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Creating responsible students

| Monday, September 14, 2015

Another cluster of sex crimes on campus has reignited the debate on issues regarding campus sexual assault. With it comes the wave of suggestions, many of them in the Viewpoint section, about what needs to be done to combat the problem. While there have been plenty of intelligent, reasonable suggestions, there have also been a few that are not.

First there was “Typical Monday morning story,” which insisted that sex crimes on campus could be prevented if all the students just went to bed at a reasonable hour. Then we had “An end to laxity,” which pointed the finger at dorm leaders for not cracking down on alcohol use on campus. Proceeding far enough down this path, we’d soon end up with a campus that more closely resembles the town from ‘Footloose’ than it does a college. Curiously absent has been the blame directed at “those newfangled video games, hip-hop music and that dance Miley Cyrus is doing” as is so often the custom.

As well-intentioned as they may be, these suggestions would have calamitous effects on the student body. The elimination of parties, for instance, would only inhibit socialization among students and disrupt the Notre Dame community that we all cherish. It is this community that has always been the rallying point against criminal sexual activity on campus; ironically, driving students apart like some have suggested would harm the prevention effort more than it would help.

I’m particularly bothered by suggestions involving draconian enforcement of dorm rules by rectors. It’s easy to see that this would encourage students to view their leadership as hostile, ready to raid their rooms in search of contraband. Fr. George and the RAs of Alumni were a key part of my first weeks at Notre Dame. I can only imagine how different I would have felt if they’d been kicking down my door and poking around in my fridge. I recognize that the University has the legal right to enter my room at any time, and I do not have now nor have I ever had anything to hide. But just because they can doesn’t mean they should.

Finally, I was shocked by the suggestion that students who go out at night need to be “escorted to their respective dorms safely, reported to the rector” and made to “remain in the dorm all weekend”, effectively placing the entire student body under curfew. Let’s put aside for a moment the near-impossibility of enforcing such martial law with the resources the NDSP currently has. What’s truly troubling about such talk is the implication that students need to be “kept where they are supposed to be,” and that simply existing on campus anywhere else is somehow criminal behavior worthy of being grounded like a child.

And thus we are confronted with a question more important than the mere personal liberties of the student body. Notre Dame represents an important transition for the young people who pass through its doors; for most, it is an increase in independence. Sending rectors or NDSP to hover behind every student and nudge them away from every possible problem might keep them safe during their time here. Unfortunately, it would also result in students who are utterly unprepared to enter the real world, where there are no such guardians. I’m reminded of a quote from “Finding Nemo” — “you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him.”

At their core, these statements often feel like they’re less about sexual assault prevention and more about head-shaking regarding supposed “moral decay” on campus, culminating in admonitions to the student body to “get off my lawn” in the wee hours of the morning. It’s perfectly fine for these folks to express such sentiments — in fact, I encourage it, even if I don’t necessarily agree with their conclusions. But it shouldn’t be the focus of discussion on creating a safer campus. Creating a culture that strips students of their agency will do nothing to create responsible, effective citizens.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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