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Humanities Planning Group Donna Potts


Donna Potts

Readings Will Grow Erratic: Reading Rape in the Humanities

My book, Sexual Assault in Academia, is an interdisciplinary study of the problem of rape in higher education.  It involves research in many areas of the humanities, including philosophy, literature, religion, film, music, anthropology, cultural studies, and history.  Thomas Jefferson regarded the primary purpose of higher education as preparation for citizenship in a democracy, although his era extended the rights of citizenship on to free, propertied, white men.  One of the primary purposes of the humanities is to develop a sense of civic duty.  If we wish to ensure that women, who constitute over half of the university population, have a voice and agency that will permit them full participation in the classroom as well as in the citizenry of a democracy, we need to address the issue of campus rape, which affects approximately 20-25 percent of female college students.

My book begins with an introduction that reflects on how my rape as an undergraduate shaped my own experience in academia.  Chapter 1 explores the stories of survivors–from student-on-student rape to presumably “consensual” relations with professors–discussing how university administrations responded to the crimes when reported as such; how victims were treate4d; how perpetrators were tre4ated’ what the role of bystanders was; what short-term and long term impacts were.  Chapter 2 examines rape culture and how it manifests itself in academia.  It explores the rape myths that underlie and perpetuate rape culture,l and how the early failure to respond appropriately to rape, particularly in the formative years of high school, exacerbates the situation in college.  Whereas literary and cinematic representations of rape (Chapter 3) are numerous, and often serve to perpetuate the rape myths that many perpetrators and victims internalize, representations of rape in academia are less common.  Although women comprise slightly more than half of the human population, they were marginalized in or omitted entirely from every branch of the humanities and humanistic study for centuries, and only relatively recently gained access to higher education.  Surveying literary and cinematic representations of rape offers more nuanced insights into contemporary attitudes toward rape and its victims.  Because 40 percent of rapes involved multiple perpetrators, and gang rapes by sports teams or fraternities are fairly common at universities, “fraternal rape” (Chapter 4) deserves separate consideration.  Finally, the rising student debt load combined with economic collapse has prompted many students to resort to online sites at which they could connect with “Sugar daddies,” presumably to serve as escorts (“Sugar Babies”) in exchange for college fees, but actually to be prostituted.  Prostitution, which virtually always involves some form of coercion, is discussed as a form of sexual assualt in Chapter 5.  Chapter 6, “Fighting Back,” chronicles recent efforts to challenge academia’s failure to address the subject of rape.  Recent efforts by the federal government and by campuses such as WSU aim to improve the environment for female students, and I would hope that my book will contribute to these efforts.