Friday, November 6, 2009

At Northwestern University, it's perfectly OK to foment hysteria with a bogus rape warning, just don't mention if the alleged rapist is black

The enlightened Northwestern University community is still wringing its hands over the bogus rape claim that prompted two campus-wide emails: "The first [email], from Oct. 27, notified students that a female Northwestern student (whose name has not been released) was sexually assaulted . . . . The e-mail’s explicit description of the suspect . . . drew concern. The description, which portrayed the suspect as an 'African American male, approximately 25 years old, 5-6 – 5-7 inches tall, with a thin but muscular build, wearing a black leather jacket and dark jeans,' provoked a discussion about race." The second email, "which appeared in many inboxes on Oct. 28, had a subject line that declared the first e-mail’s report 'false.' The second alert offered no explanation as to why the claim was dismissed, but said the decision was made after detectives interviewed the student."

The fact that the first email mentioned the alleged rapist was male was, of course, not a problem to the University community. Mentioning that he was black, however, posed a serious dilemma. "One student in the audience [at a panel discussion about the rape claim] said when she first read the e-mail she was more concerned about how it might reinforce racial perceptions than how it would influence perception of gender. She said she was surprised by the specificity, when previous cases have had more blanket descriptions that could apply to people of any race." And as we reported yesterday: "Students questioned whether the description of the attacker as an African-American male was prudent. 'All black young men on campus become vulnerable to further suspicion,' [Criminology Prof. Lisa] Frohmann said."

The Interim Dean of Students plans to meet with the chief of police to discuss why the reports are "so detailed."

Why were the emails sent? "Interim Dean of Students Burgwell Howard explained that NUPD is required to send the e-mails by the Clery Act, signed in 1990. The act calls for universities to 'make timely reports to the campus community on crimes considered to be a threat to other students and employees.'”

But wait. The Clery Act actually says more than that about the purpose of "timely reports." Here's a quote, from the statute, that the Interim Dean didn't mention (or if he mentioned it, the article doesn't report it): "Such reports shall be provided to students and employees in a manner that is timely and that will aid in the prevention of similar occurrences." (You can find the Act at 20 USC Section 1092(f)).

The most obvious question is, why does Northwestern feel an obligation to send out an email blast to the entire campus community based on an uncorroborated, lone allegation of a single woman, prior to any police investigation? Well, as we should expect, the University doesn't seem to have a problem with that. Obviously the University has made a policy decision that such a report is sufficiently trustworthy to warrant the rape hysteria that accompanies a Clery warning.

No, the problem, they feel, is with the level of "detail" in the first email's report. In this context, "detail" is a code word for the color of the potential rapist's skin.

The most recent stats I can find on Northwestern's enrollment show that the school's male population is 46%, and its black population is 5%. http://www.uscollegesearch.org/northwestern-university.html

So let us ask the obvious question: if you are mandated by law to advise the University community of sex crimes in a way that will aid in the prevention of similar occurrences, and you've determined that this uncorroborated claim is sufficiently trustworthy to report, how on earth do you not mention the alleged assailant's color? Are we also precluded from reporting his age, height, or build?

The fact is, if you report all the facts you know about the alleged rapist, you have narrowed the possible suspects to -- oh, I don't know -- maybe three people on campus? But political correctness (only when it comes to race, not gender) trumps whatever benefits are derived from a detailed warning.

Of course, I'm assuming the goal is to provide a warning that will actually help prevent harm. Obviously, some enlightened members of the campus community don't share that view. They would be content with a generalized report that goes something like this: "Attention all women: be on the lookout for a human bearing a penis who seriously hurts women."

The fact that a report lacking in detail would have had the university's entire female population eying up with suspicion, fear, and loathing the university's entire male population is neither here nor there. After all, we can never have too much generalized rape hysteria that casts the entire male gender in a bad light -- even if the claim was a lie from the outset -- now can we?