"Young women are really putting their foot down and saying, 'These are our bodies,'" says Vanessa Grigoriadis, author of the new book, Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus. "'We don't care what you, 55-year-old college president, think is consent.'"
From the conviction of Vanderbilt University football players for raping an unconscious student to the he-said-she-said story behind Columbia University's "mattress girl" to the discredited Rolling Stone account of a gang rape at the University of Virginia, few topics generate more emotion and outrage than sexual assault on college campuses.
Grigoriadis's book is a deeply researched and nuanced take on campus relationships and the often-fuzzy boundary separating consensual sex from assault. Over the past three years, she interviewed over 100 students and 80 administrators on 20 different campuses, and her findings further complicate an already complicated story.
Millennial college students are actually having less sex than their baby boomer and Gen X counterparts did, writes Grigoriadis, but today's encounters take place in a hyper-sexualized and "pornified" social media context that has rewritten the rules of consent and privacy.
The result is confusion and recriminations from all sides when it comes to sex and assault on campuses. Are assault rates and rape culture out of control, or have we entered what left-wing Northwestern Professor Laura Kipnis has called a new era of "sexual McCarthyism?"
In a wide-ranging interview, Reason's Nick Gillespie and Grigoriadis, a National Magazine Award-winning journalist who writes for Vanity Fair and The New York Times Magazine, grapple with this question, the proper role of campus tribunals in administering justice, what constitutes due process for alleged offenders as well as victims, and whether a "yes means yes" affirmative-consent standard should be the norm.
Edited by Justin Monticello. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Andrew Heaton. Music by Silent Partner.
This is a rush transcript. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.
Gillespie: Your book is not only richly reported, it's filled with interviews with dozens, if not hundreds of students, administrators, researchers ... It's a deeply nuanced look as a subject that typically evokes really sharply polarized positions. But you write, 'It's tempting to chant "believe woman" and simply leave it at that, but there's a mushy middle here or a blurry middle.' Describe what you mean by that mushy middle or blurry middle.
Grigoriadis: I went to 20 campuses. I talked to students themselves, tried to interact as a peer, not as an adult coming, asking weird intrusive questions, right? I'm kind of a gonzo journalist out of the Rolling Stone mold. I put on a backpack, I look relatively young, not like a gen X mother of two, which is what I actually am. And went to campus food courts, went to frat parties ... I took my babysitter's ID, she's 24-years-old. So I would take that with me to campuses so I could show that to bouncers at college bars, and at frat parties to get in, so that the person wouldn't think that I was using the worst fake ID in the world of my actual age in the 1970s.
So, I spoke with these students and what I learned is, yes, of course, there is rape on campus. And I'm talking about physically violent rape, where a woman's will is overridden, and also, rape of women and men who are passed out from drinking, right? Almost like a necrophilia kind of thing. It's really repulsive. But much more often, what I was finding is people, kids, talking to me about cases that were blurry. And they weren't blurry in terms of the way we might have once thought about sexual assault, where a woman just kind of protests and says, 'No, no, no,' but the guy knows that this is just a faux thing.
Gillespie: Right. I mean, it's not the Hollywood fantasy of the '40s or even the '60s of where, 'No, no, no,' and then the kiss and it dissolves into a marriage scene or something.
Grigoriadis: Right, exactly.
Gillespie: I mean, these are genuinely cases of ... Apart from the clear cases of assault, there are things-