This Week in FIRE History: Hug at Your Own Risk at Gettysburg College

By May 16, 2007

One year ago this week FIRE announced:

GETTYSBURG, Pa., May 11, 2006—Gettysburg College’s Sexual Misconduct Policy is so broad in scope that it draws no distinction between an innocent, spontaneous hug and forcible rape. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is calling for the repeal of this draconian policy, which prohibits most, if not all, of the sexual and even merely affectionate relations that take place on Gettysburg’s campus.  

As we pointed out at the time:

“This policy can turn almost any student at Gettysburg into a criminal,” stated FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “In its quest to rid the college of a social evil, Gettysburg has decided to make everyone guilty, leaving students’ futures at the whim of the administrators.” 

Gettysburg promises its students that “they enjoy the same rights…that other citizens enjoy.” Yet Gettysburg subjects its students to an arbitrary and overbroad Sexual Misconduct Policy that infringes on students’ right to due process. 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.” (Emphasis added.) The policy’s broad definition of sexual interaction includes not only sex acts but also “brushing, touching, grabbing, pinching, patting, hugging, and kissing.”

Last November, FIRE described the effects of the policy thusly: 

[B]y the very terms of the policy, husbands would have to ask permission to kiss their wives, boyfriends would have to ask permission to hug their girlfriends, and friends would have to ask permission to give an amiable pat on the back. And remember, failure to do so [is] deemed to be a form of “sexual assault.”

FIRE first wrote to Gettysburg on April 11, 2006, regarding this ridiculous policy that “dangerously trivializes sexual assault by equating heinous acts with innocent behaviors.” Gettysburg president Katherine Haley defended the policy to FIRE on April 27, 2006, arguing that the policy “reflect(ed) good practice.” Haley’s conception of “good practice” clearly differs from FIRE’s; she believes it includes threats of punishment for innocuous acts of affection, while we believe such threats are dangerous to students’ freedom.

After FIRE issued the above press release, exposing the absurdity of Gettysburg’s policy to the public, and writing another letter to the school on August 17, 2006, Gettysburg finally folded and agreed to reconsider its policies. But one year later the policy remains in place. Students at Gettysburg still are not free to express spontaneous acts of affection.

Gettysburg, it is never too late to end this foolishness. We, and your students, are still waiting.

Schools: Gettysburg College