A recent incident at McMurtry College involving a stripper and the college president-elect has set into motion a debate about Title IX’s application and the sexual climate on campus (see p.1). Behind closed doors, the future college president was surprised by a stripper that a friend had hired for him and did not turn her away. According to an email sent to McMurtry on Feb. 22, multiple students filed complaints under Title IX alleging harassment after the circulation of photos and a video of the event. The president-elect announced his resignation in an email to McMurtry on Feb. 20.
In the course of these events, Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson has explained that students must use good judgement when engaging in potentially harmful or harassing practices. Accordingly, the administration cannot and should not outline how students should behave in specific situations, as the vague nature of policies governing student conduct allows for flexibility.
However, the Thresher believes student reaction and confusion in response to this case has shown a need for more robust communication of what it means to act in good judgment. Considering the recent complex applications of Title IX, it is unreasonable to expect those involved at McMurtry to have understood how to act in good judgment in this situation.
The recent federal updates to the Title IX policy have led to the release of an updated student Code of Conduct and the sexual harassment policy, but an unacceptable level of mystery still surrounds this broadly applicable standard. Title IX is an extremely important piece of legislation, and its purpose should not be misunderstood. Among other things, it has ensured the safety of survivors of sexual harassment by requiring that accommodations be made for their well-being. It has also provided scholarships for female athletes commensurate with those for male athletes. In short, it has fought against institutional structures that have prevented women from realizing their right to education.
To prevent Title IX from becoming the focus of student hatred as an excuse to ban all forms of potentially sexual traditions, the administration must clearly communicate the policy’s purpose and implications. Part of Title IX’s purpose is to prevent the creation of a hostile environment that constitutes sexual harassment; some would argue that this incident constitutes such a hostile environment. According to Don Ostdiek, Associate Dean of Undergraduates and Deputy Title IX Coordinator, a hostile environment is not related to sexual expression, but results from preventing students equal access to educational opportunities.
Previous events involving strippers have set a common-knowledge precedent of appropriateness for sexual entertainment. Baker College used college funds to hire a stripper to perform in their commons for Willy Week, and Hanszen College has consistently incorporated a student strip show into their Mardi Gras party. Even Baker 13 and Night of Decadence, both of which occur in highly public spaces, can be construed as stripping.
Considering Student Judicial Programs was made explicitly aware of the funding source and the activity involved in the Baker event, it was not unreasonable for the students at McMurtry to assume they could hold a similar event behind closed doors. Hutchinson has made clear that “opt-in” environments are acceptable under the policy. Considering those who attended the closed-door event were aware of the proceedings and were not forced to attend, this incidence seems to constitute an “opt-in” environment. If anybody in that room was unable to opt in or opt out, it was the president-elect himself.
The administration should be sensitive to the novelty of this application of Title IX and the precedents set by other incidences of sexual entertainment when determining punishment for those involved. Title IX makes provisions for the survivors of sexual harassment; in this specific case, considering its relationship to sexual harassment, it is unclear if punishing the students involved constitutes an accommodation for the harassed.
Moving forward, SJP can use this case as an example of when students did not use their good judgment, but it seems unfair to punish students from acting based on precedents of approval. Hutchinson cited a need for students to act as adults would in the real world and use their good judgment. However, in this case, students did act on their good judgment by holding the event behind closed doors and making it opt-in.
The administration has the ability to set precedents for potentially sexual events, like NOD, Baker 13 and other events involving stripping through its adjudication of this incident. In order to gain students’ trust, SJP and administration must recognize student investment in this particular case and engage them in dialogue about the proceedings.
What started as a private celebration of a student’s achievement has become a complicated discussion about what constitutes harassment on a college campus that is regularly home to sexually charged events. This is an important conversation to have, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that multiple individuals’ lives have been unexpectedly altered in the process. The administration and SJP should now work to ensure that students understand what good judgment and the consequences of not exercising good judgment entail.
Unsigned editorials represent the majority opinion of the Thresher editorial staff. All other opinion pieces represent solely the opinion of the piece’s author.