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Issue 133

Campus Sex, Campus Security by Jennifer Doyle
by Grace Linden

In 2010, Jennifer Doyle, professor of English at University of California, Riverside, filed a Title IX complaint against a student who was harassing her. Doyle was unhappy with the resulting inquiry, and her perception of the campus (both UC Riverside, specifically, and the campus as a concept) were profoundly altered. Her experience with university administration serves as a jumping off point for the new book Campus Sex, Campus Security (2015), which examines the security apparatus in place on college campuses in the United States. In the first pages, she writes, “I had direct experience with how the administrative structures ostensibly designed to protect the integrity of a campus produce the campus as a conflict zone.”1 This, in essence, is the driving force behind the slim volume.

Of late, college students’ safety has been a reoccurring discussion point, particularly in light of growing attention given to sexual assault cases. Campus Sex, Campus Security is an important and laudable critical text insofar as it endeavours to probe these issues. But for Doyle, rape is not confined to sexual acts. Instead, assault encompasses all the ways in which students and faculty are left unprotected: in this cosmology, the university becomes the rapist.2 Indeed, there is relatively little talk of sexual assault; rather, the author begins by discussing the now notorious pepper spraying of Occupy protestors by campus police at the University of California, Davis.

Doyle accuses universities of favouring risk management over real change and nowhere is this more apparent than the case of Penn State University. In 2012, Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach, was found guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse of young boys. The conviction led to the firing of the university’s President, Vice President, Athletic Director and Head Football Coach, all of whom were found to have had prior knowledge of Sandusky’s actions. That these decision makers were in “hierarchical relationships”3 with one another exemplifies the difficulties of effecting true change within schools themselves.

Physical assault and the inadequacy of response by the university are obviously linked, but the size of this book (141 pages including endnotes) limits the depth of discussion. In fact, Campus Sex, Campus Security feels like two different texts: one half examines assaults of the body, while the other, the extensive and pervasive failures of the university. Individual assault cases are jarring, but the larger attack against the university system as a whole is weak. At one point, Doyle begins a diatribe against the rapidly rising costs of California’s public universities and the debt many students must take on: “The assumption is that students will mortgage their adult life.”4 And, yes, while UC Davis Occupy protesters were in part demonstrating against tuition hikes, the narrative around the price of education is for a different book. Doyle’s disenchantment with university education is clear and important, but her argument about assault is undermined when the book becomes a vehicle for her complaints.

However, it is Doyle’s use of sweeping, unspecific language and staccato sentences that most detracts from the narrative. Her use of “you” and “we” to include the reader attempts to create a shared sense of outrage, such as when she writes, “They spray us, in our faces.”5 But this false sense of empathy flattens any emotional connection that might have been forming. Similarly, the clipped sentences and one-line paragraphs are meant to underscore the seriousness of the argument at hand, as seen here in this stand-alone paragraph,

“A woman violated by a man becomes a woman at war with the world.”6

But the examples themselves possess a gravitas that is evident without Doyle’s extra efforts. Perhaps in her other books, Sex Objects: Art and the Dialects of Desire (2006) and Hold It Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art (2013), Doyle had to prove that these were subjects worth writing about, but assault in all its forms possesses an inherent power.

This is a book (and an issue) that needs specificity and while Doyle is precise when recounting the Penn State scandal and the pepper spraying at UC Davis, much of her analysis is vague. In fact, there is no talk about the actual implementation of Title IX, something she should be able to relate firsthand. Title IX says that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”7 While familiarity with the text of the statute is one thing, understanding its execution is another and is not often discussed. Title IX, Doyle explains, is fundamental to a “university’s sense of security”8 but how remains unclear.

Still, despite its flaws, Campus Sex, Campus Security is a necessary conversation, and it marks a departure from Doyle’s earlier scholarship, which has focused on queer theory, art and sports. Doyle’s insights are intriguing, but the research, and the national conversation, would benefit from a deeper dive.

UP