#MeToo Tips For College Bound Families

By Rajkamal Rao  

Anything that is disruptive and destructive is bound to lose steam after a while - whether it be a hurricane or a human-inspired movement.  We have had numerous campaigns come and go including Black Lives Matter, protests to support refugees in Europe and a movement against income inequality (remember Wall Street’s Top 1% riots?).  Each of these stayed on in the public sphere for some time and slowly, fluttered out.

But #MeToo has been a remarkable exception and will likely stay on as a powerful movement for gender equity for years to come.  This is because, at its core, #MeToo indirectly impacts every one of us, not just for our actions today, but as is playing out in the confirmation battle of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, for alleged actions 35 years ago as a high school student. 

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Why #MeToo Is Different

#MeToo shines a spotlight on the way powerful male colleagues, often in roles of authority, have abused their power to advance the careers of those women who submitted to the men’s sexual fantasies and limit the careers of those who refused.  It illustrates sexual harassment of the highest degree, exemplified by a powerful line in Michael Crichton’s 1990’s movie Disclosure:  “Sexual harassment is not about sex. It is about power.” Although, in this movie, the perpetrator was female and the victim was male.

#MeToo is different from all other movements to date because once uncovered, action occurs at lightning speed.  The consequences are usually terminal because decades-long careers, mostly of men, are lost overnight for transgressions which occurred decades ago under social environments which permitted, even encouraged, gender bias.

A hallmark of #MeToo is that there is no due process.  Judgment is passed in the court of public opinion at breakneck speed as tweets and posts go viral.  There are no courts of law where the accused is given a chance to defend himself.  In fact, the accused is often never heard from again.  The circumstances and evidence are also not always fully understood.

While most stories of the women are credible, there is always the suspicion that some stories may not be true.  Also, traditional college sexual cases cannot be technically classified as #MeToo because, by definition, they don't involve workplace sexual harassment. 

A few years ago, an explosive story in Rolling Stone magazine described how a woman was gang-raped by men at a fraternity house at the University of Virginia.  Later investigations showed that the woman had made up the whole story.   Rolling Stone had to pay damages because it lost a defamation suit when a professor at UVA sued the magazine. 

And there's confusion about what constitutes assault.  The hook-up culture in today's colleges - as described by Lisa Wade in her book - is shocking, pervasive and extensive.  Wade says that alcohol acts as a catalyst and hundreds of students reported being completely inebriated before casual sexual encounters.  Most people did not even remember what occurred because parties were loud and the lighting was dark.  In such a situation, the line between consensual action and assault becomes rather thin.

Finally, young college students could be in consensual relationships, and when these relationships turn sour, the girl could claim later that she was assaulted during the weeks leading to the breakup.  This is the most controversial situation because liberties taken by partners when things were going well are immediately held to a different, higher standard by one partner, often without adequate warning.

This is what happened at Columbia University a few years ago when a female student Emma Sulkowicz claimed that her ex-boyfriend assaulted her.  She became famous for dragging a mattress all over campus for years, including to her graduation ceremony.  For her, the mattress represented the painful burden rape victims carry throughout daily life.  But Columbia later settled with the male student after he had charged Columbia of enabling a harassment campaign by a fellow student who had accused him of rape.  Prior internal investigations by Columbia had cleared him of wrongdoing.


Tips For College Bound Families

Both boys and girls should be aware of their rights and duties when they first arrive on the college campus.  They are away from home for the first time and exploring new friends in an unsupervised setting is the essence of the college experience.  But this freedom also comes with enormous responsibility because a single act, however innocent or misconstrued at the time, can spell disaster.

Boy or girl, we advise you to avoid parties which involve alcohol.  Not only is possessing or drinking alcohol illegal in most states until you're 21 years old, alcohol has proven itself to be the cause in most things bad - traffic accidents, negative health effects from binge drinking and of course, assault.  

The best tip we could provide all boys is to treat all girls the same way they would treat their sisters or mothers at home. And of course, to avoid any encounter which could become intimate and wait to have a serious relationship until after graduation when they are no longer in a campus setting. 
For sure, these are moral questions and each person has to decide the course of action here.  But be aware that the issue is also legal because the definition of what constitutes consent is murky.  There are now smartphone apps such as We-Consent and Legal Fling which can record consent that could protect you later.

Under the Obama administration, the burden of proof for reporting campus sexual assaults was dramatically lowered.  As the New York Times reported, these policies led the government to investigate many universities and colleges over their handling of sexual assault cases under the federal law known as Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination by any school that receives federal funding.

The Trump administration has slowly begun to raise the burden of proof making it harder for victims to press assault cases.  Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, is reported to have said that “there are lives that have been ruined and lives that are lost in the process,” referring to students accused of assault.

Our takeaway

This is a topic which parents must confront and discuss with their college bound kids.  There are no easy answers and it is often embarrassing to have such conversations.  But the price of avoiding difficult conversations can be devastating to young minds and hearts.

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