Kudos To Students For Wanting Controversial Topic In Curriculum, But Cover All Sides Of The Issue


In Grand Forks, students at Red River High School want to include in their curriculum a book about the supposed “rape culture” on college campuses, and not just at their school but all of the high schools in their city.

The book in question is Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town” by Jon Krakauer. If you haven’t read it, you should. The tale it tells of systemic bias against reports of sexual misconduct will leave you incensed.

I’m glad the students want to cover a topic like this in class, and I hope administrators let them. Far too often we shy away from controversial subjects in schools, which may be why today’s college students – who rally to block provocative speech and demand “safe spaces” free of things that might “trigger” bad feelings – are seemingly ill-prepared to deal with controversy.

That said, if the students at Red River want to open the door to discuss “rape culture,” I hope they’re going to be willing to talk about all aspects of that topic. Which is something I write about in the Grand Forks Herald today:

Not everyone thinks there is an epidemic of sexual assault on campus, and there are reasons to be concerned about administrative overreaction.

Those who say there is an epidemic cite surveys which, using a somewhat nebulous definition of sexual assault, claim that as many as one in five or 20 percent of female students on campus report being raped or sexually assaulted.

Those who dispute the idea of an epidemic point to figures from the U.S. Department of Justice, which found that the incidence of rape and sexual assault on campus is lower than in the general population.

Also complicating this issue is that college campuses, under Title IX guidance from the federal government, have taken on the task of adjudicating sexual assault cases. Often this has resulted in students accused of sexual assault being suspended or even expelled from their schools, even when the legal professionals in the criminal justice system were unable to find sufficient evidence for an arrest or conviction.

That these campus tribunals often are kangaroo courts, denying the accused basic protections such as legal counsel and due process and a right to confront witnesses against them up to and including their accusers, also shouldn’t be lost on those wishing to debate this topic.

If the teachers and administrators include in their curriculum concerns about campus “rape culture” they need to do so critically, including adjacent problems such as campus tribunals which often do not result in just outcomes and concerns that the notion of campus “rape culture” may be overblown.

Otherwise including a book like Krakauer’s becomes more an act of political activism than well-rounded instruction.

Again, I’m all for high school aged students being confronted with a controversial topic like this, especially since many of these students will be heading to campuses where “rape culture” is very much a hot topic. But it’s a complex topic with aspects which reach far beyond what Krakauer covers in his book, and students should are to be exposed to any of it they should be exposed to all of it.