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Red Alert: Gettysburg College

Today, Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania joins Johns Hopkins and Tufts on FIRE’s Red Alert list. As we explained in a press release last month, a place on the Red Alert list is “an ignominious distinction awarded to those institutions of higher education that have shown particularly severe and ongoing disregard for their contractual or constitutional commitments to uphold the fundamental rights of students and faculty.” If a school is on FIRE’s Red Alert list, it means FIRE thinks that prospective students and parents should seriously consider the very real threat to student rights on that campus before deciding to attend or send their children there.

For more than a year now, FIRE has been pressuring Gettysburg College to revise its Sexual Misconduct Policy, which is so broad in scope that it draws no distinction between an innocent, spontaneous hug and forcible rape. 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.”

This policy, reminiscent of the notorious policy at Antioch College (which is closing its doors in 2008), is a nightmare for student rights on campus. It criminalizes so much everyday student interaction that it cannot possibly be enforced across the board, therefore vesting the university administration with the power to arbitrarily punish innocent student conduct (when was the last time you asked someone for verbal consent before giving them a hug or a pat on the back?)

Despite over a year of pressure from FIRE, significant media attention, and promises that it would be reconsidering its policy, Gettysburg has not revised this dangerous policy. It is for this reason that Gettysburg must be the newest addition to our Red Alert list.

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