George Will, an occasionally controversial opinion writer for the Washington Post, decided to tackle the epidemic of campus sexual assault, and it did not go well. Will starts off his latest column claiming that colleges working to fight sexual assault are breeding an environment that makes "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges" to students, to give you some sense of where this is going. From there, he addresses the "supposed campus epidemic of rape," and how he thinks it's all a bunch of hooey.
The reaction to Will's column was swift and cutting. "Oh good, we finally get to get rid of George Will," said one person, hoping the Post may dump Will for implying students should aspire to be sexually assaulted. "George Will writes about sexual assault on campus and it goes as well as you might expect," said Politico deputy editor Blake Hounshell. "Wow. Clearly, George Will has never been sexually assaulted," added columnist Ann Friedman. The Huffington Post's Paul Blumenthal took the historical route: "George Will: Blue jeans are evil and should be stopped, rape not such a big deal."
Will blames the sexual assault hullabaloo on faulty math, dangerous progressivism, and girls who drink too much, among other things. It's never the boy's fault, especially in the anecdote he chose, in which a girl's sometimes-boyfriend has sex with her after she repeatedly says no. Shortly after, Will puts sexual assault inside scare quotes.
In Will's mind, the Obama administration's recent attempt to clean up sexual assault on campus is ridiculous. "[The administration] vows to excavate equities from the ambiguities of the hookup culture, this cocktail of hormones, alcohol and the faux sophistication of today’s prolonged adolescence of especially privileged young adults," he says.
Will tries to dabble in math in the middle of the op-ed to prove the sexual assault epidemic isn't real, and fails miserably. Will reasons that one sample size at a large university (Ohio State) that doesn't quite match up with reported statistics on sexual assault disproves the entire thing. If one in five women are sexually assaulted in college, and 12 percent of rapes go unreported, then this single university that doesn't add up disproves the entire sexual assault conspiracy, Will argues. One carefully chosen, flawed example does not disprove the whole, especially in the messy world of categorizing sexual assault. These situations rarely fit squarely into a fixed box definition. Will should stick to causing outrage with his words — data journalism is trendy, sure, but he's terrible at it.
But really this is an opportunity for Will to attack both the Obama administration and progressivism in one go, a two-birds-with-one-stone opportunity too ripe for a conservative troll to pass up. Colleges fighting to foster more inclusive, safer environments are dumbing down and softening up the next generation, and the administration is helping them, he says. We should just ignore his ignorant argument in the same manner Will thinks we should ignore sexual assault.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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