California has 112 community colleges, serving an estimated 2 million students. In physical set-up and geographical vibe, they share much more in common with public high schools than four-year universities. The two-year institutions are typically plopped on quadrangle-shaped plots in the middle of the neighborhoods they serve, rather than sprawled across some hopefully quarantinable stretch of occasionally remote land, ringed by dormitories and student ghettoes. You don't live at your local CC, nor do you move away from home to go to one, generally speaking. They're for high school grads looking to transfer or pick up a work-ready certification; 9-to-5ers seeking to improve their brains or job prospects at night; primary care-givers getting out of the house a bit.
Given these distinguishing features from four-year schools, much of the behavior associated with the collegiate "rape culture" we've been hearing so much about these past couple of years just does not apply to community colleges. There aren't thousands of straight-oughtta high school kids learning haphazardly how to be grown-ups while sleeping in close proximity to their fellow experience-seekers. The campus mood tends to be sober and adult, not binge-drinky and experimental. You don't go to Long Beach City College (one of three CCs I have attended over the years) to meet people and blow your mind, you go there to get what you need and move on.
That's why this news is so pointless and infuriating. In July, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego) co-sponsored the Survivor Outreach and Support Campus Act (S.O.S. Campus Act, because our colleges and universities are apparently in emergency distress), which would require "each institution of higher education that receives Federal financial assistance under title IV" to hire "an independent advocate for campus sexual assault prevention and response." (In case you were wondering, the bill spells out that "the term 'sexual assault' means penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim, including when the victim is incapable of giving consent.")
In August, Boxer followed up the legislation with a letter to the heads of the University of California, California State University, and California Community College systems, urging them to "voluntarily implement" the bill's provisions right away, because "our students cannot afford to wait another minute." In return for their support, Boxer would "ensure the public knows about your leadership on combatting sexual assault."
Well, California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris knows which side his bread is buttered on:
"Providing for the safety and security of our students is an essential responsibility of our colleges and voluntarily complying with the provisions of the SOS Campus Act will ensure our students receive the services, guidance and support they need when they need it," Harris wrote in a letter dated Sept. 24. […]
"I thank Chancellor Harris for his leadership in doing everything he can to help protect the 2.1 million students at California's 112 community colleges," Boxer said in a statement Thursday.
"Everything he can to help protect…students," that's the claim. Think again about how community colleges are more like high schools than four-year campuses (only without the fences, at least in my experience). Recall that many people from the community, including quite a few adult women, use these colleges to attend night classes, alone. We're not talking about a petri dish of intoxicants and STDs here, but adults walking solo to their cars through darkened quads at 9 p.m. Let's see, how would you protect students from sexual assault in such an atmosphere?
YOU WOULD HIRE SECURITY GUARDS AND INSTALL BRIGHT LIGHTS AND SECURITY CAMERAS, THAT'S HOW.
A victims' advocate is by definition doing after-the-fact triage, with the only real preventative stuff coming through helping obtain punishment against perpetrators, plus whatever marginal gains can be made at this late date by anti-rape publicity campaigns. Security systems and personnel make dark places less scary, and less inviting to the bad guys who rape.
And lest anyone pretend that we don't live in a world of tradeoffs, consult this 2012 L.A. Times series called "Fading Dreams," which is basically one story after another about how budget shortfalls are forcing the California Community College system to make a series of very difficult choices (sample headline: "California's community colleges staggering during hard times").
So because you have highly publicized national panic about campus rape, because national politicians think Title IV is a perfectly good reason to tell any institute of higher education what to do, because nobody wants to be portrayed as a moral monster by opposing something billed as "combatting sexual assault," a college system facing perpetual budget shortfalls is "voluntarily" spending money it doesn't have on personnel who will almost certainly do less to make these commuter campuses safe from real-world rape than would better lighting and security on the same budget. This is public-policy liberalism in the 21st century, and it's embarrassing.