Attendance Not Logged at ‘Required’ Hamilton College ‘Rape Culture’ Event, but Fundamental Freedoms Still at Risk

By October 1, 2010

Amidst heated debate, Keith Edwards’ "She Fears You" presentation went forward Monday evening at Hamilton College. FIRE argued that this event, which claims to be a "cognitive and emotional intervention" aiming to teach that certain views about masculinity will be "no longer acceptable in any way," should not have been mandatory for freshman males. Two senior faculty members also expressed their dismay over the mandatory nature of the program. One of them, in an e-mail to Dean of Students Nancy Thompson, argued:

Especially in light of our proclaimed devotion to the "open curriculum," I see no reason why this one event with embedded political content about "rape culture" and "social justice" should be required of all first year men during the academic year.

Hunter Brown of Hamilton College Alumni for Governance Reform went so far as to say that alumni should consider withdrawing financial support from the school.

Students also expressed their displeasure at the required event. According to an article in The Spectator, Hamilton’s student newspaper, several students were upset that the women’s mandatory program focused on "support and acceptance" while the men’s program focused on "how to improve themselves." The program indeed was upsetting to many students:

Edwards’ shocking title, "She Fears You," also made some students uncomfortable, as they felt it perpetuated sexism.  These students felt that the titles and varying content of the two programs did more hurt than good by increasing the divide between genders on campus.

Despite FIRE’s letter to Hamilton President Joan Hinde Stewart, criticism from faculty members and students, and pressure from Hamilton College Alumni for Governance Reform, Hamilton administrators refused to make the event optional. In fact, less than two hours before the lecture, Thompson sent out a reminder e-mail, making it clear that first-year men were required to attend. In case there was any question, the word "required" was in large, red type, underlined and italicized. The male freshmen were instructed to "be sure" to bring their Hill Cards (Hamilton’s college ID card), a rule that undoubtedly was designed to make the students think that their IDs would be swiped to enforce their attendance, just as for other orientation events.

According to a Hamilton freshman, however, word quickly circulated that IDs had not been swiped at the women’s event earlier, and it soon became evident that no one was swiping IDs at "She Fears You," either. At that point, the student reported to FIRE, there was a "mass exodus" from the event. According to one of the faculty members who opposed the event, Dean Thompson also stated that students who did not attend the event would not be punished, but it seems that this fact was intentionally withheld from the students. 

Also, according to reports, the severity of the lecture was apparently toned down compared with the content found on the "She Fears You" presentation on Edwards’ website, which emphasized that male students are complicit in elements of a "rape culture" on practically every campus in the United States because of their "pro-rape" beliefs and attitudes and their failure to challenge things like alleged sexism and homophobia.

Why did the college decide against swiping IDs at the last minute? Or was the Hill Card requirement a big ruse from the beginning? Why was Edwards’ tone much less shrill than he himself advertises? 

Unfortunately, the catalyst for change may never be known because Hamilton has not responded to FIRE’s letter. Nor, according to reports, did Hamilton return phone calls from the National Association of Scholars (NAS), which posted an excellent piece about the lecture. Without a formal apology or statement of any kind, one can only assume that Hamilton College has not really learned its lesson and would have no qualms about violating students’ freedom of conscience again. 

In fact, according to the aforementioned article in The Spectator, there will be another mandatory orientation event later this year "focused on diversity issues." Is this event going to be another mandatory "cognitive and emotional intervention"which is how Edwards describes "She Fears You"? 

If Hamilton College administrators are serious about their school’s commitment to individual liberties and wish to avoid more negative press, they should publicly acknowledge their mistake in making the program required, restating their commitment to freedom of speech and thought. Then Hamilton should actually abide by these fundamental principles. 

It seems to me that by making programs such as "She Fears You" mandatory and then refusing even to reply to critics of the program, Hamilton College is not only violating freedom of conscience but also is violating the spirit of the Hamilton College Statement of Community passed by the student body in December 2009. It reads in relevant part:

In our efforts to cultivate an inclusive environment, it is essential that we seek to respect the unique perspectives of individuals on our campus. … It is a reality that in any diverse community, misunderstandings and conflicts might arise. To work through these disagreements, we as a student body promote engagement in dialogue to create mutual understanding and expanded knowledge. 

As a Hamilton College alumnus, I truly hope that the administration reforms its ways. I do not want my university to be known as a place that invades the consciences of its own students.

Schools: Hamilton College Cases: Hamilton College: Thought Reform of ‘Pro-Rape’ Male Freshmen