‘Criminalization of the accused’: Title IX critic Laura Kipnis speaks on campus

Controversial speaker Laura Kipnis spoke at Chapman Oct. 4.

Students crossed their arms and whispered among themselves as author and professor Laura Kipnis, known for her controversial stance on sexual assault on college campuses with her belief that Title IX has too much power, spoke on campus Oct. 4.

“When it comes to sexual culture, the definition is changing,” Kipnis said during her talk. “This definition comes with hazards, and these hazards come with expansion of regulation. Administrators are going along with a new way of framing consent, and Title IX is expanding the criminalization of the accused.”  

About 40 attended the event, which was open to the public.

Kipnis is known for having two Title IX cases filed against her, supporting a colleague who engaged in sexual misconduct with two graduate students at Northwestern University and for taking a controversial stance on sexual assault through her publications.

Kipnis’s main argument was that “there is no distinct definition of what sexual assault means,” and that actions now considered sexual assault under Title IX are too broad.

Kipnis also argued that women should be taking a role in their own protection and decision-making process, she said, and women should be more self-aware of their own actions.

At the event, Kipnis discussed her book, “Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus,” and her experience with being charged for exploitation by a student under Title IX.

Kipnis spoke for about an hour. Chapman’s Lead Title IX Coordinator DeAnn Yocum Gaffney and Lisa Leitz, the chair of the peace studies program, spoke for 10 minutes in response to Kipnis, which left 10 minutes for a Q&A session.

Of three people who asked questions during the Q&A session, one was a student.

“I took notes during Kipnis’s talk, and I came (to the Q&A) with questions and concerns in mind, specifically regarding sexual assault within the LGBTQIA+ community,” said Haley Hopkins, a senior art major, who didn’t get to ask a question. “I wanted to ask Kipnis why she doesn’t recognize survivors, and instead calls them victims, and I felt like the students’ time was hijacked.”

About 40 students, faculty and community members came to hear controversial speaker Laura Kipnis talk about Title IX Oct. 4. Photo by Jackie Cohen

Dean of Students Jerry Price said that the panel ended up speaking “more than anticipated” and that he had planned for a longer Q&A session.

Meg Moricca, a junior screenwriting major, said she felt that students were not given enough opportunity to voice their concerns at the event.

“I thought the way the three speakers presented their perspectives was well-done, and I respected that there were no attacks on character,” Moricca said. “I just wish more students had been able to be engaged in conversation.”

Leitz, who spoke after Kipnis, shared her experience with sexual assault and her concerns about Kipnis’s writings.

“I was failed by my undergraduate’s procedure of sexual assault. I proudly wear the label of survivor which I have to say, I was sad to see Kipnis denigrate,” Leitz said. ”The vast majority of cases that involve Title IX are not against professors, but are those that involve student-on-student complaints.”

When asked how she felt about Title IX’s success in protecting students from student assailants, Kipnis said that she did not have enough information to answer the question. This concerned CK Magliola, the director of the women’s studies minor program at Chapman.

“I think it is irresponsible of Kipnis to put out such specific ideas on Title IX and then not answer questions about it,” Magliola told The Panther after the event. “I don’t find her argument applicable to whom Title IX affects.”

Because Kipnis’s personal experience with Title IX has been exclusively with faculty-graduate student relationships, some students at the event expressed frustration with her arguments.

“I think that for someone who has access to Title IX cases like she does, Kipnis cherry-picked examples that hyperbolize the ideas she’s trying to convey,” Hopkins said. “I find that very unethical, and I don’t think she understands the complexity of undergraduate sexual assault on college campuses.”

11 Comments

  • Such a disappointment that the PRESIDENT and DEAN OF STUDENTS of our university thought it was appropriate to provide this woman with a stage. It was a bad investment on their part. To have a scholar go up and present would be one thing, however she provided an opinion piece that was rebutted by figures and facts making her argument weak. I hope that in the future any visiting lecturers do their part in properly researching, and that we as an institution do our part in having those actually educated on the issue at hand be able to discuss this.

    • If she actually was proven wrong, then that helped your side, didn’t it?
      She would only have an effect if she was right, which is what you’re afraid of.

      And who decides who’s educated on topics? Uneducated students?

      • Giving her a platform validates her opinions. And her opinions are not helping.

        No fear here. She was proven wrong and had no effect.

        “Uneducated students” seems a bit like an oxymoron doesn’t it? She made the decision to not educate herself on student assailants (a question any “educated” person would assume she would be asked about at an event such as this one). The only uneducated person here is Kipnis.

        • Giving her a platform does not validate her opinions, but rather recognizes her opinions and gives her a chance to share her comments, concerns, and critiques.

          In what world is it beneficial to only have a handful of people express their opinions? You would most likely be silencing some of the greatest and most progressive thinkers of our time.

          Your logic is the exact same kind of logic used by the Democrats in their life-long effort to oppress and silence the black citizen, especially MLK.

          And “uneducated student” isn’t an oxymoron. It’s redundant.

  • Laura Kipnis has destroyed the kangaroo court that is Title IX. She has eviscerated it and left it bleeding in the dust. Disappointed, you are a savage tool. Your day is over.

  • Laura Kipnis is indeed well-educated on the issue, and in both her acclaimed book and in her remarks provided an extensive first-person account of the Title IX process in addition to research into the subject, which has lead her to join others in questioning the statistics frequently cited in support of the broader definitions used under Title IX that criminalize more and more conduct and provide fewer opportunities for the defendant. Given the lack of analysis to date of confidential court documents and case records, an arguably very good way to approach the subject is to do what Professor Kipnis has done, provide a case study that may or may not be useful to further researchers investigating the issues she usefully raised. As a feminist, Professor Kipnis is familiar with feminist standpoint theory and the utility of using personal experience to question prevailing narratives of gender, power, and authority as connected with and serve patriarchal interests – here, under the guise of offering women greater protections but possibly at a cost to womens’ agency that she wants to raise in the public domain.

    One of Professor Kipnis’ main points was missed both in the follow-up discussion and by those whose views were in the Panther online article: the issue of whether the EXPANSION of Title IX a few years ago advances gender equality and serves the interests of women as independent and also sexual agents. I capitalize ‘expansion’ because Professor Kipnis made it very clear that she does not condone sexual assault as understood to be covered under Title IX prior to the more expansive interpretation put forth a few years ago allegedly better to protect women, a point Professor Kipnis contests in the interests of women, as she sees things.

    • That is a gross mischarecterization of standpoint theory and feminist methodology. To suggest that one can replace data with one’s experience or suggest a pattern from cherry-picked anecdotes or misrepresentation of cases is un-academic. Policy should derive from science.

      • My comment – “…using personal experience to question prevailing narratives of gender, power, and authority as connected with and serve patriarchal interests…” – speaks only to raising questions and challenging prevailing narratives and explanations, not to conducting subsequent research into the issues raised. I don’t believe Professor Kipnis “cherry-picked” from her own experience or the first-hand record of the case the documents for which she did have access to. Given the lack of pertinent studies and general access to confidential, maybe sealed court documents, raising questions grounded in one’s own experience as a spur to research and critical interrogation of current practice is not at all to replace data or derive policy from some source other than science, but to set change in motion – or not, depending on what subsequent evidence-based research reveals. Sometimes the first-person account, especially if coming from a marginalized voice, is what starts a process of questioning what otherwise might not get looked into, even if this start can be clunky, unscientific, or whatever, or even biased.

  • This event was VERY badly publicized. Why didn’t more people know about it? Why wasn’t it advertised at all?? I would have attended, too, had I known about it. Chapman’s PR sucks.

    • It wasn’t publicized on purpose. The last thing Chapman wants is to have a hostile political environment, which was inevitable if both emotionally-charged, uninformed students clashed with informed, logical, yet troll-like students.

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