Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, January 23, 2015

This week we have an editorial revealing that American universities are not the only ones with a sexual assault problem, and two new and potentially innovative tactics for addressing the issue in this country.

Britain Has a Problem with College Sexual Assault Too

If you thought campus sexual assault was a uniquely American problem, this editorial from British professor Nicole Westmarland makes it brutally clear that college campuses across the pond have just as much if not more of a problem with sexual violence. In fact, Professor Westmarland cites statistics even more shocking and perturbing than the ones familiar to us from American studies. According to a poll conducted by The Telegraph, 1 in 3 British female college students experience sexual assault. 97% of sexual assault victims do not report their assault to the university, and 44% said they did not report their assault because they believed the university would do nothing about the violence. Westmarland points to these statistics as an indictment of a higher education culture that she believes would prefer to sweep these problems under the rug rather than discuss and address them. Perhaps encouragingly (at least for Americans) she points to current efforts being taken to address sexual violence on this side of the Atlantic as a model for British universities looking to fight back against campus rape.

Could Sorority Ragers Help Fight Sexual Assault?

Alcohol-fueled fraternity parties have been the setting for numerous high-profile sexual assault cases. Alcohol-fueled sorority parties have not, probably because, by and large, such events do not exist. Now, some female students are wondering whether they should, suggesting not only that a party hosted by a sorority might not pose the same risks as one hosted by a fraternity, but that such events could decrease the overall danger of sexual assault on campus. The theory goes that drinking in a setting where women are in control—of who can and cannot be in their house, of the flow of alcohol, and of their own ability to go upstairs and lock the door at any time—would reverse a power dynamic that at fraternities contributes to the prevalence of sexual assault. Critics of this logic point out that sororities rarely host parties for good reasons, which include the cost of insurance and potential damage to property that generally belongs to a national organization. Furthermore, they suggest that providing yet another venue for excessive drinking may be exactly the wrong strategy for combating a problem closely linked to excessive alcohol consumption.

How Can Taxes and Marijuana Fight Sexual Assault?

Curbing excessive drinking is the heart of the tactic suggested by this piece from New York Magazine. However, author Annie Lowrey suggests a novel tool in the seemingly age-old (and often futile) efforts by schools and government to cut down on students’ drinking: taxation. According to Lawrey, “Study after study has shown that ‘higher prices or taxes were associated with a lower prevalence of youth drinking.’” She posits that increased taxation of alcohol, and especially of alcohol sold in close proximity to college campuses, will lead to decreased drinking and, as a result, a decrease in sexual assaults. The second, more controversial bonus suggestion? That legalizing marijuana could similarly decrease student drinking and thus assaults. According to Lowrey, “there is some evidence that young people tend to substitute pot for alcohol.” Drawing on evidence that cannabis use reduces the likelihood of violent behavior, while drinking increases it, Lowrey suggests that making marijuana more widely available could decrease the risk of assault on college campuses.

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The Intoxicating Camera
Posted by On Friday, January 17, 2014

It’s coming to your campus.

I’m Shmacked, founded by Arya Toufanian and Jeffrey Ray, two twenty-something aspiring filmmakers, turns college campuses into music videos, although perhaps not in the way administrators or parents might hope. In between jump cuts to students crowd surfing and shaky cam shots of students grinding on the dance floor, the videos might showcase a few noticeable campus buildings or cheering crowds at sports games. Academics and classrooms, of course, are noticeably absent. (Though the founders claim they’d like to show them too.) 

They insist they’re merely there to document the college scene and to help prospective students learn about colleges by showcasing the social life. According to Toufanian, “Kids don’t want to read anymore…Seeing a video is a much more fun way to learn about a school.”

Of course their motto is “I’m Shmacked: It’s a movement,” which makes it sound less like a documentary project and more like…well, a movement.

The problem is the filmmakers host the parties they claim to document. Indeed, the very name I’m Shmacked suggests their focus. It’s not something you say after a hard test. It’s something you say after a few shots of hard liquor. At the bottom of their videos, the company claims that “no alcohol or illegal substance is used during filming, just props.” Perhaps the camera itself acts as a kind of intoxicant.

Indeed, students eagerly perform for the camera. The camera is not an objective lens onto campus life, but an invitation to perform. Much as alcohol can be used as a kind of permission slip to misbehave, so can the camera and the thrill of being on screen. Perhaps students are compelled by some strange sense of school spirit that measures a university’s success in cups of beer. One of the parties, held at University of Delaware, devolved into what police described as a near riot.

Co-founder Arya Toufanian admitted as much in an interview, saying, “I have cameras and a budget now, and a bunch of college kids who will do anything to be on camera.”.

Indeed, USA Today quotes one student who claims that I’m Shmacked gives students the ability to “express themselves” differently.

Other students are sensitive to the ways video and social media coax students into performing: “I’m worried that filming it will just exacerbate (students’) dangerous behavior so they look ‘cooler’ on camera,” said one student in the same USA Today news report.

Students are also divided on how appearing in one of these videos might affect their professional lives. One student thought it unlikely that he could be identified in the video:  “If my future employers were to watch the video,” he said, “I doubt the likelihood of them recognizing me.”

Meanwhile, another student told the New York Times, “To do this on a video that can go viral, you must have a train-wreck mentality.”

At the same time, we can’t completely discount the co-founders claim. I’m Shmacked does document something, though it may not be an entirely accurate reflection of campus life. It seems to open a view onto students’  attitudes regarding campus partying and their motives to party in the first place.

I’m Shmacked offers students a chance to be seen and to “represent” their school. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the videos often include shots of sporting events and/or shots of campus gear. The parties themselves are a kind of performance and competition. In several of the videos students proclaim their school is the “best.” Undoubtedly a sense of competition fuels students to act crazier.

But then again, maybe we shouldn’t get so worked up. Much of the actual footage is rather tame. Students screaming, dancing, or crowd surfing are pretty typical. A lot of the motion and action is in the editing.

Perhaps, then, I’m Shmacked offers campuses a way into a more nuanced discussion with their students about why they party. Why is this the story so many students seem to want tell about college? And if partying is about letting loose and forgetting yourself, why would anyone perform or show off for a camera?

In fact, I’m Shmacked has itself tried to open conversations on campus by adding short interviews with students about topics like “one night stands or relationships” or “drunk versus sober.”

We don’t have answers, but your students might. 

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