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Rape & Snowflake Lawyers

Harvard Law School Library (Photo: Jason/Flickr)

At what point will we reach Peak Snowflake? This New Yorker bit by Harvard Law School Prof. Jeannie Suk surely points in that direction. She complains about the school’s students being unwilling to discuss law concerning sexual violence, because they’re a bunch of coddled snowflakes:

Imagine a medical student who is training to be a surgeon but who fears that he’ll become distressed if he sees or handles blood. What should his instructors do? Criminal-law teachers face a similar question with law students who are afraid to study rape law.


But my experience at Harvard over the past couple of years tells me that the environment for teaching rape law and other subjects involving gender and violence is changing. Students seem more anxious about classroom discussion, and about approaching the law of sexual violence in particular, than they have ever been in my eight years as a law professor. Student organizations representing women’s interests now routinely advise students that they should not feel pressured to attend or participate in class sessions that focus on the law of sexual violence, and which might therefore be traumatic. These organizations also ask criminal-law teachers to warn their classes that the rape-law unit might “trigger” traumatic memories. Individual students often ask teachers not to include the law of rape on exams for fear that the material would cause them to perform less well. One teacher I know was recently asked by a student not to use the word “violate” in class—as in “Does this conduct violate the law?”—because the word was triggering. Some students have even suggested that rape law should not be taught because of its potential to cause distress.

Suk says that in discussions with other law school professors around the country about teaching rape law, she finds it’s becoming hard to do all over. Students, she writes, are now afraid to talk about it at all, either because they are afraid of being injured by the discussion — reflect on that: lawyers in training afraid to talk about something — or afraid of being accused of injuring others. Suk:

For at least some students, the classroom has become a potentially traumatic environment, and they have begun to anticipate the emotional injuries they could suffer or inflict in classroom conversation. They are also more inclined to insist that teachers protect them from causing or experiencing discomfort—and teachers, in turn, are more willing to oblige, because it would be considered injurious for them not to acknowledge a student’s trauma or potential trauma.

See what’s happening? These activists have medicalized ordinary speech, such that they consider being confronted with information that makes them uncomfortable, including information (such as studying rape law) that is vital to the jobs they are being trained to do, as an assault. This is exactly why I have raised the alarm in the past about gay activists in high schools pushing for “safe” environments for gay kids, with “safe” being not a place free from physical or verbal abuse (which everyone should support), but a place where they don’t have to hear anything that they don’t like, because it makes them feel “unsafe.” It’s a way of shutting down speech you don’t want to hear by equating it with assault.

I find it absolutely stunning that young people today, especially young people in an elite law school, are being trained by the culture to anticipate having their feelings hurt. By the time these neurotics and their enablers in the academy burn out, they will have done a lot of damage to the universities, to their professions, and to who knows how many people who will have had to fight false accusations of harassment simply because they wanted to talk about ideas, and mistakenly thought that’s what a university was for.

A year at Harvard Law School costs $82,000. And you may get a Harvard Law degree without having learned a thing about the law governing rape and sexual assault, not because the professors refuse to teach it, but because your classmates are like a pack of Victorian hysterics who take to the fainting couch when they see an exposed ankle.

By the way, Suk shows how this state of affairs law school profs are dealing with is the fruit of feminist theory. Ah, progressivism.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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