Last Thursday, the Departments of Justice and Education mandated a broad definition for sexual harassment on college campuses: “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” including “verbal conduct” (also known as speech or expression). DoE and DoJ regulate virtually every campus in America, public and private. So requiring universities to adopt this definition — issued in a letter to the University of Montana that DoE and DoJ are calling a “blueprint” for colleges and universities across the country — is a big deal.
I have therefore consulted my Washington-based friend A. Fake Bureaucrat, who was kind enough to prepare this helpful FAQ for Daily Caller readers.
Q: I heard that this means that asking someone out on a date can be sexual harassment. That can’t be right, can it?
A: Indeed it is, and thank goodness! As you may know, many people see “dates” as a prelude to a relationship or even sex. That’s all well and good, but sometimes, people are asked for dates by people they wouldn’t dream of going out with. That makes such requests “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” — in other words, sexual harassment! We should be grateful that my fellow bureaucrats at the Departments of Justice and Education with impressive, confidence-inspiring titles like “Interim Assistant Secretary” and “Deputy Chief” have finally taken steps to rid America’s campuses of the scourge of unwelcome requests for dates.
Q: It seems kind of unreasonable to call a single date request, even if it comes from someone like Booger from “Revenge of the Nerds,” sexual harassment, doesn’t it?
A: You’re missing the best part! The new rules say your feelings about the date request don’t have to be reasonable! Or, as my buddies in the government put it, “Whether conduct is objectively offensive is a factor used to determine if a hostile environment has been created, but it is not the standard to determine whether conduct was ‘unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature’ and therefore constitutes ‘sexual harassment.’” (Page 9)
Q: So you’re saying that if I ask someone out and they don’t want to go, I have sexually harassed them?
A: Now you’re getting it! You can thank us if you want.
Q: Hold on — if any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature is harassment as long as I was offended or found it unwelcome, why do I have to put up with stuff like The Vagina Monologues or my college’s sex week? Can I report the participants?
A: Why yes, you can! No reason to let noted sexual harassers like the Duke Women’s Center off the hook.
Q: I had an argument about gay marriage with this guy down the hall from me. I think gay sex is a sin, so I’m against it. He seemed pretty mad about what I said. Am I in trouble?
A: If he reports that he was offended by your comment, you’re a harasser. Sorry!
Q: I had to read Nabokov’s Lolita for my English class. Was I harassed?
A: Were you offended?
Q: Yes, underage sex is gross.
A: Turn in your professor! Professors should know better than to assign books or movies that have sexual themes or discussions and might offend someone, like Lolita or Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. That’s sexual harassment. Well, it is as of last Thursday, anyway.
Q: Sometimes comedians like Sarah Silverman come to my campus and tell jokes that have to do with sex. I don’t like that — can I report it as sexual harassment?
A: You sure can! Remember, all “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” — including speech — is harassment.
Q: So what you’re saying is that I’m now a sexual harasser, and so is basically everybody I know on campus.
A: Yeah, you guys really need to cut it out with all that harassment.
Q: It seems like it’s going to be hard to run a university with rules like this. Won’t administrators be swamped with complaints? Won’t people quit paying attention to sexual harassment once everyone is supposedly guilty of it? Won’t this scare professors away from assigning anything with a sexual theme?
A: Hey, that’s really not our problem. We just regulate universities. We don’t run them. Speaking of which, I’ve got to go … sorry, no time for more questions.
Robert Shibley is the senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).