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Brazilian Waxing Hypothetical on Law Exam Leads to Harassment Charge

Academic freedom stripped bare at Howard University.

Branislav Ostojic | DreamstimeBranislav Ostojic | DreamstimeHoward University law professor Reginald Robinson is in a sticky situation after the university found him responsible for sexual harassment over an exam question involving a Brazilian wax. Robinson is just the latest professor to find himself accused of harassment on the basis of his germane classroom expression—a disturbing trend that has profound implications for academic freedom and the quality of education at our nation's institutions of higher education.

Robinson's exam question centered around an individual who fell asleep during a Brazilian wax and awoke with the sense that he or she had been touched improperly during the procedure. Two students filed a sexual harassment complaint against Robinson based on the hypothetical, and the university's Deputy Title IX investigator found him responsible, for reasons including the question's use of the word genital and also, inexplicably, the fact that "the complainants felt that the hypothetical scenario was crafted in order to prompt them to reveal personal details about themselves." For his word crimes, Robinson was ordered to undergo sensitivity training, to submit to classroom monitoring, to have his academic materials reviewed by a dean "for sexually suggestive and/or offensive material," and to have an official reprimand placed in his file. FIRE, where I work, wrote to Howard in June to demand that the university reverse the sanctions against Robinson, but so far, there has been no response.

To the uninitiated, Robinson's exam question may seem unusual. But wacky hypotheticals—which involve convoluted fact patterns designed to tease out students' understanding of a variety of complex, intersecting legal issues—are in fact a fixture of law school exams. One professor's sample torts exam, for example, features a car accident that takes place after "Jimmy missed his ride home, so he walked across the street to HOOTERS to get a drink." Another professor poses a hypothetical based on a scenario in which a bar patron dislocates another customer's shoulder because he is "infuriated that P has spilled a tequila sunrise (a sissy drink that stains) on his best stonewashed authentic cowboy jeans." Yet another professor's criminal law exam asks students to assess the culpability of someone who drunkenly writes "Call Zonker for good oral sex. $10 for ages 15 and up. Half price for under 15" on a mall bathroom wall, and includes his own phone number—but claims to have no memory of the event when he sobers up.

And fact patterns like the one Robinson presents—where something happens while someone is asleep, or unconscious, or under anesthesia—are a useful and popular type of hypothetical because of the thorny legal issues they raise.

The reality is that if you are an attorney, you are going to encounter uncomfortable, disturbing, and even sexually explicit content in the course of your work. I will never forget having to read a detailed autopsy report in my first job doing pharmaceutical litigation, and as someone who now does a lot of work on issues of campus sexual assault, I routinely read detailed descriptions of sexual encounters that would make even the most seasoned veteran blush. If a law student can't handle an exam hypothetical that includes the word genitals, that person should think seriously about whether or not law is the right profession for them—because as a young associate at a law firm, you don't get to tell a partner that you won't work on a case for a big client because the facts squick you out.

If law professors have to worry that every hypothetical scenario they lay out for students could result in formal discipline, legal education will suffer greatly as a result. We already know that because of the tense climate surrounding the discussion of sexual assault on campus, some law professors report being afraid to teach rape law, which is an essential part of any criminal law course. We simply cannot allow the increasingly illiberal demands of students to determine what can and can't be taught at colleges and universities, let alone at professional schools.

UPDATE: Shortly after this article was published, Robinson's attorney, Gaillard T. Hunt, released the following statement: "We have discussed the case with the University and we believe we have reached a mutually satisfactory solution. Professor Robinson regrets if anyone was offended by the test question."

Photo Credit: Branislav Ostojic | Dreamstime

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  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Mention Brazilian wax? I'd have shown those kids my Brazilian wax.

  • Crusty Juggler - Double Great||

    I'd have shown those kids my Brazilian wax.

    Fun fact: Paul's "Brazilian wax" is a Giselle Bundchen statue he fashioned solely from cerumen.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    Crusty's picture is up in the local Brazilian wax place in his town with a warning not to serve him.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    It's really a question of free association: Should a Brazilian wax place be allowed to refuse service to Hirsute-Americans?

  • Crusty Juggler - Double Great||

    No.

  • gah87||

    You need a hyphen between Brazilian and wax.

  • Walter Peck||

    No one wants to see your snatch, Chelsea.

  • Zeb||

    How can saying a word be harassment? If he had singled out a student and said "let's say Jennie here is getting her snatch waxed", that might be one thing. But invoking the fact that people do get their snatches waxed?

    Snatch.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Fuckhead.

  • Crusty Juggler - Double Great||

    Genital. Genital. Genital.

  • Finrod||

    Bulbous Bouffant.

  • Crusty Juggler - Double Great||

    Two students filed a sexual harassment complaint against Robinson based on the hypothetical, and the university's Deputy Title IX investigator found him responsible, for reasons including the question's use of the word genital and also, inexplicably, the fact that "the complainants felt that the hypothetical scenario was crafted in order to prompt them to reveal personal details about themselves."

    It's not inexplicable if the complainant thinks that everything is about them.

  • ||

    awoke with the sense that he or she had been touched improperly

    Pro-tip: If you go in for a brazilian and wake up unsure of your gender, you were touched improperly.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    There was some law professor whose hypothetical included his Dean causing a car wreck or something. Memory says they were good friends, but I don't remember whow as upset or if they remained friends after.

  • Aloysious||

    IANAL, so I have to ask: How do you enter, and stay in, a light sleep while you are getting hair ripped out?

  • Tony||

    I wonder if it was during discussion of this very question that caused the students to reveal personal information about themselves.

  • Bubba Jones||

    This is the answer. The ones most familiar with the procedure are the ones who will cast aspersions on the allegations.

    Those who take the complaint seriously will likewise reveal themselves to be unwaxed.

    Lawyers are pigs and their offices are bastions of sexual harassment. Much like hr depts.

  • Sevo||

    "I wonder if it was during discussion of this very question that caused the students to reveal personal information about themselves."

    I wonder if you ever don't reach for the dumbest possible explanation possible,
    And then realize, that no, you never do.
    Dumb-fuck Tony reaching for dumb-fuck alternatives.

  • Agammamon||

    you don't get to tell a partner that you won't work on a case for a big client because the facts squick you out.

    Sure you do. Nothing's preventing you from doing that. Sure, you might not remain employed by that firm, but if the issue is that important to you then go ahead and fire away.

  • Rhywun||

    "But my professors were OK with me refusing to do work!1!"

  • gah87||

    N.B.: soon, since the government will be the only employer left standing, that will be a legitimate argument.

  • The Last American Hero||

    These profs can suck it. Their profession and their university have been complicit in creating this culture, now that it's biting them in the ass, they need to sit down and shut up.

  • Zeb||

    And allow the culture you condemn them for helping to create to continue unchallenged? Not sure how that helps.

  • gah87||

    Not all attorneys are tort attorneys.

  • Libertarian||

    When everything is offensive, nothing is offensive.

    In other words, how much longer before we reach peak offensiveness?

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    So let me get this straight. A law professor creates a hypothetical to test the students on their application and understanding of law. Students must understand an explicit situation to determine the proper outcome. Two students take the exam and then file lawsuits based on the content of the exam.

    In one way of thinking, and I'm not arguing it's correct, two students should get an A on the exam and the others should fail.

  • Cy||

    If you lead a horse to water... Should you be surprised when it drinks?

  • Number 2||

    Can you please post the names of the two complaining students? I want to know what resumes to throw in the trash.

  • BYODB||

    So, you're saying I can get a law degree without ever needing to take a test? All I need to do is submit a Title IX complaint on each professor? Sounds like a plan!


    The fact that law professors are afraid to teach students about the law surrounding rape is madness. It's kind of like a nurse who decides human bodies are gross and refuses to do her practical's or shadowing. Yeah, sorry, you fail because you refuse to do the work of the profession you're learning about. Next, please?

  • Longtobefree||

    "Never apologize mister; it's a sign of weakness."

  • TangoDelta||

    because the facts squick you out

    At least your insides will be very clean

  • IceTrey||

    My answer would be the person is lying because no one falls asleep while getting their pubes ripped out by the roots.

  • Lana234||

    If one actually reads the question (see below) you will see that due to the professor's poor writing of the question it is entirely unclear if it is a torts question or an agency question. The professor is supposed to be teaching agency, not torts. Yet the professor spends such a significant space discussing the specifics of Brazilian waxing that it reads like a torts question. Further, much of the reason for the professor's punishment is due to the class discussion, not the question itself. He framed this question as a way to single out female students and ask them about their personal experiences with Brazilian waxing. While a torts class may have some leeway, this was entirely unnecessary for an agency class. Samantha (and hence Reason) is sensationalizing this story by not including the original question.

    Original question:
    goo.gl/2mg3Zd

  • sparkstable||

    According the the ABA's article on the subject the discussion was not tailored so the prof could be a deviant predator. He solicited voluntary answers/comments about the question allowing anyone to discuss their or other's responses.

    Granted... he could have covered the underlying concepts with a less salacious topic. But it was rather clinical and straight forward. Besides... what should he have said, if not genitals, in order to discuss the topic of sexual impropriety yet still avoid being thought full-blown rapist that I'm sure the "victims" think him?

    What happens to their doctor if they ever need medical consultation about their... bodies? Will their doctor be committing a crime of harassment if he or she uses the clinical terms, too?

    My gut says that if the prof were a her, or the hypothetical doctor mentioned above, then this would have never been an event.

  • Hank Phillips||

    This is clearly a case of mistaken-identity prejudice. Colombia is the place the tabloids say girls get their drinks dosed with scopolamine.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    "the university's Deputy Title IX investigator"

    Is that like the Barney Fife of campus sex?

  • العاب مودرن||

    thanks for sharing

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