Sexual Chaos on Campus

Vigen Guroian
Vigen Guroian

by James A. Bacon

Vigen Guroian, a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, ran a sexuality seminar a year ago in which students talked candidly about what he describes as the “deep, pervasive sexual chaos” that dominated the grounds. William Wilson, an academic dean, has met with “dozens” of young women so shaken from their sexual experiences that they had stopped attending classes.

Guroian and Wilson are well versed in the problem of rape and sexual assault on campus. And in an op-ed piece published yesterday in the Richmond Times-Dispatch as well as an essay in First Things, they argue that university and student leaders campaigning against the “culture of rape” are focusing on the symptom rather than the underlying cause — “a toxic sexual environment that damages all the young people touched by it.”

William Wilson
William Wilson

Their analysis of sexual violence at the University of Virginia, which erupted into a national issue with the now-discredited Rolling Stone article about a fraternity-house gang rape, dovetails precisely with the arguments I advanced in this blog at the time. One difference is that, while I opined from afar, Guroian and Wilson base their observations on testimony from dozens of students. Another is that they are even more strident in their portrayal of how campus sexual culture has degenerated.

During the sexual revolution of the 1960s, colleges and universities abolished the “rules, manners and conventions of courtship” that they had long encouraged, write the two religion profs. No more sexually segregated dormitories. No more adult supervision at frat houses. No more restrictions about visits to bedrooms. As the old restraints fell away, a new campus culture of sexuality arose.

Our students have told us what is wrong. In vivid detail they have recounted stories about “incestuous” dorm “hook-up” parties, young women spread out all but naked on fraternity house floors in the early  morning hours, and the general rough and tumble of sex gone awry, a formless sex with no purpose other than momentary impulse or recreational titillation. …

We contend that young women were not empowered by the changes that followed. Rather, the hook-up culture and casual cohabitation in dormitories gravely disadvantaged young women. …

None of our students have objected that we exaggerate the sexual free-for-all that envelopes their lives. No one has argued that the demise of dating and courtship has brought about liberation from repressive sex roles. The laissez-faire sexual economy, which the university lets happen, puts young women at risk and threatens to turn young men into louts.

What is to be done? Defining the problem narrowly as rape and sexual assault is not helpful.

When for administrative purposes we categorize rape as one specimen among many of sexual misconduct, we lose a vital sense of the full scale of sexual disorder that afflicts college life. When we become incapable of responding to rape as what it is, an act just one step short of murder, then all else that has gone awry with sex in the university takes on the look of normality.

One way to start is to admit what is occurring: “For decades a destructive disordering of relations between the sexes has festered right under our eyes [and] a feckless institutionalization of the sexual revolution in our colleges has resulted in maiming countless young people,” write Guroian and Wilson. They go on:

Complete neutrality about sex leads to complete sexual exploitation, and sometimes violence. We must stop blaming fraternities, drinking or the heritage of an all-male university education for the sexual chaos beyond our classrooms. That chaos is of our own making.

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  1. larryg Avatar

    what is to be done? seriously.

  2. Young people grow up leading sheltered lives under the supervision of their parents. They may experiment a bit but they are expected home every evening. Then, those adults (and they are essentially all adults) go to college. Mommy and Daddy are no longer in a position to watch over them. The booze flows, the hormones rage. Some do things they wish they hadn’t done. Hopefully, they see the error or their ways and stop doing things they regret. It’s called growing up.

    Meanwhile, another young person grows up without the benefits of a good education or attentive parents. He also experiments and his parents sometimes try to rein him and and sometimes they let him slide. He never gets the grades needed to go to UVA and participate in those soul-destroying beer blasts and dorm “hook up parties”. Instead he joins the Army, goes through boot camp and is killed by a roadside bomb on his 19th birthday.

    All in all I don’t have a lot of tears to spare for the adult college students who are spending too much time sleeping with each other. There are a lot of young adults in America with considerably bigger problems than a lack of self-restraint.

    1. Acbar Avatar

      The simple answer to your dilemma (I wish it were so simple!) is to re-instate the draft — or at least a mandatory 2-3 of years of government service, with the military one of the options. We are evolving into those who have, and those who have not, experienced one of our wars close-up. Certainly, if you have had that experience, that results in a different adult perspective on diplomacy and foreign affairs, on the defense budget, and on elections.

  3. Acbar Avatar

    I admire Prof. Guroian, who is an extraordinarily popular public speaker at the University, and I have every respect for his point of view as a professor of Orthodox Christian philosophy and a deeply committed moralist. But this is the same message he delivered in print some 20 years ago in reaction to the 1970s sexual revolution, in a similar article. In fact, he seems to be recycling much of the same “student testimony” he gathered for the first article. In essence, he seems to me to argue that the human body as well as the human soul is a temple built to honor God, through institutions such as marriage, and we therefore ought to resist with religious fervor the de-personalization and de-humanization inherent in the treatment of sexual intimacy as merely another set of casual physical acts, like eating and sports.

    Very well: I was raised pre-70s in a world that agreed with him and his arguments still resonate. Those young people with whom he talks today are looking for greater meaning in life than they are finding in a dormitory hook-up, and they tell him so! Great, that’s part of growing up. Meanwhile: there are many other young people, I daresay a majority at UVA, who disagree with him, or are on the fence, still trying to learn about themselves and a long ways from coping with their own children.

    What are we supposed to do with stories like those he tells but recoil in horror? There is no fix but to go back and re-establish the moral rectitude of the very social conventions we abolished so comprehensively in the 1970s, at UVA and schools like it. My reaction, “It ain’t gonna happen.”

    I remember, at the old Gaslight Restaurant in Charlottesville (the gritty one down near the train station, not the Barracks Road transfiguration), they use to have a huge wall poster from Victorian days, showing Life’s Road coming from left to right to a Fork, where one could choose the High Road with yellow bricks and gardens and angels ahead, or the Low Road with pot-holes and far, far worse (perhaps not as damnable after a few beers). But there was no third option: you could NOT turn around and go back, avoiding the Fork.

    Nor do I believe we should try.

  4. Those in college during the sexual revolution are now in charge of the institutions. During the revolution, they separated lasting, marital love from sex – mind from body. Schools are now stating that people are the gender that they think they are even if that is contrary to what their senses tell them, further separating mind from body. As Guroian and Wilson state, reading academia’s “‘sex manuals’ is like studying instructions for the operation of machinery.” Academia has reduced the body to morals-free machinery – the ultimate separation. In their college days, those now in charge yelled, “You can’t legislate morality.” Having discarded religion, they find themselves declaring that the only morality is legislated morality, so they write laws and mount cameras. They continue to ignore the old teaching that hell awaits the offender. They would need to repent and repudiate their own lives before they could promulgate such a teaching. They can do it. That old time religion had much to say for itself – and for the truth about mind and body and about male and female human beings.

  5. larryg Avatar

    I think I’m in the DonR camp.

    In fact, I’d make it a requirement of getting a student loan. You do community or country service -period.

    there’s nothing ever so good you you – as doing a job… and learning how to do it well…and then knowing you did it well. you’ll still have time to fiddle and _art around .. but it won’t be your primary focus …

    and yes.. we’re basically talking about “privileged” folks compared to so many who will never get anywhere near that level of opportunity – just totally self flagellating …mind and body..

    there are a lot of colleges in this country- it seems it’s the same ones over and over that have these issues.

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    There seems to be a class thing in all of this, a Don R, refers to. Children of the upper middle class seem programmed to do well in school and take the places of their parents. Part of this is the kind of passive-aggresive protection versus wildness.

    Yet plenty of young people who aren’t so well off are out there dealing with all the stuff of life, like sex. Somehow, no body is writing Rolling Stone exposes about them. They are not considered important enough.

    I’ve known plenty of working class young women and men who often are married by 20. Maybe married and divorced by 20. They haven’t had the time to engage is mass hookups at some frat house.

    Also, I was in college when dorms were reformed away from parietals and lots of mom and pop-style supervision. This was at the tail end of Vietnam. It seemed so strange that you could be drafted at 18 to go off to the jungles yet you had to have adult supervision in a college dormitory.

    1. My Dad used to tell me stories of his time in college. He graduated from high school in 1946 and went directly to college. World War II had ended the prior year and the returning vets were, in many cases, flooding into colleges to finish their education. Many of these veterans had been in combat in Europe and Asia. They were considerably older than the typical students entering universities (like my Dad). My Dad was clear – these vets had no intention of listening to university administrators. At least at my Dad’s school the administrators were smart enough to understand what was happening and managed to “look the other way” at booze in fraternity houses and other relatively minor violations of the rules.

      As a side note, the returning vets convinced my Dad that America won WWII, had “the bomb” and we were thus impervious to involvement in future wars. So, Dad signed up for ROTC to help pay his way through college. He planned to serve out his active duty commitment in Hawaii or some other exotic locale. Within a month of graduating he was on his way to Korea.

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