For a delicate set of college students, Christina Hoff Sommers has apparently replaced Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a leading thought criminal and the most dangerous purveyor of heretical notions of nonconformity.
Hirsi Ali challenged accepted intellectual orthodoxy on college campuses where women and Muslims are considered members of a diverse but universal victim class. The idea that a member of this class could transgress against another is apparently a complex notion so threatening that some students concluded that she must be silenced. A handful of them succeeded in that endeavor when her 2014 commencement address at Brandeis University was abruptly canceled.
Similarly, Sommers has attacked the shallow convictions of a neo-Marxist line of thinking that contends women, as the targets of a variety of cosmic injustices that span generations, are entitled to revenge. It falls upon the living to seek redress for the sins of the long dead. For a vocal minority of students who champion their status as the disempowered victims of inherited male privilege and perceived sexual aggression, retribution — often perversely referred to as “social justice” — serves as a substitute for a moral code.
Like Ali, Sommers has rebuked the notion that there is a pervasive culture that somehow condones sexual violence, thereby confronting those students who are inexplicably protective of their sense of disenfranchisement with a set of facts that contradict their preconceptions. For this, she, too, must be silenced.
The overindulged members of a series of college-based editorial boards have taken to embarrassing themselves in the wake of Sommers’ on-campus talks. The editorial board at The Oberlin Review responded to Sommers’ address by penning “a love letter to ourselves.” After sifting through the trigger warnings to get to the content of the editorial, the reader is privy to a dubious case against Sommers centered on the fact she believes demonstrable myths are, indeed, myths.
“By denying rape culture, she’s creating exactly the cycle of victim/survivor blame, where victims are responsible for the violence that was forced upon them and the subsequent shame that occurs when survivors share their stories, whose existence she denies,” the editorial read.
These students are not denouncing a prosecutable crime, but the unfalsifiable social conditions that supposedly incubate and reward criminals. This is a conviction that cannot be disproven. Moreover, those who object to the tenets of the doctrine of “social justice” are punished by ostracism, character defamation, or worse. We used to call this faith.
These fragile Oberlin students were recently supported by the editorial board at Georgetown University’s The Hoya. These students also voiced their dissatisfaction with a university group’s decision to invite Sommers to invade their “safe space.”
“Giving voice to someone who argues that statistics on sexual assault exaggerate the problem and condemns reputable studies for engaging in ‘statistical hijinks’ serves only to trigger obstructive dialogue and impede the progress of the university’s commitment to providing increased resources to survivors,” the editorial read.
How positively mortifying. When crafting an ersatz-intellectual argument around ignorance, kids, it’s rarely advisable to declare outright your aversion to evidence that contradicts your thesis.
The editorial goes on to denounce “rape denialism” and a “rape culture” that “thrives on silence,” as though any these conditions exist. On college campuses, not only is there no “silence” on the issue of sexual assault, but the accused is guilty until proven innocent. What’s more, many of these aggrieved students are deeply opposed to allowing the criminal justice system to arbitrate accusations of criminal violence. Rather, seeing as the American system of jurisprudence rarely takes into account amorphous and subjective concepts like historical cultural burdens, these students prefer to take their cases to unaccountable college tribunals. After all, the courts might find the accused is innocent and the accuser a false witness, and that’s quite problematic.
Despite the fact that Sommers is routinely treated abominably by the self-described tolerant set, and she often requires a police escort to protect her from those college students in need of a “safe space,” she is unlikely to demand recompense from the institutions that house her abusers. That is not true of everyone. Increasingly, those campuses that extend undue deference to students who falsely accuse others of sexual violence are coming under fire from advocates of true and objective justice.
In February, Cathy Young – another gender traitor – had the temerity to examine the other side of the story in the famous case of a young Columbia student who attracted national attention by turning her tale of sexual assault into performance art. In 2013, a Columbia student, Emma Sulkowicz, expressed her dissatisfaction with the fact that she could not get her alleged abuser, Paul Nungesser, expelled from the school by carrying her mattress around with her everywhere she went. She dubbed the act “Carry that Weight,” and it was met with nationwide acclaim.
Young dared endure the hisses and boos of the jeering mob when she approached the accused. Nungesser alleged that he had been accused of rape after the mattress-bearing young woman had a consensual encounter with him she later regretted. Moreover, Sulkowicz’s campaign resulted in his ostracism, his character assassinated in print, and the organization of rallies denouncing him as vrag naroda. Unfortunately for the cause of social justice, Nungesser was able to produce exculpatory evidence. Today, that young man is suing Columbia, its board of trustees, its president, and a professor for defamation and harassment.
“The lawsuit added that a Columbia-owned website portrayed Sulkowicz’s version of the story — that Nungesser, a former friend, sexually assaulted her in 2012 — as fact, according to the Associated Press,” The Washington Post reported. “It said that the university allowed Sulkowicz to carry her mattress into classes, the library and on campus-provided transportation, and that Sulkowicz’s pledge to carry her mattress at graduation may prevent Nungesser’s parents from participating in the ceremony.”
In an email, Sulkowicz called it “ridiculous” that her assumed abuser would sue the school over “an art piece.” Suddenly, the accusation of rape is no longer a grave and criminal act, but merely the impetus for a little theater.
Columbia isn’t the only school in the dock over its excessive credulity. The University of Virginia was famously targeted by the alleged serial fabulist Sabrina Rubin Erdely when she penned and published the false tale of a gang rape initiation at one of the school’s fraternities. It was an unlikely story, but too many accepted it at face value. In a dramatic and ill-advised over-reaction, the school shuttered every on-campus fraternity.
With Erdely’s story now completely retracted, the targeted fraternity is suing her publication and the University of Virginia is struggling to address a public relations nightmare. For the first time in 12 years, the number of applicants to the school has declined. After all, who would want to spend tens of thousands of dollars to attend their own show trial?
The only “culture” afflicting students today is one of excessive gullibility, and it is creating a multitude of real victims. In service to a persecution complex, these and other colleges have sacrificed their bottom lines. By coddling their overprotected student bodies, these colleges did their charges no favors. But now that they must confront suboptimal financial realities, perhaps these schools will begin to address this problem of their own making.
It is well past time for America’s colleges to stand up to the real aggressors in their midst. Since it is now clear that their current course is a suicidal one, maybe institutions of higher learning will decide that it is in their best interests to create a “safe space” for the unjustly maligned.