Irrational ‘Rape Culture’ Activism at Occidental and BuzzFeed

KC Johnson

March 27, 2014

BuzzFeed is uncritically fascinated with “rape culture.” Combine that with Occidental, a college where a male student can be branded a rapist even if his partner says “yes,” and the result is an article by Jessica Testa. Her BuzzFeed article, which reads as if it comes from the Onion, provides an unintentional commentary into how far from reality many campus “activists” now are.

A quick refresher: despite campus policies that are overwhelmingly tilted against students accused of sexual assault, campus “activists” (students and faculty) filed a Title IX claim against the college–with the help of celebrity attorney Gloria Allred. Fawning press coverage followed, with reporters repeatedly ignoring Occidental’s actual procedures and describing the accusers (none of whom had even filed police reports) as “victims” or “survivors.” The charade appeared to have ended on March 14, when the Los Angeles Times announced that one of its reporters on the case, Jason Felch, had been involved in an unrevealed romantic relationship with one of the faculty complainers, and had described minor incidents (such as inappropriate text messages) as unreported sexual assaults The Times then fired Felch.

But anyone who thought the case had concluded doesn’t follow higher education, where “activists” rarely, if ever, concede defeat. The result was a lengthy article by Testa, in which the BuzzFeed reporter uncritically passed along paranoid, borderline delusional, assertions by Occidental faculty members involved in the Title IX fight.

Consider these items in Testa’s article:

•Felch’s former paramour (who receives anonymity, because she seems to believe that someone is out to get her) claimed that her faculty “workspace was broken into” and that “pages from her journal that referenced her relationship with Felch were laid out on her desk.” Her alleged stalker, the paramour asserted, obtained the journal by breaking into yet another place on campus, “a private locked library carrel” that she had revealed only to “four trusted colleagues.” Why she had her private journal at the library, and why she didn’t report either alleged break-in to local police, remains unclear.
•Another Occidental professor, Caroline Heldman, likewise claimed that her office was broken into–though she, too, doesn’t appear to have reported the incidents to police. Heldman also included a tagline on her e-mail asserting that “Occidental College administrators are tracking this email.” The Testa article produced no evidence to corroborate this claim, which college administrators denied.
•Heldman appears sane, however, compared to the unnamed paramour–who confided that she now only uses a new phone, which she paid for in cash, because she feared someone might be listening in to her conversations. Why? Her “personal iPhone had been acting strangely: flashing every few minutes while she wrote text messages or emails, as if the phone were taking screenshots, and running the battery down seven or eight times a day.” Rather than consider that the phone simply was malfunctioning, the paramour appears to believe that someone, Jason Bourne style, was accessing her personal information. The anonymous professor conceded that she had no actual evidence that the college was monitoring her, but “whether or not you’re actually being surveilled, if you think you are, it’s still destructive.” Well, yes, but it’s rather frightening to see that a college faculty member simply assumes that Big Brother is surveilling her. Does she believe the Occidental administration has teamed up with the NSA?
•The anonymous professor recalled that she served as a “faculty advocate” to a student who charged, without reporting the incident to police, that a tennis player had raped her. The paramour claimed that “for weeks” a tennis ball was placed and then removed from her campus mailbox. Why the professor just didn’t remove the tennis ball herself– and how the alleged stalker could have done something like this for weeks while evading detection in a busy campus mailroom–Testa elects not to explore.

These people are teaching students–and, of course, advising the student “activists” who filed the Title IX complaint. No wonder the complaint seemed divorced from reality.

BuzzFeed’s Testa never comes out and asserts that Occidental administrators are responsible for any or all of these alleged incidents. But the article is framed in such a way to leave this as the obvious impression.

It’s possible, I suppose, that a college administration is essentially a criminal conspiracy. Or it’s possible that several Occidental faculty members are paranoid.

Readers can decide.