All posts by Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher, a senior fellow at American Principles Project, is the author of four books on marriage and is a longtime contributor to National Review.

Punishing College Sports Teams

NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues we are witnessing an internal war over what in fact is a university’s core sacred value: is it truth?  Or social justice? If it is the search for truth, free speech is essential. If it’s social justice, then the rising campus yen for censorship and silencing one’s opponents can be rationalized. So the academy is rapidly becoming the most dangerous place to speak in America.

Consider for example just one new phenomenon: the decision by college administrators to punish sports teams for the lewd speech of some individual members. Progressive elites once fought and destroyed sanctions on obscenity in the wider culture, re-defining naked dancing, along with visual and written pornography, as protected speech.

Yet Harvard’s entire men’s soccer team season was canceled last November because the men wrote a “scouting report” containing racy comments about the female soccer members, evaluating their sexual attractiveness. Men who did not speak were punished along with those who did, in order to create a new culture of peer pressure to punish those who spoke lewdly about women. At least at Harvard, there was some semblance that the “report” was an unofficial team tradition.

Just a week or so later, Columbia University suspended an entire male wrestling team because some members sent lewd and racist offensive group message texts to one another. It suspended the team, not after an investigation of the team’s involvement but before, banning them from participating in at least one meet, before ultimately deciding only to discipline those who had actually participated in the group messaging. (It does appear those merely receiving the message may also have been punished).

Whether complaining in crude language Columbia women are too unwilling to sleep with athletes subjects one to the same disciplinary procedures as speaking of some African-Americans as “nigs” was unfortunately not made clear by the university, at least according to media reports. Racist comments are clearly more serious than off-color ones, many of which are merely examples of randy young males being themselves.

Columbia’s wrestling coach, Zach Tanelli, said in a statement: “Not only do we demand that the harmful and offensive language end; we want Columbia wrestling to be a part of the solution toward cultural competency and systemic change.”

In a context in which women are encouraged to explore their sexuality loudly and openly and to accept no judgment, the current message colleges are sending students is not so much that civilization requires self-discipline with regard to sex as that male sexuality is uniquely deserving of punishment because it grosses out young women.

The persistent ethically incoherent attacks on masculinity, and the sense of unfairness in the application of freedom of sexual expression, are bound to continue to alienate young men from a culture of achievement—one of the academy’s and the culture’s biggest diversity problem–men who don’t work.

Punishing private communications as if they were public acts (including hacked private conversations) and punishing whole teams rather than the individuals, refusing to name exactly what expressions of sexual interest are now forbidden, punishing sexual expressions heard by almost every teenager on television and over the internet every day, –all these are extraordinary violations of norms of due process, creating a sexual culture that does not so much point male to female in a culture of civilized courtship as uniquely disparage male sexuality for not being female.

And here’s the really strange thing: students are demanding it, applauding it protesting for adult regulation of their student lives on the grounds that exposure to ideas that disturb them is a mental health hazard.

Harvard’s women athletes after initially brushing it off eventually signed a joint letter reported they are “appalled that female athletes who are told to feel empowered and proud of their abilities are so regularly reduced to a physical appearance.”

“We are going to punish people who make lewd comments about women,” Mariel Klein, president of Harvard Crimson approvingly told ESPN.

Even the team suspension did not satisfy the lust for punishing such terrible offenders: “Certainly possible…it’s very possible that…this practice would fall under sexual harassment so the Title IX office will be investigating that and that would include individual player,” Klein told ESPN.

Once legitimate concerns about sexual harassment or rape are now being channeled into disciplining private expressions of sexual interest (or concerns about women’s lack of interest) from male students—and with enough intensity that it overrides ordinary concerns about the due process rights.  Social justice trumps individual justice.

This is an extraordinary regression by elites. Group punishment is the hallmark of traditional societies because it is quite effective. (Families were once punished for the transgression of any individual member in order to force the group to discipline its own members). It took a profound commitment that justice requires punishing the wrongdoer, not related friends and relatives, to override the obvious utility of group punishment.

Amherst College recently punished sports team members both as a group and as individuals too for online comments. The whole cross-country team was forced to forego two meets, with individuals separately punished by the loss of three meets or more—up to the total loss of eligibility for the rest of their enrollment in the school.

Why this regression to ancient means of social control?  Are students so much more fragile today than they were 5 years ago 10 years, 15 years ago?

Some believe that is true. One real possibility is that rates of mental illness are rising. A wave of new data indicate that college mental health centers are receiving a new influx of requests for help from students.  At Boston University for example, “Behavioral Medicine clinicians report that the number of students in crisis coming in for help has increased sharply—from 647 in the 2014–2015 academic year to 906 last year.”

A 2014 Penn State study found anxiety has surpassed depression as the leading mental health issue college students report. The American College Health Association’s 2015 National College Health Assessment survey reported that almost 16 % of college students had been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety. Almost 22 percent said anxiety in the last 12 months and almost 22 percent said anxiety had cost them a grade on an exam or project, or lead them to receive an incomplete or drop a course, up from about 18 percent in 2008.

Some blame helicopter parenting. Others look to social media.

“We have all become less able to tolerate ambiguity and the unknown due to the incredible technological advances we have seen,” says Carrie Landa, director of Behavioral Medicine at Student Health Services. “Immediacy is sometimes the antidote to anxiety: having to wait for anything—a text, an exam grade, ‘How am I going to do?’—all create anticipatory anxiety. Unfortunately, there are many things in life that aren’t quickly resolved and waiting is necessary.”

Technology is clearly playing a role in blurring the line between public and private, and in making students feel vulnerable to criticism. Rates of young people’s mental health generally are not showing sharp increases. A review of mental health among adolescents and young adults between 2000 and 2012 published in the Journal of Adolescent Health concluded, “Mental health indicators changed little, except for a decrease in unhealthy methods of weight loss.”

If general increases in mental illness were responsible for the flooding increase in request for counseling services, we should see some increase at least in students entering college with mental health issues. Instead, a 2015 study of college students found that while the growth in the number of students seeking services at counseling centers (plus 30 percent) was more than five times the rate of increase in enrollment, “prevalence rates for prior mental health treatment have remained quite stable over the past five years,” albeit at high levels. “Although these rates are high and should be of concern, the stability of these indices suggest that the rates of prior treatment are not changing and therefore unlikely to be the cause of the increased demand for services.”

Instability in family life, economic problems, a sexual culture where young people experience frequent romantic loss (a risk factor for depression especially for women), reduced religious participation and a declining sense of a common culture may all contribute to relatively high rates of mental illness among young culture.

But something specific is happening on college campuses that is driving a huge increase of request by students for mental health services.

Haidt has pointed to a paper by scholars Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning describing how a culture of dignity is “now giving way to a new culture of victimhood, in which people are encouraged to respond to even the slightest unintentional offense, as in honor culture. But they must not obtain redress on their own; they must appeal for help to powerful others or administrative bodies, to whom they must make the case that they have been victimized.” The existence of the increasingly varied administrative bodies designed to resolve interpersonal conflicts is part of what creates this culture.

Frank Furedi, a sociologist at the University of Kent, UK, also identifies a massive cultural shift on campus as the culprit. But unlike Haidt he sees the academy adopting a broader elite parental cultural value of “safety” as one of its highest moral ideals. “During recent decades, the parenting culture dominant in Western societies has found it increasingly difficult to encourage young people to take risks and develop the practices associated with independence and freedom. ….[T]he reversion to a paternalistic regime of higher education is underpinned by the prevailing mood in which safety has been transformed into a moral value.”

“We have all become less able to tolerate ambiguity and the unknown due to the incredible technological advances we have seen,” says Carrie Landa, director of Boston University’s Behavioral Medicine at Student Health Services. “Immediacy is sometimes the antidote to anxiety: having to wait for anything—a text, an exam grade, ‘How am I going to do?’—all create anticipatory anxiety. Unfortunately, there are many things in life that aren’t quickly resolved and waiting is necessary.”

Technology is clearly playing a role in blurring the line between public and private, and in making students feel vulnerable to criticism (if you take away porn and mean comments, the internet would shrink in sheer volume).

Rates of young people’s mental health generally are not showing sharp increases. A review of mental health among adolescents and young adults between 2000 and 2012 published in the Journal of Adolescent Health concluded, “Mental health indicators changed little, except for a decrease in unhealthy methods of weight loss.” A study of self-reported health among adolescents in 32 Western countries found that youngsters. in the United States (like most other countries) were no more likely to report problems in 2010 than 2002.

Thus the helicopter parenting of minor children has led to the infantilization of young adults who are presumed to be able neither to endure nor to resolve disagreements prompted by emotional conflicts. It is a strange and potent combination of a culture of learned helplessness, where students are persistently directed both to experience troubling speech and other interpersonal interactions as intensely, painfully disabling, and therefore to seek the assistance of authority figures from counselors to administrators to protect themselves from emotional pain they cannot handle on their own.

So powerful does being offended by offensive speech make students feel that they (or occasionally their professor) manufacture offensive speech hoaxes in order to trigger a satisfying response to their concerns from those in power.  (This College Fix list from 2014 predates the latest wave from anti-Trump hoaxers purporting to represent his followers’ views, for example, here.)

Campus life is producing and reinforcing students who feel exceptionally helpless, easily hurt, who rely on angry accusations and tearful breakdowns to motivate adult authorities to help them, without whom they are helpless to achieve. Surely many or most of these students will recover their capacity to cope when they enter a world where authority figures do not so richly encourage their learned emotional helplessness.

No-One Expects the Marquette Inquisition

With apologies to Robert Tracinski.

Cheryl Abbate, a grad student teaching “Theory of Ethics” at Marquette University, recently told a student that if he wants to speak against gay marriage, he should drop her class.  We do not know the student’s name but we do know that he secretly recorded the conversation, which took place after class, on his cell phone, and that the recording has been heard by Marquette political science professor Prof. John McAdams, and by a Fox News reporter among others.

The student says he approached Ms. Abbate after class because she had put up a discussion list of controversial topics, including gun control, death penalty, gay rights on the blackboard and when it came to gay rights, she just crossed it off saying “everybody agrees about that”.  Ms. Abbate later claimed to Inside Higher Ed that this was just a case of not enough time to discuss all topics.  But on tape she told the student after class than any opposition to gay marriage would offend gay students in her class and so should not happen. When the student complained to Marquette, he was referred to the Chair of the philosophy department, who blew off the complaint.

I am not surprised that this could in Midwest universities, because it has already happened to at least one Catholic student at a public high school in Michigan.

I wish I were surprised it is happening in an allegedly Catholic university, but two years ago I was invited to address a small group of students at Georgetown, and the employee who invited me to address them told me we were having a small, private meeting, because it was unacceptable at this allegedly Catholic university to publicly oppose gay marriage.

Where is the Catholic leadership of the school in all this?  A simple reprimand to the teacher involved, after listening to the tape, and a reminder of respect for freedom of speech and for Catholicism is all it would have taken.  Why so little interest in creating a culture on campus on a Catholic university that includes, in its respect for diverse views,  respect for the teachings of the Catholic Church?

Perhaps the first Jesuit Pope could put in a good word for Catholicism at Marquette, an allegedly Jesuit institution.  Oh, how far the intellectual arm of the Roman Catholic Church has apparently fallen.

Let me state the obvious: Within the velvet glove of the “love makes a family” crowd, there is a very effective and unashamedly iron fist.

The peculiar analogy between sexual orientation and racism is destructive of key goods in society: like pluralism and civility and respect for free speech.

I first glimpsed what this false race analogy would mean a decade ago, when I was invited to debate at Yale Law School.

I made the case against same-sex marriage I have always made, which is that marriage is about uniting the two great halves of humanity, male and female, so children can know the love and care of their mother and father.  And I pointed out that accepting the premises that lead to gay marriage, roughly “there is no morally significant difference between same-sex and opposite sex couples when it comes to marriage, and if you see a difference, there is something wrong with you; you are like a bigot opposed to interracial marriage,” would have some pretty severe consequences for those most committed to the traditional understanding of marriage.

Back in those days the first question I usually got from puzzled Ivy League students was some version of “This won’t affect you, why do you care?”  Presumptively behind this question was the idea you must be driven by dark, irrational fears and hatred of gay people, or you wouldn’t bother to defend our historic marriage tradition.   When a young Yale law student asked that question, I ticked down for her how the law and society treat those opposed to interracial marriage—in licensing, accreditation, tax-exempt status, hiring and firing, for example.  I watched as she turned on a dime and said, “You are right, that is how we should treat bigots opposed to gay marriage.” “Well then, I told her politely, “you can’t complain I don’t have skin in this game.”

Rationally speaking, the race analogy fails on multiple levels.

For instance, the evidence by now is pretty clear that homosexuality is not primarily genetic. Most things have some genetic influence, the study above notes that there is research showing that 28 percent of the propensity to care for tropical fish can be attributed to genetics, using standard models (see Footnote 8).  Many lesbians say their identity is chosen, not fixed, and sexual fluidity appears to be typical in women.

Nor are same-sex couples just the same as opposite sex couples.  Quite apart from the obvious fact that same-sex unions do not give rise to new life (without deliberately editing out of a child’s life an opposite sex partner in that process) the evidence, based on nationally representative samples, that children raised by same-sex couples do not do as well as children raised by their own married mother and father is also growing.

Morally speaking the race analogy fails because gay people are simply not in the same situation as black Americans were after the Civil War and until the Civil Rights revolution: a section of the country that was militarily conquered attempted to use social power to keep black people second-class citizens. Without denying the personal suffering many gay people experience, it is also true that gay people occupy positions of social and political power, in areas as diverse as the academy, Hollywood and politics.

Meanwhile the number of professions being closed to those who publicly oppose gay marriage is growing, from university administrators, to judges, to lawyers at major law firms, to tech company CEOs.

The biggest difference is that sexual acts, while difficult to control, are a choice, whether you are gay or straight. As I wrote in “Why Accommodate?”:

“A free society cannot be frozen by today. We have to hold out for possibilities yet undreamt of in our contemporary essentialist philosophizing about orientation. Even if those of us who believe in the conclusion that gay sex is good or morally neutral, cannot therefore deny the reality of the process of moral reflection, which includes the necessity of considering possible critiques.

Here is the strongest form of my argument: disagreement about the nature, meaning, and purpose of human sexuality cannot be redefined as bigotry without doing a profound injustice to all our human rights, including to advocates of gay rights. . . . Gay people who have concluded that gay sex is good deserve to live in a society where that decision is respected and understood as the result of a moral reflection, not policed by government and law as if it were a characteristic over which human beings have no control.”

There are many conceptual pathways to gay rights that are closer to truth and more respectful of diversity, not to mention the intellectual mission of the university.  But though, rationally speaking, the race analogy is hard to sustain, politically speaking it leads to great power.  Human beings being constructed as they are the gay rights movement is unlikely to surrender this club so long as wielding it works.

Single-Sex Dorms Are a Human Rights Violation?

Just exactly how far will the left go to interfere with religious liberty and common sense?   Right after John Garvey, president of Catholic University, announced that the university would return to single sex dorms,  GW Law professor John Banzaf, a highly credentialed member of the hard left legal establishment, sent a notice of intent to sue under the D.C. Human Rights Act.  Apparently he is serious.

On his own website Banzaf boasts of a number of honorifics including, “the Ralph Nader of Junk Food” and the “Osama bin Laden of Torts,” as well as the “Father of Potty Parity” (for his lawsuits over restroom access). He explains why he is so upset by Catholic University’s plan:
“This takes us back to the 1950s and 1960s when dorms were segregated. But we’ve come a long way now, and we shouldn’t go back. They’re going back to the ‘good old days’ when boys were in one dorm and girls in the other. That was fine in ‘Leave It To Beaver,’ but it’s not appropriate now.”
A coed dorm is a basic human right?  What’s next, video games and beer pong?
Catholic University is a big institution that can afford lawyers.  But these kinds of threats of litigation show the need for stronger, and more explicit, religious liberty protections attached to “human rights” legislation, especially for the little guy for whom the threat of a lawsuit is chilling indeed.

Shocker: Single Sex Dorms May Be Bad for Your Behavior

John Garvey, the new President of Catholic University, announced last week that the university will return to single sex dorms. Many feathers were ruffled. It is a measure of the unisex madness in which we have become enmeshed that a Catholic university’s decision to house unmarried young men and women in separate dorms could be described as “controversial.”
 
Garvey announced his decision in a Wall Street Journal op ed.  He cited his own experience as the father of five kids, and a handful of social science studies to affirm the obvious:  When adolescents freed from the constraints of family life, are tossed into the same dorms, they are more likely to do dumb things. Garvey writes, “Christopher Kaczor at Loyola Marymount points to a surprising number of studies showing that students in co-ed dorms (41.5%) report weekly binge drinking more than twice as often as students in single-sex housing (17.6%). Similarly, students in co-ed housing are more likely (55.7%) than students in single-sex dorms (36.8%) to have had a sexual partner in the last year–and more than twice as likely to have had three or more.”
 
Do we really need social science data to demonstrate this?  Apparently so. A rather well-designed 2009  peer-reviewed study  by Brian Willoughby and Jason Carroll, “The Impact of Living in Co-ed Resident Halls on Risk-taking Among College Students” confirms Garvey’s common sense.  The study, published in the Journal of American College Health, relied on data from Project R.E.A.D.Y., a multi-site research project dedicated to investigating various aspects of emerging adulthood development.

Continue reading Shocker: Single Sex Dorms May Be Bad for Your Behavior