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Gettysburg College: Hug at Your Own Risk

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.
“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.”
“Do you know anyone who always gets specific verbal permission before hugging a friend? Do you know of anyone who asks, ‘May I kiss you?’ before kissing his or her girlfriend, boyfriend, wife or husband?” Lukianoff asked. “This policy invites gross abuses.”
FIRE wrote to Gettysburg President Katherine Haley Will on April 11, urging her to revise the policy, which “infantilizes Gettysburg’s students, trivializes sexual assault by equating it with normal and legal behavior, and gives the administration an unacceptable amount of discretion with regard to enforcement.” FIRE’s letter reminded Will that a similar policy at Antioch College was the subject of nationwide ridicule when it was introduced in the early 1990s. Will tersely rejected FIRE’s request in an April 27 letter, stating that the Sexual Misconduct Policy “reflect[s] good practice.”
“Is it really ‘good practice’ to draw no distinction between an unsolicited hug and forced sex?” asked Lukianoff. “By labeling so many innocent behaviors as ‘sexual misconduct,’ this policy dangerously trivializes the very real problem of rape and sexual assault on college campuses.”
“It is impossible for Gettysburg to enforce this policy fairly or across the board,” Lukianoff continued. “Virtually every man or woman at Gettysburg, married or unmarried, violates this policy on a regular basis. Since Gettysburg cannot possibly prosecute every student who violates the policy, it will necessarily be applied in a selective and arbitrary way.”
Gettysburg’s policy is just one symptom of a broader disease within campus judiciaries. Students at colleges and universities across the country are frequently subjected to arbitrary policies and to kangaroo courts that impose strong discipline without providing even the most basic due process protections. The problems with campus courts were recently the subject of two lengthy articles in the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, one about campus courts in general and one about a University of Akron student who, although acquitted of drug trafficking in a court of law, was found responsible by a campus tribunal and subsequently killed himself.
“Policies like Gettysburg’s bring into question whether or not student judiciaries are equipped to handle such serious offenses,” noted Lukianoff. “An unjust conviction for sexual misconduct can ruin someone’s life. Gettysburg’s unwillingness to distinguish innocent behavior from wrongful behavior puts its students’ futures at serious risk.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at Gettysburg College can be viewed at
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473;
Katherine Haley Will, President, Gettysburg College: 717-337-6010;

Julie Ramsey, Dean of College Life, Gettysburg College: 717-337-6921;

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