Emily Yoffe Spurs Dialogue on Rape

Slate columnist Emily Yoffe, who has stirred controversy with a series of essays criticizing campus rape litigation, addressed students at Dartmouth on October 8.

Slate columnist Emily Yoffe, who has stirred controversy with a series of essays criticizing campus rape litigation, addressed students at Dartmouth on October 8.

Vox Daily and Vox Weekly blitzes, while always entertaining and often captivating, are rarely surprising. In the early days of October, this all changed. Under the events heading, peeking out from a crowd of the usual lectures on the diversity of medical economics in the Medieval Sub-Saharan World, was an announcement that on October 8, at 4:30pm, there would be a lecture by acclaimed Slate journalist Emily Yoffe on her acclaimed article, “The College Rape Overcorrection.”

In any liberal arts college, and especially in an Ivy League college, anything that questions the prevailing liberal narrative of sexual assault is taboo and is often heavily censored. The fact that a professor, Jim Murphy, was able to invite Mrs. Yoffe to speak about this topic is remarkable, and the Dartmouth administration should be commended for its commitment to free speech in this case.

In order to understand how such an anomaly occurred, The Dartmouth Review contacted Professor Murphy.

The Dartmouth Review (TDR): What is the context of Emily Yoffe’s visit and how did she come to give a talk at Dartmouth?

Professor Murphy (JM): As faculty director of the Daniel Webster Program, I regularly bring speakers to campus to discuss issues related to the liberal arts today.  But with the turmoil at Dartmouth and elsewhere about sexual assault, I thought it would be helpful to bring a speaker to campus who could address the issue from an informed national perspective.

TDR: What did you think the reaction was going to be? What do you think of the reaction that happened?

JM: I knew that Ms. Yoffe would be controversial, but controversy can be quite productive if the participants are well informed and polite.  I was pleased that the protesters were very polite during the lecture and the discussion.

TDR: What did you hope to get out of the event? Do you think this came to pass?

JM: I was hoping to illuminate the debate on campus about these issues.  Yoffe met with a group of students in a living/learning community who enjoyed talking to her very much.  A protester even thanked me afterward for bringing Yoffe. I was disappointed with the article in the Dartmouth about the event, which focused only on the protesters and failed to convey the substance of Yoffe’s talk.  But the Valley News today has an editorial focused on the substance of Yoffe’s lecture with a strong endorsement of her perspective on the issue.  So now her lecture has reached to whole of the Upper Valley, so, yes, I count that as a success.

As Professor Murphy predicted, the talk was controversial and emails immediately began to circulate calling for some sort of protest. Prominent among these was a message from Victoria Nevel ’16 that asserted:

We know that:

Dartmouth is tied with Yale for highest Sexual Assault rate in the Ivy League and third highest in the 27 AAU colleges surveyed.

That 48 students reported being raped at Dartmouth in the last academic year, the highest of any Ivy.

Men here are survivors, too.

The email then made the claim that, “Yoffe… blames victims, denies that survivors exists, and implies that men can’t be victims, too.” Ms. Nevel then asked the recipients of the email to, “get involved in our WISE donation booth or silent protest.”

This email and others proved successful, and a conspicuously timed WISE event occurred before and during the lecture. The lecture itself saw both a visible presence of Safety and Security officers and a sizeable contingent of protestors, who lined the back and the sides of the lecture hall. In addition, a number of senior administrators were in attendance, including Vice Provost Ameer and Dean Amanda Childress.

Yoffe’s lecture itself was almost exactly what any reasonable person would have expected. She spoke in the firm yet neutral tone of a journalist and gave a precise yet passionate argument that followed the lines of her controversial article. She used many examples of men accused of sexual assault who have been unjustly prosecuted for sexual assault, found guilty by their colleges or by public opinion, and suffered the consequences despite their definitive lack of guilt.

Yoffe’s examples occasionally touched on Dartmouth. When she was discussing biased administrators, she brought up Dean Amanda Childress’s infamous quotation that asked, “Why can we not expel a student based on an allegation?” When the crowd began to giggle, perhaps due to Dean Childress’s presence at the back of the room, Mrs. Yoffe said, “If Amanda Childress is here, I would very much like to have a dialogue.” Dean Childress, however, did not take Yoffe up on her offer after the lecture.

This was not the only time that her remarks elicited a strong reaction from the audience. While Mrs. Yoffe is a journalist, and her remarks were largely facts and observations drawn thereof, many students and protestors became agitated when her observations clashed with their worldview. At one point, she asserted that there was a generation gap when it came to the definition of sexual assault. She asserted that younger people think one element of an encounter can be consensual, while latter occurrences may not be. She then claimed that her generation saw it differently, and that it “knows” that regret does not equal a lack of consent. At that remark, the protestors raised and wove their signs, mumbling about how, exactly, Mrs. Yoffe was wrong.

Mrs. Yoffe, however, is often objectively right. After discussing her experience researching sexual assault on campuses, she revealed that after reading the infamous Rolling Stone story of a young woman’s alleged sexual assault at the University of Virginia, she immediately knew it was false and went on record saying so. This comment, unlike others, witnessed a stark silence on the part of the protestors.

After her short lecture, Yoffe opened the floor for questions, saying, “I would love to hear from you, young people, in the Q and A.” Unlike many controversial speakers, Yoffe did not shy away from answer questions asked by protestors or taking second questions from those who had previously made challenging remarks. The questions spanned a wide range of topics and a variety of levels of discourse. Some asked intelligent questions regarding Yoffe’s research or her thoughts on current legal initiatives. Others demanded that Yoffe, a journalist, solve sexual assault on College campuses then and there. A stalwart few questioned Yaffe’s statistics. One went as far as getting out of his seat, crossing the stage to the podium, pulling up a webpage on the projector, and Googling the statistic. The results were inconclusive due to the inherent bias in many sites.

Some students implied that Yoffe was on the “wrong side of history,” and that her views were outdated. She responded by pointing out that the striking down of sodomy laws was, “seen as liberal triumph,” while current liberals want to enact affirmative consent laws, which she saw as similarly prudish. She even went as far as saying, “These affirmative consent laws seem to be written by people who have never had sex themselves.”

When students spoke to her as if she was a lawyer or politician who owed them a solution to sexual assault, she pointed out that her job was only to report on the facts and that solutions should be left to experts and educators. Unfortunately, as she pointed out, educators have not proved overly competent at this task. As she put it, “I found it odd that the President’s number one suggestion for ending what he said was an epidemic of sexual assault on campus was a survey.”

She compared the alleged sexual assault rates on college campuses to those of war-torn countries in Africa, where rape is used as a weapon of war. She said that if sexual assault rates on campuses were truly that high, a more appropriate response than a survey would be segregated dormitories, a complete alcohol ban, and mass expulsions.

When asked to comment on the Association of American Universities study on sexual assault that was conducted this past spring term, she stated, “Dartmouth’s purported numbers were fairly high and track generally with the Ivy League.” She paid especial attention to the fact that the most popular reason given by people who chose not to report an incident defined by the survey as a sexual assault was, “I did not think it was serious enough to report.” She pointed out that this indicates many people whom the survey considers victims of sexual assault (and therefore includes in its tallies) do not consider what they experienced to be sexual assault.

While some protestors implied that Mrs. Yoffe gave no thought to the wellbeing of College students, she focused on the many ways in which the miscarriage of justice hurts instead of helps them: “We are teaching a generation of young women that they are malleable, weak, and helpless in the face of [young men].” In response to criticisms of the title of one of her articles, “College Women, Stop Getting Drunk,” she pointed out that she did not write the title and that her goal had been to incite a culture shift regarding binge drinking in the vein of widespread condemnation of drunk driving and smoking. In response to accusations that this constituted “victim blaming,” she quoted Safety and Security Chief Harry Kinne, who had stated that the bulk of burglary at Dartmouth occurs in unlocked rooms and that students should do their best to lock their rooms. She said that encouraging a proactive application of measures such as locking your door or refraining from binge drinking is not victim blaming but common sense. When further pressed, she argued that young men are the victims of a double standard when it comes to alcohol consumption, as the man is often found guilty when consensual intercourse between two intoxicated persons takes place.

The lecture and following question-and-answer session proved informative, though it would have been more educational if students could tell the difference between a journalist and policy-maker. Not all people who come to lecture at Dartmouth have the same profession. As a consequence, they all have different forms of bias and different motivations. Emily Yoffe, as a journalist, is concerned with reporting on the facts of a situation, not advocating a comprehensive solution, reporting on all the world’s ills, or winning a popularity contest. It is not only unfair that students expect guests to exceed their areas of expertise, but it is counter to the experience of other students who wish to take full advantage of the many amazing guests that come to speak at this small college.

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  • disqus_fvLIBK8ktD

    I’ve admired Emily Yoffe for years, not least when I occasionally disagree with her conclusions. She admirably lays out (and distinguishes between) the basic situation and facts, her assessment of them, and her reasoning. She plays eminently fair with her readers. It would be nice to think that perhaps some of the students who went to hear her talk with their minds made up that she must be wrong were perhaps nudged by Ms. Yoffe’s calm common-sense to rethink some of their assumptions and conclusions about this thorny matter.

  • Bob

    This is an excellent report of the event. One that I’m sure Ms. Yoffe would be inclined to write herself.