Short answer: It sometimes seems that way, but it’s a bit more complicated than judicial points.
Last Friday I published an FAQ about some of the questionable means by which Wesleyan’s administration is trying to block Tour de Franzia from happening this year. Since then, the post has attracted well over 4,000 views, thirty-odd mostly heated comments, and yet another Jezebel feature, this one headlined “Wesleyan’s Tour de Franzia Meltdown Reaches Ridiculous New Levels.” (It has even attracted the attention of the Brian Lehrer Show, which questioned whether Wesleyan was right to warn parents about “the annual Tour De Franzia drinking-while-biking event.” Don’t give us any ideas, Brian Lehrer.) In addition to pointing out fairly obvious infringements on student rights, much of the discussion has centered on a minor point in my post, which I only learned by way of a tweet from @WesUnity: the minimum number of judicial points assigned for participating in Tour de Franzia this year (six) is higher than the minimum number of judicial points assigned for committing sexual assault or misconduct (five). Here’s how some people are responding to this data point:
Wesleyan says participating in Tour de Franzia is just as bad as/possibly worse than sexual misconduct/assault jezebel.com/wesleyans-tour… …
— Katie Baker (@katiejmbaker) May 6, 2013
And here’s a Wesleying comment by an anonymous member of the Class of 2013 that received 35 upvotes:
Can everyone note that TdF participation is treated with a harsher sentence than sexual assault/misconduct? What does this say about what our University stands for?
But is it entirely fair to make claims about “what our University stands for” based on the sliding scale of judicial points alone? Probably not. Dutifully consulting the Wesleyan Student Handbook, Jezebel’s Katie J. M. Baker points out that “a sexual assault/misconduct violation counts for 5-10 points, so it’s a tad specious to claim (as many students are via Twitter and Facebook) that participating in Tour De Franzia is automatically considered worse than sexual assault from a disciplinary standpoint.” Nonetheless, Baker writes, the administration’s disciplinary measures “seem like plot points out of a Wesleyan film major’s dystopian parody.”
Still, the most salient point is that there’s a degree of flexibility in the judicial points system.
“The range in the points system allows the SJB to accommodate the very wide range of actions that fit within the regulation of ‘sexual misconduct,'” explained one Wesleyan student who spoke with knowledge of the judicial system but asked to remain anonymous in this post. “While any sexual misconduct is very serious, this regulation covers a number of actions ranging from jeering at a passerby on the sidewalk to violent rape and everything in between. There is flexibility throughout the points system to ensure that the SJB (or, in the case of sexual misconduct, members of the administration) can apply the proper sanctions.” Judging from a lengthy Wesleying comment, Peter Frank ’12 seems to agree with this assertion. “Assigning the administration’s ‘priorities’ to judicial points is highly reductive and unfair,” Frank wrote. “I don’t think one should reasonably believe that the administration cares more about drinking than it does sexual assault.”
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Here’s the thing: it is reductive and unfair to make judgments based on judicial points alone. That’s why you should look at other factors—probably arriving at the same eventual conclusions. In other words, think about the unprecedented urgency and preventative disciplinary action with which the University is trying to stop Tour de Franzia. When’s the last time comparable degrees of urgency and institutional resources were put to use in combating sexual assault, which pretty clearly remains an epidemic on campus?
Responding to Frank’s note, two commenters, both of them anonymous, pressed this point more passionately than I can right now:
Over the weekend, shortly after reading those comments, I received an email from a source who was affiliated with a working group of students that formed in May of 2010 to determine the best institutional practices Wesleyan could adopt to prevent and respond effectively to sexual violence. This was inspired by an epidemic of sexual assault that semester, including some high-profile cases that the administration allegedly mishandled. That was the same month a Wespeak demanding a staff position dedicated to sexual violence surfaced in the Argus and on Wesleying. It was also the same month three or four students were slapped with a $2,000 fine for creating a Facebook event for Tour de Franzia.
“The administration’s treatment of sexual violence has been disingenuous and opportunistic,” wrote this source, who asked not to be identified by name, “as the timeline of events shows that even prior to my experiences many people at Wesleyan were angling for institutional reform and received only lip service for years.”
To illustrate this point, the unnamed source went on to recount the working group’s experiences meeting with administrators to try to make institutional change a priority:
In May of 2010, a task force of students from the WSA, SART, Students for Communication and Consent, and FemNet drafted a list of proposed new policies to improve sexual assault/violence response and prevention on campus. This list included policies such as hiring a full-time staff member to work on sexual violence issues; the creation of new training for staff, PSafe, and RAs; workshops on consent; further support for the SART intern position; and other recommendations culled from the “best practices” of Wesleyan’s peer universities and colleges. This led to a meeting with President Roth.
Our recommendations weren’t radical. Students had created similar proposals for years before. The center of the report was hiring a full-time staff member to fill a vacancy in the counseling office to work on coordinating response and prevention. This role has been proven effective at similar colleges, including Amherst, Brown, and Bowdoin. So this meeting should’ve been one final push towards doing what should’ve been done already.
The task force members were very discouraged by the meeting. President Roth was detached and cerebral. He did not seem to understand the urgent need to take these reforms off the back burner. It was obvious that this was a time for action, not a philosophical discussion, but that’s what happened anyway. At one point, President Roth asked, “What is sexual violence really?” I understand he was being rhetorical, but it really wasn’t the time.
All that came from this meeting was the creation of another working group (this time run by administrators, to “brainstorm” even more before issuing final recommendations). This was better than nothing, but time truly was of the essence and it was surreal to see an issue that was so important to students’ well-being dragged down by Wesleyan’s bureaucratic machinery. Task force members I spoke with after the meeting said that that level of inaction was no way to make the campus a safe space.
You read about the planned response to the Tour, and you see the level of energy and commitment the administration puts into stopping it. It’s not apples to apples, but compare that spirit to what wasn’t there in the past when it came to fixing systemic issues that lead to things like sexual assault. And you’re left with no doubt about why it takes years for the administration to finally get around to doing the bare minimum. It’s a shame.
As far as the judicial severity of Tour de Franzia is concerned, it seems apparent that the administration’s current actions have been calculated to mitigate the possibility of an eventual lawsuit. The great irony, as Jason Shatz ’14 pointed out in the comments of last week’s post, “is that the administration is currently a defendant in a lawsuit over the 2010 Halloween case at Beta.”
It’s a false dichotomy to suggest that Wesleyan’s administration can address and penalize only Tour de Franzia or sexual assault rather than addressing each on its own merits. But it’s not a false dichotomy to suggest that there are institutional priorities at work—and comparative judicial sanctions can hint at and illuminate those priorities as well as pretty much anything can.
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Dean Whaley: Administration to Ramp Up Tour de Franzia Charges, Whether or Not You’re Actually Drinking
“What the Fuck Is The Administration Doing About Tour de Franzia?”: An FAQ
Jezebel: Wesleyan’s Tour de Franzia Meltdown Reaches Ridiculous New Levels
Patch: Jezebel Terms Wesleyan Admin’s Tour de Franzia Tactics ‘Ridiculous’
MSN: Wesleyan binge drinking punishment similar to sexual assault penalties
Note: This post concerns the urgency (or alleged lack of urgency) with which the administration has addressed sexual assault prevention measures on campus. It does not concern the specific investigative and disciplinary measures that are in place once an assault has occurred. You could write an entire 6,000 words article on that subject; thankfully, The Argus has done just that and published it in their last issue of the semester. Read their article online here.