Monday, October 22, 2012

Proposal at York University to respond to sexual assaults: require all undergraduates to take a women's studies class

York University has had six sexual assault claims in less than one month. According to police, the latest attack occurred at a bus stop, just one day after another incident was reported of a sexual assault inside a student residence.

In response, the York student union, theYork Federation of Students (YFS), has revived a pet “preventative” solution: a mandatory equity or women’s studies class for all undergraduate students at York University as a condition for graduation. Safiyah Husein, the VP equity for YFS, maintained that such a course would serve as a “preventative measure to get to the root causes and stop [sexual assaults and violence] before that happens.”

The suspect in this most recent attack is alleged to be in his 30s or 40s—most likely not a York University undergraduate student. And the arrest following a string of assaults in July saw three counts of sexual assault (and others) brought against a 20-year-old Toronto man — also not a York University student. In those cases and others, a mandatory course would have absolutely zero effect.

Is it prudent to require all undergraduates to take a women's studies course? Or it is overkill? Dr. David Lisak has shown that the vast majority of rapes are committed by a small group of predators.Likak "says schools put too much faith in teachable moments, when they ought to treat sexual assault as a criminal matter. 'These are clearly not individuals who are simply in need of a little extra education about proper communication with the opposite sex,' he says. 'These are predators.'"

As one writer put it: this debate "distracts attention from the real issue at York — the appalling state of security on the campus. York covers a huge geographic area, with campus facilities spread across all of it. There are plenty of dark fields and blind corners, and not nearly enough patrols and security cameras. York is always pledging to do better here, and no doubt after the latest string of assaults, will promise to do better still. But it’s not working. The campus is not a safe place, and that needs addressing. Now."  And: "The need to clamp down on sexual violence at York University is obvious. But forcing a new equity course on every student will do nothing to make the campus safer, and would serve only to encourage students uninterested from funding someone else’s thought experiment to take their tuition dollars elsewhere."