Mandatory Rape Lecture for Male Freshmen at Hamilton College

Ashley Thorne

Hamilton College, reports the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), has required all first-year male students to attend a presentation tonight on rape called She Fears You, led by Keith Edwards.

In a video clip from the presentation’s website, Edwards says that women view all men as potential rapists until they’ve proven otherwise, and he refers several times to “male privilege.” At the end, he tells the audience they must

make this an environment where it is no longer acceptable in any way to objectify women or define masculinity as sexual conquest, or subordinate women's intelligence, capability, and humanity, or allow issues of racism, classism, and homophobia to go unabated.

Rape is certainly a horrific reality both on and off college campuses. I went to college in Midtown Manhattan, and you bet I had a rape whistle on my keychain and often held my keys between my fingers when I rode an elevator alone with an unknown man. If this presentation at Hamilton College can effectively help prevent rape as it claims it can, that’s good news.

But as FIRE states, the presentation also draws its conclusions from hotly contested assumptions about “privilege” and “social justice.” The purported prevalence of rape on campus is under serious scrutiny as well. And while 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 reform—bigots who must change their beliefs and actions.

For those reasons, I agree with FIRE; attendance at this program should be optional, not mandatory. Last week FIRE wrote to Hamilton College’s president urging her to announce the event as non-obligatory. She has not written back, and the lecture seems to be going forward tonight as mandatory.

It’s worth noting that the She Fears You presenter, Keith Edwards, has a vested interest in the politically correct establishment. His bio names him “a national leader in social justice education” and “a national leader on sustainability in higher education, focusing on the integration of healthy environments, social justice, and strong economies.”

NAS has grappled with the campus sustainability movement for several years now, and we know what Edwards is talking about here. The integration he’s referring to has its own symbol: a Venn diagram of three overlapping circles labeled Environment, Society, and Economy. Thus, sustainability’s threefold mission is bigger than eco-stewardship and admonishing people not to litter. Ultimately sustainability advocates big government, loss of individual freedoms, and human population control. And it has become a catchall for causes that are seemingly unrelated to protecting the environment, such as multiculturalism, gay rights, and gender equality.

We’ve noticed Keith Edwards before now in sustainability settings. He is a member of the sustainability taskforce of ACPA, an association for college student life personnel. We know him best from his joint presentations on “social justice aspects of sustainability” with Kathleen Kerr, director of residence life at the University of Delaware (see Peter Wood’s article on their presentation).

Kerr, as readers may remember, was the creator of the coercive freshman residence life program in which students were questioned on their sexual identity; forced to participate in activities that polarized them by identity group; and told that all white people are racist and that America is an inherently oppressive society. In the name of “sustainability” the program aimed to reform the “thoughts, values, beliefs, and actions” of new students to make them fit with a politically correct worldview. University of Delaware president Patrick Harker shut down the program in 2007 after students, parents, NAS faculty members, and FIRE exposed it as a reeducation effort.

Edwards, a familiar colleague of Kerr, is the director of campus life at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. I don’t have evidence that he’s engaged in a program at Macalester like the one at the University of Delaware (although Macalester has its share of politically correct gaffes), but Hamilton College has chosen to use Edwards’ rape presentation the same way UD used its residence life program. Both are ideology-based programs for freshmen that should be optional but are mandatory.

Hamilton College also has strong impulses toward political correctness; this year we saw the College court trouble when it attempted to censor an NAS article by one of its faculty members, Robert Paquette.

Freshmen women had their own mandatory event: they had to attend “Fresh,” a “one-act play by Nora Mathews.” No other information is publicly available about the play, and when I called the woman who sent the email (archived by FIRE) informing students of the mandatory programs, she was unavailable. The email indicates that both programs deal with the topic of sexual assault. 

UPDATE 10/1: FIRE reports that the mandatory status of this event was never revoked but that the College decided, for unknown reasons, not to require students to log their attendance. If students had known this in advance, many fewer would have chosen to attend. Instead, the College chose to let first-year male students believe that attendance was mandatory.

FIRE notes that Hamilton's student newspaper registered discomfort among students about the She Fears You presentation:

Edwards' shocking title, "She Fears You," also made some students uncomfortable, as they felt it perpetuated sexism. These students felt that the titles and varying content of the two programs did more hurt than good by increasing the divide between genders on campus.

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