Dear Mrs. Margaret Wente,
I have to admit I'm not a heavy reader of newspapers such as the Globe & Mail, so it's purely by chance that I happened to stumble upon two articles of yours that have frankly made me as well as my peers a little upset. As you've so described in your article "Should Universities Police Sexual Assaults?", your "generation", the one responsible for granting "autonomy" to the university masses, isn't currently the generation that composes the university masses. While you, in no way, have tangible experience with the student life as well as the unique experiences of students in this day in age, you seem to have very strong opinions on university policies concerning very serious matters such as sexual assault.
It's clear from reading your past articles that sexual assault is a topic that has fallen on your radar as of late. In your article entitled "Truth and Deception: Ghomeshi Verdict a Good Day for Justice", you outline your support for the court's decision and attack the defendants for "grossly" failing to "tell the truth", effectively coming to the conclusion that "the justice system performed exactly as it should". Interesting use of the phrase "justice system", but as a good friend once told me in a discussion regarding the aftermath of this case, "it's a legal system, but by no means is it a justice system". To give you the benefit of the doubt, maybe the legal system did work in the way it was meant to. But I would hesitate to say that the aftermath has been representative of justice. Justice has not been served when the judge's final decision is a scathing defense of the trend of victim blaming surrounding all cases of sexual assault, an opinion of his which very clearly extends beyond the boundaries of the legal proceedings in this specific case.
However, while your aim of these articles was to take down the "myths" surrounding sexual assault, both on campus and in high profile cases, you have actually made it a lot easier for others to discredit you. You see, your articles highlight you as a perfect example of why university campuses should, in fact, have on-campus sexual assault policies, both proactive as well as reactive. One of the most simple, yet important proactive measures we have on campus regarding sexual assault is consent training and education, and from your article on Jian Ghomeshi, it is very clear that this is something you need. Citing the fact that the defendants in the Ghomeshi case did things like send flirtatious emails, flowers, love letters, etc and failed to mention them, as a way to discredit them, clearly shows your lack of understanding for the fact that consent is fluid, dynamic, and can be revoked at any point. This, interestingly enough, is one of the first things I learned about the nature of consent thanks to my university's proactive measures on dealing with these kinds of topics.
While proactive measures are one thing, the facet of campus sexual assault policy you seem to be at odds with concerns the reactive part, or the "policing", as you call it. You question the fact that it is no longer "enough" to refer sexual assault complaints to the police. This sentiment is problematic for a couple reasons. Survivors of sexual assault should never feel obligated to report their incidents to the police, or anyone for that matter, but if they choose to do so, there are some who may not feel comfortable going through an legal process and would rather just see to it that they can feel as safe in their university community as any other student. In any case, there should be some recourse available on campus itself, without getting any sort of legal aspects involved.
You also seem to have a bone to pick with those who falsify sexual assault allegations, as this is a "blatant violation of people's rights" and then going on to name incidences where men were on the receiving end of campus sexual assault policy. While this sentiment both solely points to men as the perpetrators of sexual assault and further ignores non-gender binaries, it further circles back to the issues of victim blaming. You point out in your Jian Ghomeshi article that the women accusing him of sexual assault could have easily falsified their claims to garner fame and money. While this is an incredibly scathing, inflammatory accusation, there exists a grain of rationality in this, albeit a very small one. However, I have to ask you what you assume someone who is the victim of a sexual assault on campus stands to gain by falsely accusing a fellow student? If anything, going through the perils of reliving a traumatic experience to the administration in lengthy bureaucratic processes that may not even work may even leave a sexual assault survivor worse off than had they not reported their experience at all, all in the hopes of getting their attacker off their campus, out of their residence, and being able to (maybe) feel safe in their university once again.
You say that universities should "endeavour to draw a bright line between criminal behaviour and the types of unpleasant and even ugly experiences that many of us have encountered at one time or another". While being able to create a campus culture that does not support said "unpleasant and even ugly experiences" is definitely the onus of universities as institutions, who's to say that they shouldn't reprimand those who practise behaviour deemed as criminal?
While I am a true believer in examining all sides of an argument and I believe your perspective has probably struck a chord with some, and I also acknowledge that this is an opinion piece (yet is also a policy prescription), I would like to point out the fact that the core demographic you are advising has not had any input in terms of this publications. From what I can see, there has been no efforts to understand current university students and what is affecting them in their decisions to support (or not support) an on-campus sexual assault policy. You cite two women- one who is an academic and the other who is a writer, as the sources that have shaped your opinion on this matter. How about actually working with the people who are going to be affected by these kinds of policies, those who are working in campus on consent and safe sex education, the support groups and networks created for survivors of sexual assaults, and the administrators who work within their systems to deal with these issues as they happen?
Mrs. Wente, I respectfully disagree with you and your loose generalizations of justice, consent, victim blaming, and campus sexual assault policy. I may not be the highly educated, award-winning career journalist that you are. However, I am a student embroiled in the centre of the issue you so blatantly seem to question. I have witnessed the impacts of sexual assault on people very close to me. I have witnessed the anger of my student body as our administration refuses to adopt or even listen to our proposals for an appropriate sexual assault policy. I strongly believe that this is an issue that you are wholly uninformed to address, and advise you to appropriately educate yourself on issues such as consent as well as consult students like me about how a university sexual assault policy will affect us should you choose to write about such a topic in the future.
I would, however, like to thank you for being able to state opinions controversial enough to generate discourse about this issue amongst my peer group and demonstrate to many (including yourself) how passionate students are about this topic.
I hope this letter finds you well.
All quotes obtained from Mrs. Wente's articles: Should Universities Police Sexual Assaults? and Truth and Deception: Ghomeshi Verdict a Good Day for Justice