Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Seize the Teachable Moment: Rape "Comedy" Deja Vu

When a teachable moment presents itself, we must not let the learning opportunity pass.  It is so difficult to get college students to pay attention to anything outside of what is on their computer screens at the moment that when an event occurs to which their attention is drawn, we should employ it for its maximum educational value. Consider the opportunity created by the event described below to talk to students about the Liberty of Free Speech and the responsibility that is inextricably tied to the exercise of liberties.

The University of Connecticut (UConn) student-run TV station (UCTV)  recently ran a "comedy" skit of questionable taste and social value. The skit, part of the Shenanigans show, may be viewed below. WARNING! - the language is sexually explicit. As objectionable as the prurient tone of the skit may be, its crudeness is dwarfed by the offensive overall premise of this poorly considered endeavor. As described in this editorial and in this news report (also including access to a video copy of the skit) the skit shows a frightened and frantic female student being chased at night down a path in a remote part of campus. Upon reaching one of the emergency contact devices installed by the university for use in these situations, her pleas for help are met by derision and ridicule from the computerized system. As the frightened student yells at the unhelpful device, "What the hell is wrong with you? I'm going to die," the mechanical voice berates her as a "stinky bee-otch." Getting transferred to a different computerized operator is no better as the frantic student is scolded, "You dumb blonde bi*ches don't ever understand, always crying about rape. Suck it up."

In 2007, the student newspaper at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) ran a purportedly satirical, student-authored "opinion" piece entitled "Rape Only Hurts If You Fight It."  The insensitive discourse is too patently offensive to be quoted in this post (but a transcription is available here). One among many points of limited social value was the suggestion that rape afforded ugly women an otherwise unavailable opportunity to experience sex with a man who was not drunk. This editorial was roundly criticized in the press and the target of public protests by students.  It was headline news for weeks in the state's newspapers, news services and on-line forums. Yet, when I talk about this incident in class, my students have never heard of it.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Never have these insightful words of philosopher George Santayana been more appropriate and relevant than when applied to undergraduate college students. Although, in this instance, it doesn't appear so much an issue of failing to remember the past, but rather of being oblivious to what happens around them.  I suppose if the earlier incident had involved Kim Kardashian or LeBron James, it would have been well known and remembered and the lessons learned. But it's not as if the CCSU incident was reported only in the mainstream media. Rather, it was a hot topic ("viral" seems to be the new term) in the social media and internet world to which our students are purportedly so closely connected.  Yet, nothing was learned.

If we are to accept as an excuse that today's college students were merely clueless teenagers four short years ago, then let it serve as a reminder to us as educators that there is significant and vital work to be done. The people sitting in the seats in front of us may look like adults, but in many ways they are so naive in their understandings of the world around them. References to Watergate, Monica Lewinsky, Enron and even, as I have discovered, the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito are as far removed from their consciousness and understanding as the Fall of the Roman Empire or the Crusades. We must seize and utilize every available teachable moment, for their value is as fleeting as a teenager's Facebook status.

A blue emergency phone:

With great trepidation, but in the greater interests of education, I have embedded a video of the offensive skit below.

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