City Desk

Former GWU President’s Solution for Sexual Assaults on Campus? Stop Drinking, Ladies

On Tuesday, The Diane Rehm show had a panel of guests talking about the roles of fraternities and sororities on campus, which eventually turned into a discussion of the roles these organizations play in promoting rape culture. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, the former president of George Washington University and a current professor of public service at the school, offered this backward answer in defense of Greek life, as noted by Jezebel:

Dr. Trachtenberg: My experience is that students that are in fraternities have higher grades on average than unaffiliated students. Uh, they get involved in philanthropic activities of one sort or another providing great numbers of hours of service and fundraising on behalf of good causes. They have the opportunity to get leadership training provided by the fraternities. They get other kinds of training as well. Combatting sexual misconduct, values-based—

Rehm: And you don't see them participating in sexual misconduct?

Dr. Trachtenberg: No no! I think it turns out that there are good and bad in fraternities and out of fraternities. What we're focusing here on is a general situation. I think what we're doing is creating a false correlation. For example, we point out that the women don't drink, don't have sorority parties which have alcohol. They don't have to. They go to the parties at the fraternities. So it's not as if the women aren't drinking. They are, in fact.

Without making the victims responsible for what happens, one of the groups that have to be trained not to drink in excess are women. They need to be in a position to punch the guys in the nose if they misbehave. And so part of the problem is you have men who take advantage of women who drink too much and there are women who drink too much. And we need to educate our daughters and our children in that regard.

This line of thinking—that women drinking too much, not men sexually assaulting women, is to blame for said sexual assaults—is nothing new, and has rightly come under fire. Last October, for instance, an Emily Yoffe column in Slate headlined "College Women: Stop Getting Drunk" was bombarded with response pieces calling her argument dangerous and wrong.

A 2009 study of campus sexual assault found that 20 percent of college women will be victims of sexual assault by the time they are seniors. And highlighting why someone like Trachtenberg's view on sexual assault is so  important, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is currently investigating 76 colleges for their mishandling of sexual assault cases. GW isn't on that list, but with that sort of response from a former president of a major university, it doesn't seem all that shocking that colleges are so terrible at handling sexual assault cases.

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  • White Guy

    Thank God he's gone.

  • Mary Clare

    I heard this show and was completely outraged by Trachtenburg's comments. And further, they had an entire discussion about how frat boys deliberately spike the punch with grain alcohol to get girls to "black out" so that they can then rape the girls. They weren't so much approving of the boys' behavior as they were accepting of it. And then put all the onus on girls not to drink or get drunk. How about this? How about we teach boys not to deliberately spike the punch so they can rape girls. How about that? But not according to this panel. It's entirely the girls' responsibility, and therefore, her fault if she gets raped. Rape culture logic at its finest.

  • Rich

    Trachtenberg made a career out of making institutions more expensive while emphasizing fluff. GW is one of the places that gamed their US News ratings and one of the most expensive universities to attend. Somehow, it doesn't surprise me that he has such a barbaric point of view.

  • Mass Independent

    How much would anyone bet that he was one of those "good" frat brothers that never sexually assaulted a co-ed. Or maybe just a "pretty good" frat boy. Where do they find these assholes who run the world?

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  • Queen Mary

    Ever seen Trachtenberg? The dog would have to be drunk to hump that!

  • old crone

    OK, so lots of other things are more on point and helpful, but limiting your drinking is good if you want to be in control, right? Sorry, I haven't had a long version of this conversation elsewhere to see how this gets argued out, and I'm not super-interested in hearing from black-and-white ideologues; I'm just trying to make a pragmatic point. Being cautious is a good thing, right?

  • to old crone

    College shouldn't be a place where women feel like they are always threatened with rape. They should be allowed to go to parties and drink and have fun like everyone else. Frat boys shouldnt be spiking punch with high proof grain alcohol that gets you from feeling OK to black out drunk before you realize what's going on. The fact that they do that shows that their whole plan is to get girls so wasted that they can be raped and won't even remember what happened. Why can't the frat boys just not rape women?

  • longrunningfool

    I raised three daughters. I have absolutely no problem with the message "don't get hammered to the point where you can't defend yourself."

    Two of three daughters are black belts, two are consistently armed.

    I raised ladies who will be perfectly willing to leave a guy bleeding on the floor, if necessary. They were taught at an early age that men lie - except for their dad (me) and, apparently, their husbands, as I was informed by all three.

  • 20011

    SJT is a world-class jerkoff, but

    "I raised three daughters. I have absolutely no problem with the message "don't get hammered to the point where you can't defend yourself.""

    Is right on the money.

  • Typical DC BS

    Yes, women should be allowed to get sloppy drunk. But, in the real world, bad things happen to sloppy drunk women.
    Get over it and wise up. Unicorns and unrealistic expectations are your problem if you believe in them.