As someone who was sexually assaulted in college more than once, I found today’s session to be one of the most careless, least thought out, and most upsetting classes of law school I’ve experienced. First, having no prior warning of what we were going to be discussing today left me totally unprepared for the topic and conversation. I did not sign up for this. We had no syllabus, not even a warning before to let us know that we were going to be discussing this topic. I understand that the Professors view this class as one of “ideal discourse”—but it is impossible to have ideal discourse on a subject when the subject induces anxiety and panic and forces me to re-experience what I have gone through with no warning. Second, starting the discussion with absolutely no plan, no focal point at all and just listening to what several men think about “animal instincts” or “philosophy” was upsetting and totally beside the point. Third, the professor starting off the conversation with his concern of "getting laid" was both flippant disregard for the subject (and its seriousness) and the wellbeing of the students in the room. It is exactly what contributes to the problem we face-- men thinking that this is a problem of sex and horniness when it is a problem of disregard for the safety of women (and other victims) and power. Finally, ending the conversation with what solution would be best for the rapist seems to be self-evidently terrible. The fact that none of our “ideal” discourse focused on the victim, the person that matters the most from my point of view is asinine. It seemed today that there was truly no “point” to talking about this topic other than an intellectual circle-jerk of sorts to make the teaching staff feel like they were doing something deep— with absolutely no regard for the safety and wellbeing of the people in the room. Congratulations on creating an environment where there, for me, is now complete distrust.
Re: what was said at the end of class, I'd like to add that focusing solely on punishment can be harmful to the victim as well as the perpetrator. I think part of what discourages many victims from coming forwards is the fact that they're suddenly forced to shoulder part of the responsibility for bringing the perpetrator to justice. It engages them in a process where everyone who is supposed to be on their side is suddenly questioning their story, trying to make sure it's airtight, trying to make sure they haven't done anything wrong that would lose the case so to speak. A deeply personal and traumatic experience is reduced to the means of catching and punishing the perpetrator, and should it fail to do so, the victim may (and is often made to) feel at fault for that failure. In other words, the attention of the authorities is too often focused on punishing the perpetrator, even if it comes at the expense of the victim's psychological wellbeing. A process that puts the victim first and makes their recovery an immediate priority is a crucial step to getting more victims to speak up about their experiences. The perpetrator should not eclipse them to become the star of the story.
@Vorash Really sorry to hear that. And agreed with many of your points -- I saw no pedagogical reason for diving into such a heavy and triggering topic, or if there was one, it was extremely poorly executed. Anyone want to try to connect the dots coz I'm coming up empty
It's obvious that Nesson isn't taking attendance and everyone has ample opportunity to get participation points at other times. I acknowledge and even empathise with some of you on not being forewarned, but you are all adults and can get up and leave. It's not that hard. I think it's important to have these discussions in a class in law school and even more so in a class about ideal discourse.
this is exactly the problem with ideas like "trigger warnings." it chills the ability to discuss sensitive topics like rape which is extremely important in an academic context. If it had been disclosed beforehand would those people not have attended the class? That is a shame because it would be good to hear those perspectives (though of course it isn't necessary to disclose the fact that one has experienced sexual assault). we absolutely NEED honest and open discussion about these topics because we sure aren't going to get them in other classes at HLS. this course is the closest we are ever going to get to that ideal. from what i've seen, everyone in this class is a decent person who has the capacity to empathize with various experiences. please for once at HLS let's not have censorship and peer pressure about the "correct" view or topic. maybe you guys have heard "twitter isn't real life". i say HLS isn't real life.
plus, is the experience the professor shared about his youthful mistakes "disregarding the seriousness of sexual assault?" he explicitly said it was a mistake to think that way. i saw it as an honest description of youthful male folly. PLEASE let's feel free to discuss sensitive topics. we're all adults here.
I didn't participate in the discussion either way and I don't need to be "educated" about sexual assault so if you care about survivors then you should give them the ability to not have to hear everyone's opinions about it
In Criminal Law you know there is a purpose to learning the law of rape, it is a valid point of discussion in the class and an important point for people to learn. In this class, what was the purpose? There is no purpose to have a forced discussion of sexual assault without a specific idea in mind for what we are going to be accomplishing. Also, to say "we're all adults" infantilizes victims and survivors of sexual assault who may not be able to just "deal with it" as you say they should. Trauma is a real concern for many people and they shouldn't have had to out themselves by leaving the room or causing a scene if they felt uncomfortable. I am so happy for anyone who feels able to sit through that discussion but for me it was extremely out of line and had no justification. Talking about sexual assault in itself is not an end goal.
Rape isn't "academic" for me. It *is* real life. So I encourage anyone who wants to have academic conversation about it to do so, but the conversation we had today could hardly be described as inclusive or productive. Sometimes the delivery shields the viewpoint re: "getting laid." The delivery made light of the topic. Have whatever opinion you may.
@Vorash Things can be academic and real life. That distinction isn't a dichotomy. I want to address a few things that you said. First, I think that a discussion of rape in a class about ideal discourse at a law school is absolutely a fair subject. Rape is a subject that is seldom "discoursed" ideally, so I think to say it has no purpose is incredibly unfair. Second, as I said earlier, I understand where you're coming from, at least with regards to the re-traumatization elements of a discussion around sexual assault. However, saying "we're all adults" isn't about only adults being able to cope with the conversation – it's about the fact that you as an adult have the opportunity to say "I'm not comfortable" and leave. There was no element of "stay in the class or get a bad grade." I say this with conviction because I think that all you accomplish by posting this is ensuring that Nesson doesn't provide this opportunity next time around. Third, just because you claim that you don't need to be educated on sexual assault doesn't mean others shouldn't have that opportunity. There are plenty of students in our class that have little to no knowledge on the subject.
@Vorash (This is Fern speaking) I deeply regret that our class discussion caused you pain. However insensitive he might have seemed, I interpreted Charlie's comments as an attempt to express the attitudes that boys in our culture may bring into the dating environment. These attitudes are ones that must be revealed and examined in order to be ameliorated and corrected. Charlie was not making light of his attitude as a young college student, he was taking on the burden of bringing it to light so that we could discuss it and combat it. That said, your wish that you had been warned about the subject matter before we launched into it is totally valid. We should have begun with much more care (or not begun at all without discussing whether to begin.) I was struck when one of your classmates said that he had not spent this much time devoted to the issue in all of his schooling. If we don't discuss it, if we don't elicit all points of view and all attitudes, how can we expect them to change? Many , or most, of us (women) have experienced sexual assault. How can we change this if we don't talk about it? Going forward , I'd suggest that we begin again with a discussion of whether we should talk further about this issue. Maybe we'll decide that we can't do more of it. But one thing should be clear: Neither Charlie nor I think that the victim of sexual assault is to blame. Her (his or their) right to the sanctity of her body is unquestionable. Her dignity must be respected and protected. She has done no wrong. It is up to the abuser to ascertain where he got his attitudes and why he felt justified in disrespectinng and violating another's personhood. The abuser must grow up. The question for us is : Can or should we help him to do it? If there is anything at all that I can do to comfort you, or to hear your point of view more clearly and communicater it to Charlie, please, please get in touch with me personally: firstname.lastname@example.org. Our private conversation will remain STRICTLY private, just between us. With respect, F.
Thanks for all responses. I want to make one point clear: I don't think I was arguing "talking about sexual assault bad." I think I was more specifically arguing that the way we have discussed it thus far (no warning, no clear pedagogical path or discussion questions) has made the conversation uncomfortable for some (see above) and anxiety-inducing for me. I have a background in sexual assault advocacy so I do think these conversations are incredibly important but what is more important is having them in a way that is actually *productive* and *not harmful*. Having the conversation is not an end in itself. Re: the abuser "growing up." That contributes to the boys will be boys attitude. The problem with rapists isn't their immaturity, it's their willingness to harm and their fundamental disregard for the bodily autonomy of others. Sure, there are situations where there are gray areas that may be solved by more education. But to say that rapists have "growing up" to do makes it seem a) normal and b) justifiable ("they're just immature"). To pretend that most rapists even would identify themselves as such seems detached from reality.
Thank you for responding. The points you make are all very interesting and cogent to me. I'd like to discuss each one. I agree completely that : "these conversations are incredibly important but what is more important is having them in a way that is actually *productive* and *not harmful*. " I hope that we can find a way forward with our duscyssion so that it becomes productive. Your inpt ad suggestions as tohow to make this discussion safe for all to participate (with respect and understanding) could be SO important. Sexual assaylt oncampus is rampant and so far, the inversity's attempts to deal wiyth it have not had any effect in reducing it. We desperately need to find ne approaches.
I'll try again. I would love to hear more from your on your point about growing up. I agree that rape cannot ever be justified as being merely "immaturity." It is a violent transgression . But how are we to teach those who violate others? How can we approach them in a way that allows them to understand the harm they have done, to make amends and to avoid doing it again? Your understanding and views on this subject are so important to any discussion of this issue. I thank you for being willing to share them on this thread and I hope that we may find a way to make our classroom a safe space for sharing as well. (And, I would welcome any private conversation with you in any form that you choose. I feel that I have much to learn from you.)
In response to the discussion between @Vorash, Fern, and Prof. Nesson:
(1) Contrary to @Vorash’s claim, there was a clear purpose to the discussion: to assess the current implementation of Title Nine on campuses. Does the sensitivity training work? Does the primarily punitive approach succeed in genuine reform or moral education? How might such education proceed? These were pointed questions raised by Prof. Nesson immediately following the film. The direction for discussion was thus clear from the start and was clarified further in small groups.
(2) I appreciate Prof Nesson’s generous response; but I think it’s an open question whether the victim’s account should be heard first in such a discussion. It might be more pedagogically effective to hear the victim’s account mid-discussion as a way of suddenly shifting people’s frame of reference. Though a victim’s account is highly relevant and should be heard sympathetically, it is not authoritative as to the characterization of the crime, the appropriate community response to it, or the inner motives of the perpetrator.
(1) “Immaturity,” or lack of moral education, is arguably a better, more illuminating, way to think of vice than simple disregard for human dignity or bodily integrity. The latter terms, which focus on the harm done to the victim, and elicit a merely punitive impulse that elides the question of reforming our culture. The real task of moral education is to try to understand the perpetrator in his or her immaturity: what sources of discontent, disharmony of character, predisposes young men to committing acts of sexual assault? That is THE question for anyone who wants to make a real difference in the norms and attitudes of campus life. To that end, Prof. Nesson’s personal account of a concern to “get laid before he might die” is right on point. Simply asserting that a young male perpetrator “violated the dignity, or bodily autonomy of the victim” is to state the obvious. The question is why did he act that way? Unless one wants to assert that human beings, or men, are be nature evil and revel in the violation of others, one must confront the possibility that vice, really in all forms, is a mode of self-loss/lack of education/disharmony of character.
(2) A trigger warning should not have been issued. It makes the class an artificial environment at odds with real life in which unsettling and traumatic events inevitably arise without warning and necessitate intelligent action. If you can’t deal with a merely unexpected discussion of sexual assault in the classroom, how are you going to deal with a real-life case? Imagine a terrible case in which your friend is sexually assaulted and she comes to your for help. What are you going to say? “your story is too re-traumatizing for me, so I can’t help you?” Part of learning, growing up, and developing character is learning how to face unexpected traumatic events, so that you can help yourself and others when they occur. Introducing (without warning) potentially difficult topics for discussion in class is an appropriate way to ease people into THE HUMAN CONDITION.
(3) “I’m triggered” is merely a report of one’s emotional state and is not, by itself, a valid claim for halting or altering a discussion. It says nothing of the merit of the question raised. If trigger warnings were to be taken seriously and consistently applied, they’d have to be issued before any conceivable topic of serious human interest - not just sexual assault, but war, genocide, economic depression, natural disaster, disease, death, unrequited love., infidelity, etc, etc. To insist on a trigger warning before a discussion of sexual assault is tantamount to insisting on a trigger warning before a discussion of joblessness in America on the grounds that “my family was ravaged by economic crisis,” or to insist on a trigger warning before a discussion of natural disasters in a science class on the grounds that “my family was devastated by a hurricane.” Terrible things have happened to people since time immemorial - at the hands of nature, social forces, and other human beings. As Pascal wrote, “the final act is always bloody.” By this he meant that we are all, as human beings, in the same boat: vulnerable to tragedy, ultimately death. In the fundamental respects, no one is more “privileged” to speak on suffering than any other. The task of a liberal arts education is to address in a thoughtful and serious way the greatest human problems, including the dark side of existence. Of course, it is important, as a teacher, to be aware of the psychological disposition of the student. But a trigger warning might do more harm that good, as there is something to be said for confronting students with a surprising theme and eliciting their unprepared responses. If students find it too much to confront, they are more than able to discretely leave the room.
To equate "economic stress" with the stress of watching a vivid depiction of rape that resembles somebody's passed experiences is clear evidence that you yourself have never been personally subjected to something of the same traumatic magnitude. Even more evidence is your intellectual circle jerking to Pascal. This is not a liberal arts education. We signed up for a class on a jury. Only somebody who's head is stuck straight up their arse could think that by simply assembling 30 random individuals in a room and uttering long blustery verbose words in a stream of consciousness manner could somehow contribute to solving sexual assault on campuses
@Dakara who are you to say that @Onderon hasn't been a victim of sexual assault. You're the very reason that it was earlier mentioned that authority to speak on the topic shouldn't be questioned. Why do you think you have the right to say something like that? Maybe you should look to the general point that was trying to be made rather than guess whether someone has been assaulted or not.
What if I was to say that you have no idea what the impact of economic stress has on a person. Of course, I would be making the same assumption as you. Let's not try to take our experiences (or lack thereof) and impute them onto others. We signed up for a class on Ideal Discourse, not just Jury. Nesson, like the rest of us, is trying to do what he thinks might be different but effective.
I would like to continue, I feel it is critical not to suppress important, albeit uncomfortable conversations. However, if there are a significant number of those who would refuse to engage in the discussion, it may not be beneficial
i think this is a really important conversation, but probably one where we risk more harm than good by trying to address it in a few short class periods without intention and some level of sensitivity trainng
Would love to talk about something the class actually has divided opinions on. If sexual assault is that topic that is fine with me, but if something else works and is less harmful to survivors that's preferred. As long as it is divisive and uncomfortable
Continuing this conversation wouldn't bother me, but I also wonder how much we would get from going forward. The people who are hurt are hurt and will be pissed. And to be honest, I don't know how much we gained from the conversation. Do we really stand to benefit from continuing? Is there no other topic that can provoke thought and discussion at a lower cost.
What's the discussion even supposed to be on? we all agree rape is bad, and we are certainly not going to stop rapes by brainstorming within ourselves at HLS. So let's discuss a topic that actually has interesting arguments for discussion
last class showed that the teaching staff was completely unprepared to have an adequately guided and structured conversation around this. No reason to think today will be any different. Before we try to tackle some of the most emotionally fraught issues Nesson should have more of a plan than just "go ahead and discuss." Jumping back into this with our apparent current level of preparation will do nothing good
I believe that the issue of sexual assault is very important. But, more important, in the context of this class, is the issue of how we discuss difficult issues with each other. I would like all of us to feel comfortable enough to express our opinions. I would also like us to assume good faith on te part of each other. If we can find a way to maintain respect for each other even while expressing passionately held, differing views, then I would like the discussion to proceed. but, if we as a class fel that this is not possible when we speak about such a difficult subject, then I would prefer to move to another topic.
@Jakku I agree with that very much. Unfortunately, I doubt many here are able to truly engage in anything that actually differs from their sacrosanct views, and especially not something that they are actually sensitive to
I think we should continue. Our discussion last week was immensely illuminating and far more substantive than any in which I've participated at Harvard. But I'm also happy to move onto other themes. Every discussion we've had has been great! The deciding factor re/ whether to move on should not be whether it makes some or even many students feel uncomfortable. Reason cannot be judged at the bar of feeling.
While I like all of the TAs, I very much appreciate their absence and not having to constantly look over my shoulder to see if I am being scrutinized or having my "participation" noted and calculated at all times
So, I had a car accident last Saturday, and the guy in the other car got out of his car with a loaded gun! I was shocked! I said, "Ubuntu, man, Ubuntu!" And he said, "I and I." We hugged and lived happily ever after!
I would love to understand what those who so oppose the (agreeably bad) system of incarceration have in mind for justice. Do they think of the communities and many victims that are ravaged by violence and crime and how a system without punishment could possibly exist??