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Of Boys, Beer and Young Women

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Beer, Boys and Young Ladies Don't Mix

Two Sundays ago, before finishing my morning coffee, a friend of mine texted me and told me that I needed to see the front page of the New York Times. The cover story was an expose about a college's botched handling of a sexual assault case, "Reporting Rape, and Wishing She Hadn't," July 12. The reason my friend so "thoughtfully" drew my eye to such an article was because the small liberal arts college in question was where I had gone to school and by the time I finished the damming piece I was irate, tinged with guilt and ashamed.

I was mostly irate at the school for its purported mishandling of the sexual assault case (the article, with its point being that colleges are ill-prepared to handle such complaints, took the administration to task for a poor investigation, dismissing the complaint and accordingly, discouraging the victim from filing criminal charges), an ire that was further inflamed by President Mark D. Gearan's perfunct and seemingly insensitive letter to alumni and parents, that coldly stated that the school had followed procedure and does not condone sexual assault. Upon receiving that email and a Boston area alumni "Happy Hour" notice within the same hour, I swore I'd never give another dime to the school (not that I gave a lot, but I contributed a small tithe annually). My long held pride in having attended the school had given way to shame.

I felt guilty too, because I had lived in a fraternity and played sports at Hobart (not the same house as the accused football players, but a house also chockfull of athletes, though as a track and cross-country runner, few, including myself, considered me a jock). I had witnessed the trappings of pack culture and attended the kinds of parties that lead to the long and tortuous night for "Anna." Back then, like Anna, I thought such things didn't "really" happen, not at Hobart. Some female friends told me I was was naive and that I needed to open my eyes. I'm sure I swept it under the carpet as misguided feminism at the time, but then, while mentioning the conversation to an upperclassman I was dating over a candle-lit vegetarian meal in her off campus apartment, she told me that she had been raped and named her assailant point blank. When I goaded her for more, she gave me the horrendous details of the assailant coming up her fire escape and through her window with a broken beer bottle.

"You've got to tell the police," I told her, but like my female classmates, she told me it happened all the time and that she was over it. I couldn't shake it, I couldn't stop talking about it with her and in times of drink when I saw her assailant at parties I fantasized about unleashing some magical Bruce Lee stunt and throttling him (which would have been unwise as he was physically formidable and had a penchant for the brawl).

Hearing that story at Hobart is one of my most ingrained memories from college, and now, some 30 years later as a father of a young girl, the Times article has rekindled that maelstrom of confusion and distress in new context.

Too, in reading the Times article I was also incensed by the reporter who seemed to play loose with facts for effect, so I took to social media to start a conversation, soliciting my fellow alum to chime in. It was assuring to see that many men, most speaking as fathers, were outraged as well. One female classmate reached out to me and told me she was impressed that I was willing to break the "bro-code," though I didn't see there was any code to break in the case of such misogynistic misconduct that should never been condoned or buried. In another tangent, a male classmate took me to task for questioning the reporter and the account, which was construed as defending the school, but in my mind, these are the very things that should be questioned. A lot of these unfortunate incidents are simply not "black and white", but situations that are murky and grow ugly out of happenstance.

As parents we send young folk to college to grow and learn, to become adults. Naiveté and alcohol lay in wait as tinder for trouble. It's important to understand this and examine it, and find ways to stem it so that there are less victims and less young men whose futures have been derailed by an ill-advised, momentary capitalization on impulse.

In the aftermath of the article's publication, the Geneva, NY Police Department and Hobart and William Smith Trustees' chairwoman have come out and made credible statements challenging and reshaping the context of events and conclusions reached in the article. No matter how the story spins, there will be no winners -- but hopefully future generations can learn from it.