Harvard Students Push To End Rape Law Classes, Arguing Discomfort

December 22, 2014

By Michael F. Haverluck at OneNewsNow

In the wake of college students recently claiming that they were too traumatized to finish their final exams because of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand jury rulings, students at Harvard Law School are pushing their professors to stop teaching about law dealing with sexual violence so that they won’t have to suffer from any emotional distress.

Harvard Law School professor Jeannie Suk reports that students have specifically pressured her and her colleagues to not include any material in their exam questions about sexual violence as a means of protecting sensitive students from suffering any potential trauma that may result from reading over or thinking about such topics.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) argues that such reasoning is as flawed as it is absurd.

“[The students’ push to eradicate classes on rape law] is a perverse result of a culture in which intellectual and emotional comfort is prioritized over the core functions of a university,” argues FIRE program officer Susan Kruth. “[M]any of the student demands defy logic and common sense.”

Suk gave an account of why she believes many students no longer feel they have to deal with reality — especially in regards to uncomfortable or potentially stressful situations.

“Student organizations representing women’s interests now routinely advise students that they should not feel pressured to attend or participate in class sessions that focus on the law of sexual violence, and which might therefore be traumatic,” Suk discussed in The New Yorker. “These organizations also ask criminal-law teachers to warn their classes that the rape-law unit might ‘trigger’ traumatic memories.”

Self above others

Unrealistically arguing that Harvard should do away with rape law altogether, as if that area of law should no longer be addressed in the justice system, students tried to convince Suk that their emotions should trump a rape victim’s need for justice and legal protection.

“Individual students often ask teachers not to include the law of rape on exams for fear that the material would cause them to perform less well,” Suk shared. “Some students have even suggested that rape law should not be taught because of its potential to cause distress.”

To impress her point about the ludicrous nature of students’ requests, Suk provided a candid analogy.

“Imagine a medical student who is training to be a surgeon but who fears that he’ll become distressed if he sees or handles blood,” Suk illustrates. “What should his instructors do? Criminal-law teachers face a similar question with law students who are afraid to study rape law.”

Fighting for a narrow understanding of the law

Kruth applies a similar philosophy to Suk’s, telling law students in so many words, “If you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen,” implying that if students don’t feel they have to grasp a broad understanding of the field in which they chose to enter, then they should indeed start looking for a new career out of fairness and respect to future clients and for the integrity of the legal profession as a whole.

“Being a competent lawyer requires knowledge of a range of legal topics, which is why law school is designed to ensure students are familiar with basic areas of law — torts, criminal law, constitutional law, contracts, property and civil procedure,” Kruth contends. “Regardless of the narrowness of one’s law practice, there’s a reason that becoming a licensed attorney requires a basic knowledge of these areas: legal matters frequently touch on more than one of them.”

Kruth agrees with Suk, who pointed out that numerous situations must be discussed and analyzed in class in order to prepare students for complex cases where ambiguities exist and must be interpreted appropriately by correctly applying legal precedent.

“It’s true that rape is not an easy topic of discussion, like many of the topics included in criminal law classes,” Kruth concedes. “Crime is exceedingly unpleasant (my first week of law school was spent reading about murdered babies), and this will never change. It defies reason to exempt discussions of rape, perhaps the second-most serious crime (after murder), from what is intended to be a meaningful survey of the law.”

Sky’s the limit

Suk discussed a similar request one of her colleagues received from a student, raising the question of how far students will press the limits when it comes to nurturing their discomforts or uneasiness.

“One teacher I know was recently asked by a student not to use the word ‘violate’ in class — as in ‘Does this conduct violate the law?’ — because the word was ‘triggering,'” Suk mused.

Kruth agrees that such requests are made by students who have no concept of how the practice of law requires all attorneys and judges to be on the same page and speak the same language — making such concessions look as silly as an apprentice auto mechanic asking the master technician to bypass training on the braking system because such instruction would trigger memories of a lost loved one dying as a result of a brake failure.

“The study of law relies on precision and consistency of language, reflected in our nation’s (and Great Britain’s) rich history of hundreds of years of written court decisions, statutes and other legal documents,” Kruth explains. “Law schools cannot simply drop words from their vocabularies because of other contexts in which they might be used.”

Students knows best

However, Suk reports that fellow criminal law professors are making concessions to students’ requests and demands, letting progressive thinking taint the law profession — and the entire justice system, for that matter.

“About a dozen new teachers of criminal law at multiple institutions have told me that they are not including rape law in their courses, arguing that it’s not worth the risk of complaints of discomfort by students,” Suk reported. “Even seasoned teachers of criminal law, at law schools across the country, have confided that they are seriously considering dropping rape law and other topics related to sex and gender violence. Both men and women teachers seem frightened of discussion, because they are afraid of injuring others or being injured themselves.”

Working in the legal field, Kruth is deeply disturbed that professors who are supposed to be unwavering examples of upholding the integrity of the law profession are buckling in to unreasonable demands and unfounded arguments. By doing this, she argues that they are throwing away a crucial element of law that has proven to have merit in the justice system — as such an omission will surely adversely affect imparting justice to future victims and offenders.

“It is profoundly troubling that faculty at institutions of higher education — supposedly ‘elite’ schools, no less! — would be forced even to consider not teaching such a critically important subject at the behest of those insisting on emotional comfort,” Kruth asserts.

Injustice for all?

Suk concurs that giving way to the students demands would create an injustice for all.

“If the topic of sexual assault were to leave the law-school classroom, it would be a tremendous loss — above all to victims of sexual assault,” Suk warns. “It should go without saying that solving a problem requires talking about it, learning about its history, and — where they exist— discussing the surrounding legal issues. Is the point of law school to make future lawyers feel comfortable, or is it to enable them to be zealous advocates for their clients, who may include victims of rape and other crimes?”

According to Kruth, America is in for another awakening if those in the legal field choose to ignore parts of the law that bring them discomfort.

“If providing students with the knowledge and skills to become excellent lawyers is no longer to be prioritized over comfort, future generations of lawyers may be spared the emotional discomfort that comes with learning aboutKorematsu v. United States [a 1944 Sup. Ct. case that tragically upheld Executive Order 9066 ordering Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II] – or Plessy v. Ferguson [a 1896 Sup. Ct. case upholding state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities],” Kruth concludes. “Of course, they also won’t be able to recognize the signs if history is about to repeat itself.”

Schools: Harvard University