Jeremiah True, 19, is a student at Reed College, a small liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon.
Recently, he was banned from the discussion segment of his Humanities 110 course because of his opinions on rape. He made other students, some of whom were sexual assault survivors, uncomfortable by denying the existence of rape culture and disputing the often-repeated statistic that one in five college students is the victim of rape or attempted sexual assault.
Though the one-in-five statistic is often criticized for its small sample size, campus rape is such a serious issue that President Obama created a task force for the issue and there’s been a bipartisan push for legislation that deals with rape and sexual assault. For the uninitiated, rape culture is a set of social conditions that normalizes and accepts sexual assault and violence against women in particular.
In her book, "Transforming a Rape Culture," Emilie Buchwald wrote: “Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as ‘just the way things are.’”
True insists he has a right to his opinions, including his denial of rape culture. The first amendment is not protected at private schools like Reed. “I know many people aren’t comfortable with taking the stances I do, but I’m not a sheep,” he told Buzzfeed.
In an email to Pancho Savery, the professor who banned him from discussion, True wrote: “I am critical of the idea of a rape culture because it does not exist. We live in a society that hates rape, but also hasn’t optimized the best way to handle rape. Changing the legal definition of rape is a slippery slope. If sexual assault becomes qualified as rape, what happens next? What else can we legally redefine to become rape? Why would we want to inflate the numbers of rape in our society?”
Savery conferred with another professor before banning True. “There are several survivors of sexual assault in our conference, and you have made them extremely uncomfortable with what they see as not only your undermining incidents of rape, but of also placing too much emphasis on men being unfairly charged with rape,” Savery wrote in an email to True.
“The entire conference without exception, men as well as women, feel that your presence makes them uncomfortable enough that they would rather not be there if you are there, and they have said that things you have said in our conference have made them so upset that they have difficulty concentrating in other classes.”
Savery offered True an alternative, allowing him to complete the course for full credit on the condition that he complete a final paper and exam.
“I simply questioned the statistics,” True said. “I understand [Savery] has to take care of his students, but I have to take care of my education.”
Reed College spokesman Kevin Myers said administrators were investigating if True’s dismissal was appropriate. “For over 100 years, Reed has been very committed to free speech and diverse viewpoints, and maintaining an environment in which people can live and learn and work and express themselves honorably,” he said.
A student identified by the pseudonym Clara said True’s points were initially welcome in class, but his arguments devolved into “increasingly harmful and offensive” statements. Sexual assault survivors tried to explain their discomfort to him outside of class. “That’s when he crossed the border from his right to have his own beliefs to harassment,” said Clara, who survived sexual assault.
“In response to being respectfully asked to stop, he discussed [his views] more openly and more aggressively, and just disregarded people’s lived experiences,” she said. “He continued to argue with people who had expressed to him that they felt unsafe and uncomfortable. He said rape culture didn’t exist, but I feel like I live rape culture every day.”
True has started an online petition requesting re-entry into Savery’s class.
Reed College’s students reported the most sex crimes compared to every other university in the state of Oregon between 2010 and 2012. Although Reed College has only about 1,500 students, it ranked third in the nation for number of reported sexual assaults per 1,000 students in 2012.