A student at Reed College has been banned from class for denying the existence of “rape culture” in the United States and arguing that the oft-repeated statistic that one in five women are raped at college is bogus.
Jeremiah True, 19, received an email from professor Pancho Savery on March 14 telling him he was making his classmates so uncomfortable that he was no longer welcome to participate in the “conference” sections of his Humanities 110 class, a course which focuses on the art and literature of classical Greece, according to BuzzFeed News.
True says he sparred with his classmates on a variety of issues, but says it was his criticism of the 1-in-5 rape statistic that ended up being the tipping point.
“There are several survivors of sexual assault in our conference, and you have made them extremely uncomfortable with what they see as not only your undermining incidents of rape, but of also placing too much emphasis on men being unfairly charged with rape,” said Savery in an email True posted online. “[Other students] have said that things you have said in our conference have made them so upset that they have difficulty concentrating in other classes. I, as conference leader, have to do what is best for the well-being of the entire class, and I am therefore banning you from conference for the remainder of the semester.”
At least one student thinks giving True the boot was the right move, saying that True’s statements somehow represented a safety hazard.
“This is an excellent example of a professor taking initiative to take care of his students,” senior Rosie Dempsey told BuzzFeed. “Of course, we are an institution that encourages dissent and active discussion, but there is a difference between stimulating discussion through opposition and making other students feel unsafe.”
Another student said that True’s ouster was necessary because he was “triggering” other students, suggesting that True was so bothersome he was activating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in others.
“Rape culture is indisputable and [True’s] words and actions are deeply upsetting. They’ve retraumatized and triggered survivors, and that seems antithetical to Reed culture,” said junior Kate Hilts.
Officially, though, True’s actions seem perfectly in line with Reed culture. The “About Reed” page on the college’s website repeatedly extols the importance of independent thought and free inquiry. The first operating principle of the college reads “The educational mission of the college requires the freest exchange and most open discussion of ideas. The use of censorship or intimidation is intolerable in such a community.” The school’s mission statement declares that “The goal of the Reed education is that students learn and demonstrate rigor and independence in their habits of thought, inquiry, and expression.”
Whether or not True is “triggering” his fellow students, his argument against the 1-in-5 rape statistic is on solid ground factually. While activists and even the White House have repeated the claim that 20 percent of women are raped at college, that number is primarily based on a study that had numerous shortcomings: It only surveyed students at two (unnamed) universities, it relied on Internet surveys with a low response rate and it used questions worded in such a way that ordinary drunken sexual encounters could be classified as rape.
Department of Justice research, on the other hand, suggests that about 0.6 percent of collegiate females are raped in a given year.
True, whose Facebook page says he studies “How to Annoy People,” has no plans to back down. Instead, he has launched an online petition demanding that he be allowed back into the course.
“I know many people aren’t comfortable with taking the stances I do, but I’m not a sheep,” True told Buzzfeed.
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