Columbia University cancelled its “Bacchanal” concert this fall citing “safety concerns associated with drinking and sexual harrassment.” The cancellation no doubt is connected to federal claims filed by students this past spring alleging that Columbia violated federal law in not going far enough to prevent and deal with sexual assault.
Students were understanadably pissed that their concert / drinking fest was cancelled. A group called the Coalition of Sexual Violence Issued a statement, which read in part:
Cancelling the event only serves to ignore and distract from the true reasons for sexual violence on campus — inadequate consent education, a lack of accountability, and rape culture.
Another group, “No Red Tape,” echoed the sentiment:
The reason that sexual assault has been an issue at Bacchanal is not because of Bacchanal itself. It is because of rape culture. Without Bacchanal, there will still be assaults and there will still be violence on campus. It will simply be less visible.
Doesn’t everyone understand that it has nothing to do with the concert? It’s rape culture’s fault, which is fine because rape culture sounds horrible.
But the problem is, neither group’s statement defines what rape culture is. It’s left a mystery. It’s the boogie man. Something we blame for all of our troubles – like how we blame our parents divorce for why we tend to eat Funyons instead of exercising, or how Bush is responsible for everything gone wrong during the Obama Administration.
But here is a little secret – Bacchanal is rape culture. Sexual assaults like the ones legally complained about by students don’t occur at the library, they don’t occur during a game of frisbee golf, and they don’t occur during improv shows. They occur after drinking. That is the common element of all campus sexual assaults – booze, and plenty of it.
If you hold a university and its officials legally responsible for sexual assaults, they’re not going to sanction a concert for students to get drunk and grope each other at. Hell, the word Bacchanal even means “an occasion of wild and drunken revelry.” That’s not a word you want in the fact section of a lawsuit – it basically reads as close to a definition of “rape culture” as you can get.
Part of the problem is that university administrators don’t want anything to do with arbitrating sexual assault. They are not law enforcement. They never signed up to be the czars of sexual assault. It’s an incredibly difficult position to be in. Most campus assaults devolve into a he said / she said where both parties were near blackout drunk. Universities are then tasked with determining fault without the powers construed to actual courts, and no matter which person they side with they are opening themselves up to a lawsuit. It’s the last thing someone who spent eight years getting a Ph.D in 15th Century Russian literature ever wanted to be put in charge of. They chose a career in pontificating about things people don’t care about. Now they are being tasked with picking the correct life to ruin.
So universities do the logical thing. They hire lawyers who quickly advise them to extricate themselves from all liabilities as quick as possible. Those lawyers don’t educate themselves on the nuances of rape culture, they read the cases and realize they all involve partying and jungle juice and tell the administrators to cut ties with any university event that could be possibly associated with alcohol – which is difficult as college kids turn even watching the State of the Union into a drinking game.
It shows tremendous naivety that college students are now shocked that their protests have lead to the cancellation of the concert. It’s a good lesson that in the real world its not “rape culture” that matters, but the culture of lawyers and risk assessment. Perhaps starting a dialogue to reprogram preexisting societal conditions is the best way to prevent rape culture, but extricating yourself from drunk college kids is absolutely the best way to prevent any liability from it. And if you’re trying to prevent lawsuits, you sure as hell can’t be caught sponsoring something called Bacchanal.