I am going to take a diversion here from my typical topics to highlight an article that I found equal parts enlightening, disheartening, thought provoking, and near impossible to read all the way through as it provoked a visceral reaction thinking of my own four children and their college futures.
First, I must say that I find the author to be tremendously courageous to take the issue of alcohol and sexual assault on campus in the way that she does, particular her intimately personal vignettes that she leverages in order to make the article incredibly relatable and credible. I applaud her for taking this important issue head on. Her underlying question is a remarkably intuitive one: why in our quest for ridding ourselves of these social ills and our exploring various ways of reducing the pernicious problem of sexual assault on college campus do we ignore one of the most important contributors: college campus alcohol culture?
What I think most everyone can appreciate in this article is that the author does not pass myopically pass judgments on those that are subjected to assaults. There is no shaming here of those that drink and wind up being assaulted despite their saying no. There are clear boundaries of right and wrong. The author does not present trite cases of, “she should have known better to wear or drink that..” What she does do is tease out the gray areas that abound around the tremendous impairment that binge drinking can do. Namely, it releases us from our inhibitions and results in much poorer decision making. It blurs the lines often to the point of indistinguishability of personal choice and consent. If you read the case studies of men that have been brought to trial or kicked out of school over different interpretations of consent will make one pause with concern over whether it is actually justice. These show trials might make for interesting bloodletting and a redress against past harms done, but do they truly alleviate and reduce the issue? That being said, understanding the woman’s perspective on how some men act when drunk is also quite appaling and gives me a much better appreciation for what women deal with in these cases.
The most troubling accounts in the article are of the substantial number of people succumb to alcohol blackout, the author included. These individuals seem to function rather normally, at least to their drunk peers, but the reality is that they have entered a different altered state than the rest of us. Where is right and wrong and consent in such a state? That is her fundamental question. We can’t separate our drunk selves from individual responsibility. We don’t get to go to trial and blame it all on liquor. And yet it is remarkably clear that many of these incidents occur under a cloud of binge drinking. As a result, the author paints a picture of women giving consent they never wished to give and men aggressively doing things that most of them would likely never do sober. Obviously, there are clear cut cases of rape and assault that are easy to find and easy to demand justice over. The challenge is there are a tremendous amount of gray area cases where the alcohol blurs the lines and makes the cases tremendously complex.
The clarion call is to be able to have adult conversations about the impact of alcohol and personal accountability as well as to work to reform our acceptance of college culture as it exists today. There seems to be widespread acceptance and tolerance of college binge drinking as a bit of a rite of passage. As a father, this informs me to be absolutely clear with my children on the necessity of maintaining poise, control, and awareness of their surroundings. While much of this message tends to get distilled to women, it’s a message I am convinced is just as important, if not more so, to my lone son, as it becomes an imperative to me personally to bring him up on how to maintain control of himself and behave like a gentleman. Call me old fashioned if you will, but nothing horrifies me more than the thought of my own son acting like a drunken beast and forever altering his life through tremendously poor choices. I can only hope that his three older sisters will be great enablers in that quest.