I have said before that if you want major deep difficult to reverse social problems and crises, let men believe and know that they can get sex outside of committed long-term marriage. Thanks in large part to the shifting ethos surrounding the sexual revolution, this has basically happened (and the social problems have followed, for women and children especially). In this essay, the author does not let the university escape its complicit role in that process.
“Students, in essence, are not touched by regulated social sanctions because,” at the university, “there is an expectation to break rather than uphold normal codes of conduct.” When arriving at college, seventeen- and eighteen-year-old young men and women are invited into a jungle, for some, and a carnival, for others, of formless sex with no particular purpose other than recreational pursuits or momentary impulses.
college life in the sixties was a very different world. This bears recalling not as an indulgence in sentimentality but rather so that we might make an honest appraisal of precisely whence we came to arrive at where we are now. Perhaps there is something to be learned from the past in order to better judge the nature of what we have wrought in the present.
Back then, everything possible was in place to prevent a rape or any other form of sexual violence from being committed in a fraternity house or university housing. Women were not permitted in dormitory rooms or fraternity bedrooms. Those notorious University of Virginia gentlemen at the “Playboy School of the South” enforced their own parietal rules, and housemothers could be found at fraternity parties until 1968. Young women who visited for an overnight stay were assigned to “approved housing” that their institutions selected, rooms more often than not in the homes of widows who had space to let. If a young woman was uncomfortable with her date, a refuge was available, and there was a curfew. “No” had the force of strong conventions and in loco parentis. There wasn’t the need for draconian rules and punishments, because the university and women’s colleges represented real standards that were reflected in the arrangements they had put in place to bring the sexes together in an orderly fashion.
In reality, the schools, whether or not they understood themselves in that role, supported habits of courtship. Today’s regime discourages dating and courtship. Dating and courtship require a private space from which each sex can depart at appointed times to meet in public. There needs to be a threshold, a space of transition that communicates to a man and a woman that “Yes, I’m going out especially to see you, to be with you.” To hang out with a guy in his room in the dorm is very different from leaving an all-girls’ dorm to meet him at the library, to say nothing of a guy going to an entirely different campus where a chaperone waits along with a date. This difference is not one of license, and it is more than a matter of chastity. It is a mark of deeper intention and purposefulness in our most intimate relations.
Our unisex colleges and universities have abolished those spaces. What remains, what they have gone about creating, are spaces that invite and accommodate hook-ups and casual cohabitation—and open opportunities for forms of sexual violence that were not likely to happen on campus grounds in the past.
Since a fraternity event was the contrived setting for the Rolling Stone article, it is instructive to compare the fraternity party of our day with the fraternity party of today at the University of Virginia. In the sixties and well into the seventies, parties at fraternities did not lure young women with the promise of liquor and a hook-up. These were not “stag” parties, to use an old expression. These were dating events. The nearest thing to today’s fraternity parties were the mixers that the university and the sister colleges sponsored. The young women arrived and departed in buses. Boys and girls came together in the grand ballroom of Newcomb Hall: There were no alcoholic beverages or bedrooms to which to slip away. Neither the dormitories nor the fraternity houses were available for bedroom sex. And there were chaperones at the mixers. These mixers were the brunt of many jokes. The same cannot possibly be said about fraternity parties today. They have become dangerous activities.
But who is at fault? Fraternities at the university have traditionally hosted parties. Today’s parties reflect the university’s change of mind, or rather mindlessness, about sex. They evolved into what they are now because the university let it happen. The same moronic judgment that assigns twenty-year-olds as resident advisors for university housing let come into existence a laissez-faire economy of sex and the accompanying debauchery. But this economy is not “sex blind.” It devalues womanhood and undermines possibilities for lasting relationships. One young woman laments:
Call me old-fashioned, but is the notion of a guy calling a girl and asking her out to dinner so preposterous? And that is just the problem: we have been conditioned to think that even a single gesture such as this is beyond the scope of expectation. It is an outright riot in my sorority house when someone actually gets asked on a date, and I hear things like, “He must really like you,” “Oh gosh, are you guys dating? Is it official now?” And the classic “Guys never do this!”