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Thomas Jefferson Center Awards 2011 'Muzzle' to Hamilton College's Mandatory 'Intervention' for Freshman Males

"She Fears You," Hamilton College's mandatory and coercive orientation program for freshman males last fall, received a 2011 Muzzle Award today from the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. "She Fears You" is based on the theory that men need a "combined emotional and cognitive intervention" to reform their deeply ingrained rape-supportive beliefs about gender and sexuality. The Muzzle Awards draw attention to "egregious or ridiculous affronts to free expression" by universities, local and national politicians, and even judges. The dubious distinctions have been awarded annually on or near April 13, Thomas Jefferson's birthday, since 1992.

Torch readers will likely remember Hamilton's ill-advised foray into thought reform, which earned the school a stern letter from FIRE. As part of an extended freshman orientation program, all first-year males were told that they must attend a lecture by Keith Edwards entitled "She Fears You." As Sam remarked at the time:

Preventing rape is a noble goal and is indeed of critical importance. Students should be informed of the laws on alcohol and consent and of the severe legal penalties for sexual assault of any kind. But requiring attendance at this programwhich relies on controversial and politically contentious theories about the links between rape and modern-day popular culture, and which appears to claim that rape can be prevented only by reforming deeply ingrained beliefs about gender and sexualitygoes far beyond rape prevention and veers deep into the territory of thought reform.

Imagine, for example, if Hamilton required all of its first-year Muslim students to attend a presentation telling them that any failure to proactively support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and challenge those who do not contributes to a "terrorism culture" on campus that puts other students at risk. People would rightly be outraged. Again, preventing violence on campus is of utmost importance, but requiring students to submit to blame for contributing to campus violence simply by virtue of their identity and beliefs would clearly be a violation of their fundamental rights. Yet this is exactly what Hamilton is requiring of its first-year male students.

Here's an excerpt from the Thomas Jefferson Center's description of why Hamilton's "She Fears You" program earned the school a 2011 Muzzle:

Although the goal of ending rape is certainly laudable, "She Fears You" has been criticized by some for what they perceive as an underlying assumption of the program-that all men hold "rape supportive" belief and attitudesi.e., guilt by gender. According to Ashley Thorne, communications director for the National Association of Scholars: "[W]hile it is said that today's ‘rape culture' has created a hostile environment for women, programs like this one tend to create a hostile environment for men. This emotion-driven presentation treats audience members as those in need of thought reformbigots who must change their beliefs and actions."

Between the time of the September 19 e-mail and the event, there was a great deal of controversy over the orientation program. An article in the campus newspaper stated, "Some students were bothered by the fact that the women's play, ‘Fresh,' focused on support and acceptance, while the men were instructed on how to improve themselves." Although sexual assault education for college students is required by New York State law, a number of Hamilton College students, faculty and alumni were particularly troubled by the mandatory attendance at the ideologically based "She Fears You." The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and individual rights at America's colleges and universities, wrote to the president of Hamilton College president urging that attendance at "She Fears You" be made optional. The appeal was ignored; less than two hours before the lecture, the college sent out a reminder e-mail about "She Fears You" with the word "required" written in large, red type, underlined and italicized. When the presentation actually began and it became apparent that attendance was not being taken, there occurred what one student described as a "mass exodus."

As a private college, Hamilton is not bound by the dictates of the First Amendment. Yet, as an institution of higher learning that promotes itself as being committed to teaching students to "think for themselves," it fell short of its promise in this instance. Requiring first-year men to attend a presentation billed as a "cognitive and emotional intervention" speaks of forced indoctrination that is the very opposite of freedom of conscience and thereby earns the Hamilton College Administration a 2011 Jefferson Muzzle.

FIRE's fight against censorship on campus has consistently brought Muzzle-worthy candidates to the Thomas Jefferson Center's attention. Past FIRE cases that have earned Muzzles include Southwestern College's crackdown on free speech outside of the school's "free speech patio" in 2010; Lone Star College-Tomball's and Tarrant County College's censorship of gun-related speech in 2009; Brandeis University's finding of "racial harassment" against Professor Donald Hindley for criticizing the use of the term "wetback" in his Latin American studies course in 2008; and Valdosta State University's expulsion of student Hayden Barnes, also in 2008 (prompting an ongoing federal civil rights case).

We thank the Thomas Jefferson Center for its consistent work to help expose censorship on campus. We hope that next year, there won't be any colleges deserving a Muzzle.

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