Hamilton Requires First-Year Men to Attend Presentation on Campus ‘Rape Culture’; Female Applicants Not Forewarned of Dangers of Attending Hamilton

By on September 27, 2010

Tonight at 7 p.m., first-year men at Hamilton College will be attending a mandatory presentation of "She Fears You," a program at which they will be pressed to acknowledge their personal complicity in a "rape culture" on Hamilton’s campus and to change their "rape-supportive" beliefs and attitudes. First-year men were informed via e-mail that attendance was required and that they needed to bring their ID cards. "She Fears You" will be presented by Keith Edwards, "a national speaker and trainer on diversity and social justice and college men’s issues."

"She Fears You" is based on the theory that men need a "combined cognitive and emotional intervention" in order to change their "rape-supportive beliefs." Attendees will be told that when they

make this an environment where it is no longer acceptable in any way to objectify women or define masculinity as sexual conquest, or subordinate women’s intelligence, capability, and humanity, or allow issues of racism, classism, and homophobia to go unabated, then this campus will be a better place for all of us to be.

Preventing rape is a noble goal and is indeed of critical importance. Students should be informed of the laws on alcohol and consent and of the severe legal penalties for sexual assault of any kind. But requiring attendance at this programwhich relies on controversial and politically contentious theories about the links between rape and modern-day popular culture, and which appears to claim that rape can be prevented only by reforming deeply ingrained beliefs about gender and sexualitygoes far beyond rape prevention and veers deep into the territory of thought reform.

Imagine, for example, if Hamilton required all of its first-year Muslim students to attend a presentation telling them that any failure to proactively support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and challenge those who do not contributes to a "terrorism culture" on campus that puts other students at risk. People would rightly be outraged. Again, preventing violence on campus is of utmost importance, but requiring students to submit to blame for contributing to campus violence simply by virtue of their identity and beliefs would clearly be a violation of their fundamental rights. Yet this is exactly what Hamilton is requiring of its first-year male students.

Moreover, if Hamilton administrators truly believe that Hamilton is a place where women’s intelligence, capability, and humanity are subordinated, and that racism, classism, and homophobia run rampant, why are female, minority, and gay applicants not informed of these crucial facts in advance? As a woman, if I found out after arriving on campus that my college’s own administration believed the campus was openly hostile to and dangerous for women, I would want my money back to say the least. If I were a prospective Hamilton parent, I would be enraged if I learned that administrators were aware of and structured programming around serious risks to women of which I was not informed before I decided to send a daughter to Hamilton.

If a rape culture exists on Hamilton’s campus, Hamilton clearly has a lot of work to do, including informing prospective applicants and their families of these dangers. But the answer is not to require all incoming male students to attend a program of thought reform blaming them for Hamilton’s problems and pressuring them to change their beliefs. On Friday, FIRE sent Hamilton College President Joan Stewart a letter asking her to inform first-year men that attendance at "She Fears You" is optional, so that no one would face consequences for choosing not to attend. The program begins at 7 p.m. tonight, and FIRE has received no reply. Presumably, this means that "She Fears You" is going forward with first-year men required to attend. Stay tuned to The Torch for more information about this developing case.

Schools: Hamilton College