Everyone Is a Criminal at Gettysburg College

By July 7, 2006

While I was traveling, I somehow missed the fact that the California Daily Journal had published a column I wrote on Gettysburg College’s absurd and manifestly unfair sexual misconduct policy. I wrote:

Under the policy, “consent” to sexual interaction is defined as “the act of willingly and verbally agreeing (for example, by stating ‘yes’) to engage in specific sexual conduct. If either person at any point in a sexual encounter does not give continuing and active consent, all sexual contact must cease, even if consent was given earlier.” The policy’s broad definition of sexual interaction includes not only sex acts but also “touching,” “hugging” and “kissing.”

This rule effectively makes every student—man, woman, married or single—guilty of sexual misconduct. Does anyone get verbal consent to hug their friends and then continue to ask for it the entire hug? Should every time you tap someone on the shoulder be a violation of a university policy? Gettysburg’s rule does not reflect reality, and so it criminalizes perfectly normal intimate and even merely affectionate interaction.

When the Gettysburg administration was asked how it could defend such a policy, it essentially answered that the policy exists and is enforced, but it has not been enforced against people for merely hugging. So what the university is saying is, “Yes, we do retain the power to find your friends and children guilty of sexual misconduct at any time, but trust us—we’ll only use it when we think someone has done something really bad.” It’s lunacy to trust administrators—or anyone—with the power to punish on the promise they won’t abuse it.

To assume that such an arrangement will work in a fair and just manner is to assume the infallibility (not to mention the complete good faith) of those in charge of administering the system. And if there is one thing I have learned in my work, it’s that college administrators (or anyone, for that matter) are not infallible. This policy increases the likelihood of finding someone guilty of a serious offense by essentially disregarding the accuracy and fairness of the system.

In response to FIRE, Gettysburg College’s president claimed its policies “reflect good practice.” Declaring normal human interaction a serious offense is not defensible and certainly not “good practice.” If Gettysburg cares at all about the fairness of its system, it must reform this wildly overbroad policy.

Schools: Gettysburg College