- at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario –
I am still on campus, but I look forward to getting my alumni magazine. The latest issue was a touch awkward. On the front was one of those lines straight from the fundraising office: “A sense of community and shared values – it’s what this place has always been about.”
How to illustrate that great Queen’s tradition, the pride of the university? Of course, a cover shot of the Queen’s Bands! By our lights here in Kingston, it is the finest university marching band in the land. I love the Bands, but this was bad timing. I was more than a little ashamed to discover that, when not adorning a Saturday football afternoon, our Bands sing from their own songbook, a compilation so explicit, so depraved, so celebratory of promiscuous debauchery that upon its discovery by the administration last week, the Bands were suspended for the rest of the semester. The Bands, chastened but far from chaste, have announced the destruction of the songbook (typical lyrics not suitable for a newspaper, but available on the Queen’s Journal site) and will be sent by the administration for human rights and equity training.
The last bit is endearing. Does anyone think that our students – highest admission standards in the country, as we rather like to note – did not know that what they were singing was, to use the favoured term, inappropriate? Grossly so?
The late teens and twenty-somethings in the Bands have been raised since kindergarten in an environment which taught them that the high holy grail of social behaviour was not to be sexist, demeaning or offensive. They know it’s wrong. They just choose to do it. So what went wrong?
Another elite university campus is thinking about that, too. Yale University has something of a sexual-assault problem, and so established an advisory committee on the “campus climate,” the going euphemism for a sexual culture that is proving horribly damaging to a lot of Yale students.
“The ‘hook-up’ culture minimizes longterm committed relationships in favor of casual sex,” the committee reports. “It can blur boundaries of what consent means, and it leaves young adults uncertain of how to address problematic behaviour, develop their own standards of conduct, and navigate a confusing social scene that floats on too much alcohol (or other drug use) and casual intimacy, with too little support for (or models of ) healthy sexual relationships – Because the social environment is so open, students seem unsure of how to develop meaningful relationships, set appropriate boundaries, determine their own social values, or act in their own best interests, short and long-term.”
No generation has had more sex education. But even the exquisitely progressive Yale report tells us that they know pitifully little about how to form good relationships, and how sex might influence that. So having been taught a lot about sex but little about love or virtue or discipline or sacrifice, they sing dirty songs and get drunk and wake up in the morning feeling rather swindled – or assaulted – by it all. Having been taught that sex is principally the expression of the autonomous self, the students are pathetically incapable of acting in their own best interest. And bright young things that they are, they know it.
“Undergraduate students in particular seem to feel that the casual sex culture has become the social default, even though many students do not endorse or participate in it; they are looking for guidance about the values the University’s leaders think should frame healthy gender relationships,” the committee reports.
Guidance from the university? That’s the problem, not the solution. The operating premise of elite campuses for more than 20 years has been that promiscuity is the norm for campus culture, encouraging it by the various campaigns for sexual health that bombard students even before they arrive on campus. The message is that anything goes, as long as nobody gets hurt or gets a disease. Not the noblest vision of the human prospect, but it has failed even on that limited score. Anything goes leads to anything goes – and so Yale finds itself with a rape culture on campus and Queen’s needs to teach the Bands not to sing about it for recreational amusement.
At Yale, upon receiving the report the president announced that he would no longer permit peddlers of pornography from setting up shop at the biennial “Sex Week at Yale.” Because porn is toxic for the culture, and a place of higher learning should know that? No, because Yale’s brand should not be subject to unauthorized use by corporate sponsors. Really.
The campus is in dire need of climate change.