College students risk a lot when they dare to question higher education’s dogmas. Just ask Patrick Borum, a 20-year-old student who’s being ruthlessly ostracized by his peers at Grand Valley State University.
Like the majority of campuses in the United States, GVSU has wholeheartedly subscribed to the idea of “rape culture,” claiming that the American society “normalizes and trivializes” sexual violence, raising boys to believe that it’s acceptable to assault women.
Borum met this idea with skepticism, posting on his personal Facebook, “Rape culture isn’t real.”
He later elaborated, adding: “No one is questioning whether rape occurs, or whether rape is wrong, or whether rape is illegal. I’m calling to question the claim that Americans are OK with rape — this is the short-form definition of ‘rape culture.’ ... For people to say that women here in the United States are living in a ‘rape culture,’ that’s so dismissive to other people in the world where women don’t have rights and are actually being regularly submitted to rape.”
The backlash against Borum was immediate and severe.
Since the Facebook post, Borum said, he’s received a steady stream of profanity-laced hate mail. In one message he shared, a female student wrote, “Hey just wanted to tell you f*** you and you’re a piece of sh**,” continuing to berate him further.
Late last month, Borum was elected to student senate. But instead of standing up for his right to express his controversial opinion, his peers in student government rushed to condemn him and to publicly reaffirm their own belief in the existence of “rape culture.”
“We hope that people can use this as a learning experience and that more students will be aware of the consequences of their social media uses and the importance of condoning rape culture or cyber bullying,” the student senate’s executive vice president commented.
That’s right: Borum — not the students cussing him out online — is the cyber bully in the student government’s eyes. Disheartened, Borum resigned.
Borum’s fraternity, Kappa Sigma, also immediately denounced him on social media. Its grand master issued a public apology for his “gross, pitiful and downright disrespectful social media post.” On Twitter, the fraternity posted that “Rape culture is real, whether (Borum) understands that or not. We are embarrassed.” Borum submitted his resignation to the fraternity, too.
But that wasn’t all. A campus town hall meeting last week quickly devolved into a Salemite shaming session focused directly at Borum. “I think to deny rape culture is to support rape,” one student told crowd.
Mentioning Borum by name, another student said the campus assumed that he “could be or possibly was, like, you know, more likely to rape someone because he was a white, fraternity young male.” Another student chimed in: “Statistics show, yes, he is more likely to.”
In the week since Borum’s Facebook post, a campus organization focused on sexual-assault prevention hosted an event on “unpacking rape culture,” which they explicitly said was a response to his comments. The group has also scheduled a presentation on “rape culture” specifically for Kappa Sigma, in case any of his former frat brothers were sympathetic to his apostasy.
GVSU has wholeheartedly subscribed to another trendy campus catchphrase, “inclusion.” The university has a whole Division of Inclusion and Equity, complete with “inclusion advocates” who help create “a campus environment that values differences across many dimensions of diversity.”
But if Borum’s experience is any indication, GVSU’s commitment to inclusion doesn’t extend to ideological diversity. Instead, he’s faced overt exclusion from prominent campus groups.
“I’m being ostracized in my own community. ... I 100 percent feel like I’m being bullied,” he said. He’s keeping his head down and hoping to graduate early, he said.
The whole point of higher education is to teach students to think critically; college should be a safe space for students to challenge even the most established and sacred of ideas.
But when a four-word post on a personal Facebook page prompts such complete and public opprobrium, what are the odds that GVSU students will have the courage to question anything at all?
Jillian Kay Melchior is a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum.