic failure of the education system to educate. Students will view social regulations imposed on them as an attack on their personal quest for self-knowledge.
Another essential quality of youth is the wish to undo the night of mistakes. Immature young people do not want self-knowledge, which requires moving through regrets; they want to erase their regrets and remain in immaturity. This is the true source of the babble about “consent.” A sexual encounter is, by nature, dynamic and unpredictable. The act of establishing when consent took place is an act of erasure. It allows one to live with one’s mistakes—and to live to make them again. The “necessary price of the sexual revolution” is not rape on campus but the absence of adults on campus, who might educate the young and model for them who they might become. Social regulations, while more effective than sex ed., are, like sex ed., a substitute for adults.
Bradford Richardson and Jon A. Shields write:
e appreciate Caleb Marks’s pointed and thoughtful critiques. He may be right: Perhaps students are so attached to their lifestyle freedoms that they will subvert the social regulations we suggest, rendering them ineffective. Then again, prohibitions often reduce undesired behaviors even when they are very unpopular. National Prohibition, for example, reduced alcohol consumption dramatically as well as alcohol-related diseases such as cirrhosis. The campaign against drunk driving in the 1980s also met objections that sound quite similar to Mr. Marks’s. As one legislative aide in New York explained to a representative of the Remove Intoxicated Drivers campaign, “You can’t legislate morality; people like to drink and love their cars in America.” Yet the campaign against drunk driving was remarkably successful despite this fondness for drinking and driving. Of course, it is hard to know with any certainty whether our suggested reforms will work until a college somewhere tries to implement them. But past experience as well as our own data are reasons to resist Mr. Marks’s pessimism. And even if students at the wildest campuses prove to be ungovernable, our findings provide administrators at more traditional colleges with reasons to push back against pressures to liberalize their campuses.