An Undergraduate’s Perspective on Colorado


Allison Blakeney, an alumna of the philosophy department at the University of Colorado, has penned a column for The Daily Camera on her reaction to the recent allegations of sexual misconduct there and her view of what should be done.

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Thomas
Thomas
7 years ago

I do not understand this article. The various pleas (to stop sexual assault etc.) seem obvious enough. But I do not see why the assumption that rationality matters is responsible for sexual harassment, or why that assumption is supposed to be ‘male-centric.’Report

perpetuavix
Reply to  Thomas
7 years ago

I think the point is that rationality is the only thing that matters, to the extent that everything else is ignored (ie. other will dismiss allegations of sexual misconduct because the philosopher accused is famous/well known/respected).Report

ejrd
ejrd
7 years ago

Although I really admire the article (and think it is a good bit of public philosophy) I agree that the recommendations are, in a sense, so obvious that I think they fail to locate the real problems. I think everyone “knows” in the abstract, that sexual harassment and sexual misconduct are bad and should be stopped. What I think Blakeney neglects to consider is how power works within a department (a discipline, an institution, and even academia more generally) in order to make reporting and stopping toxic cultures so very difficult.

Given that the task of bystander intervention often falls on untenured professors, adjunct lecturers, and graduate/undergraduate students, I’d say that the real problem requires a careful examination of power in departments. If the culture in my department were such that I would be putting my own career advancement at risk by ‘becoming the trouble-maker’ in the eyes of the tenured and powerful in my department then I would be caught in a real bind about what to do (I have heard many friends describe their plight in these terms). The problem is compounded if my university offers little assistance to those in my position (either because they are managing their PR in such a way as to discourage reporting of these cases or because they don’t respect their early-career and non-tenure-track faculty).

So although I think it was good for Blakeney to get her thoughts out there, I think it’s even better that we are inspired by her words to begin the more expansive conversation about power in academia and how power is used to maintain a culture where acting to create a tolerant climate is seen as hostile.Report

grad student
grad student
7 years ago

That there is a “rape culture” in the Boulder philosophy department is a very serious charge. Ms. Blakeney says nothing in support of it. Can one defame a group? If so, and if there isn’t in fact a “rape culture” there (whatever exactly that means), could this be defamation?Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago

grad student,

rape culture is a technical term of art and there is no doubt that we (the general we) all live in one (see wikipedia as a starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_culture). That a philosophy department would manifest elements of a rape-culture is not a defamation in the standard sense anymore than saying we live in a racist culture.Report

anonphil
anonphil
Reply to  Anonymous
7 years ago

“[R]ape culture is a technical term of art and there is no doubt that we (the general we) all live in one….”

Actually, there is doubt that we all, in the U.S., live in “a culture in which rape is pervasive and normalized” (wikipedia). Introducing “rape culture” as a “term of art” and routinely asserting that we live in a rape culture — typically backed by no or sketchy statistics — does not suggest any serious case that we do. Nor is asking whether there is in fact a rape culture somehow evidence of tolerating a rape culture.

Quite a few philosophy departments might well have, or have had until recently, a sexual harassment culture. To imply that this is tantamount to a rape culture strangely fails to take rape fully as seriously as it warrants.Report

anonymoustoo
anonymoustoo
Reply to  anonphil
7 years ago

anonphil, I’m not sure if you meant ‘sketchy statistics’ to refer to statistics broadly, in the US, or in philosophy departments, but the CDC just released new data: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6308a1.htm?s_cid=ss6308a1_e#Table1

Of course, every sexual assault survivor is different and so I do not mean to speak for survivors as a group, only myself, but as someone who has been sexually assaulted (not by a philosopher), as well as has been associated with two philosophy departments where sexual assault has taken place, I think failing to understand the connections between harassment culture and rape culture can be seriously damaging. I do think that a toleration of harassment enables assault. When it becomes customary and acceptable to treat your colleagues, classmates or students as less than full and equal human beings more than one kind of ethical line will be blurred.Report

anonanon
anonanon
Reply to  Anonymous
7 years ago

A lengthy section from the Wikipedia article *you cite* rebuts your claim that “there is no doubt that we (the general we) all live in [a rape culture].” —

Criticisms
RAINN, one of North America’s leading anti-sexual violence organizations, in a report detailing recommendations to the White House on combating rape on college campuses, decries an overemphasis on the concept of rape culture as a means of preventing rape and as a cause for rape, saying, “In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming ‘rape culture’ for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campuses. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime”. It is estimated that in college, 90% of rapes are committed by 3% of the male population, though it is stipulated that they do not have reliable numbers for female perpetrators. RAINN argues that rape is the product of individuals who have decided to disregard the overwhelming cultural message that rape is wrong. The report argues that trend towards focusing on cultural factors that supposedly condone rape “has the paradoxical effect of making it harder to stop sexual violence, since it removes the focus from the individual at fault, and seemingly mitigates personal responsibility for his or her own actions”.

Report

grad student
grad student
7 years ago

Anonymous,

According to the link you shared, “Rape culture is a phrase used to describe a culture in which rape is pervasive … “. So this author is evidently saying that in the UC Boulder phil. dept., rape is pervasive. If rape isn’t pervasive there, then she is arguably making “a false statement that harms the reputation of a … group … ” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamation). Am I missing something?Report

a Boulderite
a Boulderite
7 years ago

The article is not well-written and I don’t think it’s productive to critique it as if it were. I think it’s actually a mistake for the Camera to have published this without serious editing.

But, it seems to me pretty clear that what the former-student is saying, by alluding to a rape culture in the department, is that the department exhibited some of the characteristics of rape culture: a tolerance for sexual harassment, victim blaming, etc. (which may or may not be true, I have no idea) Maybe it’s inappropriate or counterproductive to try to read between the lines to reach a charitable interpretation. I won’t argue with that. But I think it’s pointless and almost certainly incorrect to take her to mean that she is claiming that rape is pervasive in the department. If a group (such as the Philosophy department) is part of a rape culture, it can exhibit part of the characteristics of that culture without exhibiting them all.Report

Anonymous Until Tenured
Anonymous Until Tenured
7 years ago

You should know better than to trust wikipedia for precise definitions. “Rape culture” (as I understand it – I don’t have an AOC in feminism) doesn’t necessarily refer to a culture where rape is pervasive, but rather to a culture where rape is normalized. It’s just kind of a fancy way of saying that the culture and accepted social norms are such that consent is undervalued and/or treated as optional. In feminist philosophy, normalization of rape is one of the norms that is constitutive of a patriarchy. So “rape culture” doesn’t mean “rapes happen all the time,” although normalization leads to destigmatization, which leads to increased occurrence.

That said, I agree that this article could have been written better. The author leans heavily on feminist buzzwords, like “rape culture” and “patriarchy,” which – while useful concepts that may well apply in this situation – lack the kind of specificity that I was hoping for from a woman familiar with the UC Boulder Phil Dept. Shining some light on some of the specific ways in which that department’s culture is broken (if it is) would contribute to a useful conversation. But if the claims being made are the same as can be seen on the blackboard of a Women’s Studies 101 class in any university, they just aren’t particularly helpful.Report

anonphil
anonphil
Reply to  Anonymous Until Tenured
7 years ago

“So ‘rape culture’ doesn’t mean ‘rapes happen all the time,’ although normalization leads to destigmatization, which leads to increased occurrence.”

The “problem” with this more charitable understanding of rape culture theory is that there’s apparently no evidence of an “increased occurrence” of rape in the U.S. — nor, more specifically, on college campuses or in philosophy departments. Of course, that finding would depend on a fairly straightforward meaning of “rape” — which would exclude, for instance, cases where the parties are intoxicated and thus said to be unable to (meaningfully or legally) consent.Report

anonymous
anonymous
Reply to  anonphil
7 years ago

Why would your proposed findings exclude cases wherein both parties are intoxicated? I don’t think you should ust preclude by stipulation one of the most prevalent type of cases involving unconsenting sex.Report

Anonymous Until Tenured
Anonymous Until Tenured
Reply to  anonphil
7 years ago

I was explicating the concept; nowhere did I argue that it applies in this case. Although it’s not clear what evidence you could be looking at to suggest that there is no rape culture in the US. Rape culture theory would predict an increase in the number of rapes relative to a hypothetical baseline of a non-rape-culture. Yet, according to many feminists, that baseline is truly hypothetical, given that patriarchy is (nearly?) universal. Statistics that show there is no difference in incidence of rape between the US and some other countries would prove nothing if those other countries also have rape cultures. (Consider: a study that showed that women were as systematically mistreated in the US as in Saudi Arabia would be more damning than exonerating.)

Again, I’m not arguing that the US is a rape culture. I’m neither familiar enough with the relevant statistics nor with feminist theory to be able to make that assertion with any confidence; for all I know, it’s false. But I don’t think anything you’ve said here provides good evidence that it’s false.

Relatedly: I think the stance taken by RAINN is reasonable, and tend to agree that it’s possible to focus too much on the concept of “rape culture” instead of the concrete particulars of any case – that’s a mistake that some feminists make, and it’s one that I think the author of the article made (see my earlier post). But the RAINN critique can also be taken too far. Just because every rape is the product of some set of particular circumstances, that doesn’t mean that cultural factors aren’t (partially) responsible in a substantial number of cases.Report

anonphil
anonphil
Reply to  anonphil
7 years ago

anonymous @ 11:25: No one was precluding anything, “by stipulation” or otherwise. The claim was that what does or should count as rape is not always (morally) straightforward — and that cases where both parties are intoxicated is such case.

AUT @ 12:03: Please stand down from your bluffing. I specifically challenged the “increased occurrence” feature of your charitable understanding of rape culture theory. You claim that the theory “would predict an increase in the number of rapes relative to a hypothetical baseline of a non-rape-culture.” I confess, without embarrassment, to not understanding how to comprehend this claim.

Indeed I did not say anything that “provides good evidence that [the theory is] false.” The claim was that “evidence of an ‘increased occurrence’ of rape in the U.S.” appears to be lacking — which would seem sufficient to disqualify blunt assertions that we all live in a rape culture (Anonymous 10:52). I’m now leaving the discussion.Report

justinrweinberg
7 years ago

Let’s call this thread closed, folks.Report