Let me be clear that I take no position on the allegations made about sexual assault at Patrick Henry College. I am not in a position to know what did or did not happen, or to do a proper investigation. I do like hearing from people who attend or who did attend PHC, and publishing their perspectives. Keep in mind as you read them that these are the opinions of individuals; they are not necessarily the whole truth.

That said, here is a counter-perspective from a recent PHU alumna who wrote me privately. She gave permission for me to post this, but asked me not to use her name, for fear of professional harm. She sent me information that allowed me to verify her identity, which I did. I can say that she is presently working in a job that gives her strong professional standing. Here is her letter:

I am a graduate of PHC’s class of 2010 and was there when many of the incidents described in Kiera Feldman’s article in the New Republic took place.  Since you posted an email from a current sophomore, I wanted to respond.

Looking back on PHC, now that I’m four years older, married, and with professional experience outside the bubble of PHC, I have to say the sophomore has given you the wrong idea.  It’s not surprising, as most of PHC’s students come from conservative, typically fundamentalist, Christian backgrounds.  Their “normal” is very different from mainstream Christianity, let alone mainstream America.  Patriarchal beliefs are “baked into” PHC culture and fundamentalist Christian culture so that what is startling for a liberal reporter from the New Republic is business as usual for current PHC students.  Let me provide you with some examples.

Dr. Stephen Baskerville teaches almost all of the International Politics and Policy major classes.  Last fall, he gave PHC’s “Faith and Reason” lecture, a mandatory, campus-wide lecture hosted each semester.  The text of the lecture he gave is available here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/168175446/Stephen-Baskerville-Politicizing-Potiphar-s-Wife

In this lecture, Dr. Baskerville asserted beliefs that explain why PHC behaved as it did in the sexual assault cases.  Dr. Baskerville engaged in victim-blaming, claiming that victims cry “rape” in the morning after consensual sex the night before, women are “honey pots” who tempt men beyond their ability to withstand, and modern “stop violence against women” campaigns are concocted by feminists to harm men. Dr. Baskerville incorporates these beliefs into all the classes he teaches at PHC, often assigning his own writings on these subjects.  These beliefs are not limited to Dr. Baskerville.  The Faith and Reason lecture is always followed by a faculty panel, where other members of the faculty comment on the lecture.  The panel last semester, which was filled exclusively by male faculty (I do not believe there are any full-time female faculty members, only female adjuncts), agreed wholeheartedly with Dr. Baskerville’s lecture. Indeed, the majority of the current faculty, administration, and student body did not see a problem with it. It was the alumni community, along with a handful of professors, who were greatly upset.  Why the difference? Patriarchal beliefs are so commonplace on campus it is difficult for many members of that community to see how they are wrong or startling.  The few who do are afraid to speak out.  It’s very hard to be “different” in that community.

Dr. Steve Hake is a literature professor at PHC and is one of the longest serving professors there, being one of the few to last through the “Schism” of 2006, when a group of professors quit in protest to the lack of academic freedom.  Hake is a Quiverfull adherent, believing that one should have as many children as God seeks to give you. He embraces a patriarchal view of the sexes and promotes it to students.  His favorite chapel message (which he has given multiple times over the years), asserts that “biblical manhood” is “controlled strength” while “biblical womanhood” is “controlled beauty.”  To determine whether you are sufficiently manly (i.e. are you are godly man?), Hake says, a man must ask, “Will I run in battle?” A woman, however, must ask, “Who is attracted to me and why?”  This theme is repeated throughout Dr. Hake’s literature courses.  Dr. Hake is not a “bad” person, he is a very kind, sensitive man—but he does embrace a patriarchal view of the sexes.  It’s important to remember that at PHC, patriarchal beliefs most often appear this way: benign, safe, even gentle. Hence it is very difficult for current students to see such beliefs as bad or to recognize them as “patriarchal.” It is also hard for them to realize how these beliefs translate into victim-blaming of the type engaged in by Dean Corbitt.

Interlaced with these patriarchal beliefs is modesty or purity culture.  PHC has a dress code which forbids female students from wearing clothing that RAs or the Dean of Students find too revealing.  Male RAs and professors can report inappropriately dressed girls to Student Life.  Girls receive dress code violations, are chastised by their RA, and, if they have too many dress code violations, can be called into Dean Corbitt’s office.  The article described how Dean Corbitt chastised the victims for what they were wearing.  This victim-blaming is consistent with PHC’s motivations for the dress code: women must hide their bodies because men are visual creatures who cannot control themselves once they have a sexual urge.  The belief reduces men to an animal-like sex drive.  Dr. Hake’s emphasis on female beauty shows how the faculty perpetuates this purity culture.  Women must “control” their beauty, because it is dangerous.  It is easy to see how this belief would torment victims of sexual assault, who find themselves faced with accusers who ask, “What did you do to bring this upon yourself?”

In fundamentalist Christian homeschooling culture, patriarchy is expressed as mandated obedience to God-given authorities. It’s a near-glorification of hierarchy.  A husband is the wife’s God-given authority, the father is the child’s God-given authority, and obedience is mandatory for both because the source of authority is the God-given structure. The most patriarchal families in fundamentalist homeschooling culture are thus marked by both children and wives engaging in absolute obedience to the father in ways and on subject matters which mainstream Christianity would find startling.  Obeying God-given authorities is also part of PHC’s student covenant: “I will honor and obey all divinely appointed authorities.” Available here: http://www.phc.edu/student_1.php.

Interestingly, the obedience mandate has been extended to the administration in PHC’s culture, with the administration in some ways fulfilling the role of parent for these students, most of whom have moved away from home for the first time.  In PHC culture, the administration must be obeyed because they are the rightful authority over the students.  Students thus tend to view disagreement/disrespect/disobedience towards the administration as sinful in much the same manner that a wife disobeying her husband or a child disobeying his/her father is sinful.  It is a very interesting cultural dynamic which explains how students often find it difficult to recognize when the administration engages in wrongdoing.  Hence, the PHC sophomore claimed that facts in the article are outright lies, even though he was not on campus when the events occurred and could not know.  It also explains why alumni are far more vocal about PHC’s wrongdoing than current students.  After you have left that culture and have several years of life experience under your belt (not to mention distance from peer pressure), it is far easier to see the faults of the administration.  Hence, the alumni were quite vocal in their opposition to Dr. Baskerville’s lecture last semester, and many of the alumni are very concerned about the information revealed in the New Republic article.  Most of the alumni, being older and wiser and having had many more interactions with the administration, find these allegations alarming because we know Dean Corbitt and the administration are capable of this kind of behavior.  We want PHC to be a safe place for victims of sexual assault, we feel it likely is not a safe place right now, and we want the school to take steps to ensure this never happens again.  I, for one, believe that Dean Corbitt should be fired.  The sophomore mentions how Dean Corbitt seems so “nice” and “helpful,” therefore whatever written in the New Republic article must be false.  The anonymous sophomore has apparently not yet learned that outwardly nice people do terrible things all the time.  One may smile, and smile, and be a villain, or so Hamlet said.

There are many other examples demonstrating how patriarchal beliefs are part of PHC’s culture, but this note is long enough.  I ask you to realize there is far more here than what a sophomore has told you.  PHC, like many colleges, has mishandled sexual assault cases and serious reform needs to happen.  Hopefully, the New Republic article has started a conversation which PHC desperately needed to have.

I read Dr. Baskerville’s lecture, and while there are definitely some aspects of it with which I disagree — the correspondent here identifies them — the lecture is more subtle and insightful than I expected. It’s more or less about what James Poulos calls the “Pink Police State” — the idea that sexual liberation has come hand in hand with a stronger state. Poulos explained to the Atlantic a few years ago:

Q. I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about my favorite phrase you’ve coined — “The Pink Police State.” To what are you referring? And why should it worry us?

The Pink Police State is a more extreme version of a regime I use to taunt my libertarian friends in my essay on ‘The Sex Vote‘ that’s just been published in Doublethink. I worry, and I think we should all worry, about the way cultural libertarianism is snowballing while the snowball of political libertarianism rolls deeper into hell. I’m aghast at the shrug with which many self-styled libertarians greet massive government, so long as it’s run by people with ‘enlightened’ attitudes about pleasure-seeking. It’s not death to the state these libertarians want, it’s the state as cool parent, with a stripper pole in every pot. I’ve actually had one good libertarian friend argue straight-faced that the solution to the drug problem is a monopoly partnership between Washington and Walmart. Well, with solutions like that, who needs problems? And of course you get that kind of institutionalized approach from fans of legal prostitution. It’s almost as if libertarians are willing to let the state regulate everything so long as everything’s decriminalized.

On top of this, we all know how intimately sex — or at least images of sex and talk about sex, alas — has become a part of everyday life. What gives me fear is the idea, which large numbers of people seem to be buying into, that a growing sphere of libertinistic freedoms compensates (or more than compensates!) for our shrinking spheres of political liberty and the practice of citizenship.

I bring this up not to endorse wholeheartedly Dr. Baskerville’s lecture, only to point out that the points of disagreement one might have with it do not obviate some of its important aspects. Reading it made me think about how hard it is going to be to prepare my sons to navigate this world. We are traditionalist Christians, and Southerners to boot; we are raising them with an old-fashioned view of sex and sexual relations. We are instilling into our sons the belief that they are to behave towards women as Christian gentlemen. If we are successful, they will, for example, turn away from pornography when their friends use it, because it is morally wrong — in part because it degrades women. In the past, under the old rules, men still behaved badly (and so did women), but everybody knew where the lines were. Nowadays, young men and women grow up in a highly sexualized culture, where barely-fettered sexual expression is considered a virtue … until it isn’t. It’s schizophrenic. That said, the crude idea that women are “honeypots” who tempt poor innocent males beyond what they can bear is deeply problematic, for the reasons the alumna indicates. That is a good starting point for arguing with Dr. Baskerville’s lecture. I only want to state that after reading it, I can’t fully endorse it, but I cannot fully dismiss it either — this, in the same way I wouldn’t entirely dismiss a lecture by a feminist, if she makes good points.

Anyway, if you are at PHC now, are a graduate, or have direct knowledge of life in the PHC community, I invite you to participate in the conversation.