Michael W. Hannon

Poisoned Ivies: Sex and God at Yale

Michael W. Hannon
By Michael Hannon
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September 17, 2012 (Mercatornet.com) - They say everyone is entitled to his fifteen minutes of fame. My mom had her brief moment in the spotlight a couple years back, when the New York Post called her for a comment about a new dorm policy at Columbia, where I was a sophomore at the time. As the article put it, “Columbia University students will soon be able to live in sin—on their parents’ dime. A new ‘gender-neutral’ housing policy . . . will allow boys and girls to shack up together in campus housing.”

My mom’s reaction was, I hope, the reaction most parents would have to such news. “I was shocked enough last year when we moved our son in and we saw that guys and girls shared a bathroom on the hall,” she told the Post. “If it had been our daughter, we would have turned around and walked straight out. As far as coed roommates go, that would be insane. If our child chose to do that, we would opt out.” Thankfully for my mom’s sanity, sharing a dorm room with a girl was never high on my college to-do list. But had she known what else Columbia had in store for us, I can guarantee she would have opted out anyway.

I don’t consider myself particularly puritanical. On the contrary, as I’ve indicated elsewhere, I have a very high view of human sexuality. But somehow I never found Columbia’s university-sponsored sexual culture all that sexy. Call me old-fashioned, but that giant, inflatable penis on the quad, Health Services’ guess-how-many-condoms-are-in-the-jelly-bean-jar game, and that mandatory freshman orientation skit on coping with roommate autoeroticism, just never fit my idea of sexually appealing.

Neither did Columbia’s annual Erotic Cake-Baking Contest, or the (in)famous “Sexhibition,” a university-sponsored event complete with a sex-toy show-and-tell and, wouldn’t you know it, more phallus-shaped baked goods. But not to worry: in true Columbia multiculturalist style, those genital cookies are kosher, lest anyone’s religious observance exclude him from this romping good time.

For better or worse, Columbia has been regarded as a trailblazer on issues of sexual “progressivism” since long before I entered its hallowed gates. Back in 1993, the university’s Health Promotion Program launched Go Ask Alice!—a Q&A-style website offering insight on such meaningful topics as sex with stuffed animals, breastfeeding one’s sexual partner, urine-drinking fetishes, and that annoying medical guideline about having to abstain from sex for three weeks after an abortion. The following year, Columbia became home to the nation’s first university-recognized sadomasochism club, Conversio Virium. (That’s Latin for “exchange of forces.” Glad to see those Classics majors putting their education to good use.)

Then in 2006, Columbia partnered with one of Soho’s notorious sex shops to bring its students “Sex Toys 101,” a workshop put on by the university’s own Health Services, which earned the school a glowing write-up in the New York Daily News.

You might reasonably think that it can’t get much worse than teddy bear masturbation and S&M clubs. How I wish you were right. But during my first term at the school, Columbia students found a way to one-up themselves yet again. In October of 2008, a group of my classmates released the first issue of a raunchy new (unofficial) campus publication, oh so cleverly titled C-Spot. Apparently it wasn’t enough for students to exhibit sex toys; from now on, they were going to be exhibiting themselves.

Like Playboy and similar magazines, the original C-Spot issue did feature a handful of articles, including a historical essay on the origins of the vibrator, and, for the more literary-minded student, a collection of pornographic poetry. But the bulk of the publication is devoted to more, let’s say, visual works of art.

As Fox News put it, “Columbia students trying to prove that scholarship can be sexy have launched a salacious magazine featuring strip-club reviews, Internet porn recommendations and nude pictures of students steamy enough to wilt ivy.” Now personally, I have never been able to figure out what would incline an Ivy League scholar to pose nude for C-Spot, often with other students and in all kinds of compromising sexual postures. But plenty do. And afterwards, sitting next to them in Symbolic Logic is never quite the same.

As I said, Columbia prides itself on being something of a trendsetter in the sexual arena. And there is certainly merit (or perhaps, more appropriately, demerit) to that claim. But while Columbia has indeed pushed the envelope on these issues of sexual obscenity, it is not the only groundbreaking force in the elite academic world. And if my brief highlight reel of Columbia’s exploits has come across as inappropriately scandalous, then I highly recommend steering clear of a new 300-page exposé about our Ivy League neighbors in New Haven. Don’t get me wrong—Nathan Harden’s Sex and God at Yale is a phenomenal book, and a timely and insightful addition to this conversation. But it definitely is not written for those with a weak stomach.

A recent graduate and a proud Yale Man himself, Harden writes not to slander the name of his alma mater, but to lovingly reprimand her for failing to live out her noble calling. It was the early fifties when William F. Buckley authored the now legendary God and Man at Yale, a book that similarly laments Yale’s abandonment of religion and its straying from its original academic mission. Harden sees his own Sex and God at Yale as “a continuation of the story [Buckley] began to tell” more than half a century ago. And yet, with the utmost respect for the late Mr. Buckley, Harden notes that Buckley’s complaints unfortunately “look quaint alongside the hard-core realities of today’s Yale.”

Chapter by chapter, Harden describes episodes in which these “hard-core realities” became particularly prominent in his own Yale experience. I will refrain from sharing here much of the graphic detail he supplies in the book, of which there is certainly plenty.

But in context, I actually found Harden’s illustrative descriptions effective in establishing a friendly tone, and a certain sense of ease between himself and the reader. True, Harden’s style of casual narrative makes it seem that he is speaking more to a young peer than to his elders at the university or in society writ large. But given the subject matter, this is the kind of book I would be more likely to pass along to a college friend than to my mother anyway.

Harden begins each chapter with a relevant quotation from a prominent Yale alumnus, effectively reinforcing the disconnect between the powerful noblemen Yale has formed in the past and the perverted juveniles it seems bent on producing today. My favorite quotation was the one he selected from Tom Wolfe, who received his Ph.D. from Yale in 1957, for Chapter 10, Hooking Up. Says Wolfe, “Today’s first base is kissing. . . . Second base is oral sex. Third base is going all the way. Home plate is learning each other’s names.” This line is obviously said a little tongue-in-cheek. But, I think, only a little.

It is presumably no secret that college is now dominated by the so-called “hook-up culture,” and that at many places anonymous or near-anonymous sexual encounters have become the norm rather than the exception on a typical Friday night. And depressingly, writes Harden, for “most college students, hooking up is the only way to carry on any kind of romantic relationship at all. Dating, in case you haven’t heard, is dead.” He goes so far as to say that actually “taking a girl to dinner is tantamount to a college marriage.” That may sound radical, but it is true to my own experience as well. Dating has become exceedingly rare among Columbia students, so much so that most students probably go all four years without ever going out on an official date.

And so, instead, college students “hook up.” Of course Yale is no different in that regard, and neither is Columbia. But at such elite institutions, and particularly at institutions as committed to the cause of women’s equality as these two are, there are special tensions that become particularly apparent. In one of the book’s more memorable passages, Harden writes,

When sex comes casually and with no relational strings attached, as it often does at Yale and on other college campuses, women are essentially commodified and objectified in the eyes of men. Here’s why: When no real relationship is involved, there is no need to treat one’s sexual partner like anything more than a functional object—a sex doll that breathes. … Under this arrangement women lose the respect they want and deserve. It’s hard to be a randy sexpot and a deobjectified feminist at the same time.

And unfortunately, as we will see, this is hardly the only respect in which the attitudes Yale fosters toward women are pathetically paradoxical.

The hook-up culture is, I’m told, fairly ubiquitous at this point, a common phenomenon nationwide. But thankfully for the rest of our country’s universities, most of the episodes in Sex and God at Yale are so over-the-top that they could only occur on a relatively few, particularly “progressed” college campuses.

Harden devotes one chapter to the tragically terrifying case of Aliza Shvarts, the Yale art major whose senior project centered around the “art” of abortion. Shvarts made national news back in 2008 for, allegedly, repeatedly artificially inseminating herself and then inducing her own abortions, as often as possible over the course of a nine-month period. She then used documentation from the process and the organic materials it produced in her final artistic display. While the media spectacle did eventually lead the university to try to distance itself from the project, up until then Shvarts had had the approval and supervision of the Yale Art Department for the entire exhibition.

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One of Yale’s most infamous events, and one that occupies about a hundred pages of Sex and God at Yale, is Sex Week. Held every other year, Sex Week features a ten-day series of activities, with varying levels of university involvement from one event to another. During Harden’s time, it featured such uplifting installments as: “Defiant Desires,” an S&M symposium; “Y-Couture Fetish Fashion Show,” with student models, of course; “Getting What You Really Want,” an anti-monogamy talk by a “polyamorist activist”; “Babeland’s Lip Tricks,” wherein a burlesque performer gave a 90-minute oral sex workshop to a packed auditorium of students; “Speed Dating—Give Some, Get Some!”, which is pretty pathetically self-explanatory; “Love Junkies,” a panel discussion in which a “clinical sexologist” described the group therapy he once gave to a grandfather, a grandmother, and their sex slave; “Erotic Piercings,” a section which I highly recommend skipping over in the book, as I’m still having nightmares about it; and “BDSM 101,” yet another sadomasochistic event, but this one including a demonstration in which the presenter, herself a porn star, got naked in a Yale classroom and became a human prop in the presentings. Once again, I sense some potential conflicts with the prevailing feminist ideologies of the Ivy League. Somehow, I don’t think this is quite what Gloria Steinem had in mind.

Harden’s book is incredibly graphic, and it should probably not be recommended reading for too general an audience. Nonetheless, his commentary on these obscene scenes is truly top-notch. In his discussion of the “Babeland’s Lip Tricks” event at Sex Week, Harden draws attention to the fact that many of the techniques recommended by the burlesque lecturer require latex gloves, to be performed safely. In a particularly gripping moment, he steals away from the action to offer the following gem, another of my favorites from the book:

This must be, I think to myself, the natural progression of the culture of clinical safe sex, taken to its banal extreme. It started with sex educators’ near-religious devotion to the condom—that miraculous wonder-sock that was supposed to cure AIDS, liberate women from the curse of motherhood, eliminate unwanted pregnancy, make abortion obsolete, and, above all, free mankind from so many lingering Victorian vestiges of fearful prudery. The all-powerful rubber gave us sex with no strings attached. But that wasn’t enough. Now our hands are also supposed to be covered with latex. Slowly but surely, our anonymous sex culture is becoming as devoid of physical contact as it is of emotional contact. Touchless, heartless, passionless sex is the inheritance of this porned-out, hooked-up generation.

In the fifth and final section of Sex and God at Yale, Harden ceases most of his narrative style, and in its place he offers a reflective analysis of what went wrong, of what led the ivy-covered university that produced presidents, Supreme Court justices, and movers and shakers the world over, to such a pathetic, pornified place. Squeamishness aside, this section really is worth everyone’s reading in its entirety.

Harden’s diagnosis is that Yale has lost its sense of moral and educational purpose, thereby losing any standard by which to discriminate worthy from unworthy classroom pursuits, and that the resulting relativism has inevitably given rise to the bizarre sexual dystopia one finds there today. Looking to the future, he prophesies,

Nihilism is, ultimately, where Yale is headed. Yale was built in order to nurture ideas that would elevate the soul and advance human understanding, but it now has no governing moral principle. As a result, the knowledge generated there is divorced from any larger human purpose. Apart from a kind of vague appreciation of certain concepts like tolerance and diversity, Yale is a moral vacuum. Therefore, almost anything goes.

One might wonder, given nude porn stars in the classroom, what that “almost” could still exclude.

Looking back on his expectations before moving to New Haven, Harden says, “I had thought of Yale as a modern-day equivalent of the Athenian agora; but all too often, I found myself sitting in the equivalent of an intellectual whorehouse.” And yet, he authored Sex and God at Yale not simply to draw attention to the university’s defects, but to hold Yale up to the standards that it once set for itself. In penning the present essay, I mean to do the same with regard to my own alma mater. Please do not misunderstand me; Yale and Columbia are fantastic institutions. I count myself blessed to have studied where I did, and Harden frequently conveys the same sense of gratitude to Yale throughout his book. But the greatness of these universities has come under fire, and their sexual obsession is compromising the virtues of the academy. So we write what we do, that they may be what they were. Our shared hope is that Columbia and Yale would once again flourish as the universities they were created to be—intellectual whorehouses no longer, and Athenian agoras once more.

Michael W. Hannon is a first-year law student at New York University and a graduate of Columbia University, where he triple-majored in Philosophy, Religion, and Medieval and Renaissance Studies. This article first appeared at Mercatornet.com and is reprinted under a Creative Commons License.


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Jonathon van Maren Jonathon van Maren Follow Jonathon

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Arguments don’t have genitals

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By Jonathon van Maren

“As soon as he grows his own uterus, he can have an opinion.”

That was a comment left on The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada’s Facebook page by a woman who presumably opposes men speaking out against misogyny, domestic abuse, rape culture, and female genital mutilation as well. Apparently, you see, male genitals disqualify people from speaking out on various human rights issues deemed by women who define themselves by their uteruses while protesting angrily against being defined by their uteruses as “women’s issues.”

Which abortion isn’t, by the way. It’s a human rights issue.

To break it down really simply for our confused “feminist” friends: Human beings have human rights. Human rights begin when the human being begins, or we are simply choosing some random and arbitrary point at which human beings get their human rights. If we do not grant human rights to all human beings, inevitably some sub-set of human beings gets denied protection by another group with conflicting interests. In this case, of course, it is the abortion crowd, who want to be able to kill pre-born children in the womb whenever they want, for any reason they want.

Science tells us when human life begins. Pro-abortion dogma is at worst a cynical manoeuvre to sacrifice the lives of pre-born human beings for self-interest, and at best an outdated view that collapsed feebly under the weight of new discoveries in science and embryology. But the abortion cabal wants to preserve their bloody status quo at all costs, and so they make ludicrous claims about needing a uterus to qualify for a discussion on science and human rights.

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In fact, feminists love it when men speak up on abortion, as long as we’re reading from their script, which is why the carnivorous feminists have such a support system among the Deadbeat Dads for Dead Babies set and the No Strings Attached Club.

Male abortion activists have even begun to complain about “forced fatherhood,” a new cultural injustice in which they are expected to bear some responsibility for fathering children with women they didn’t love enough to want to father children with, but did appreciate enough to use for sex. Casual fluid swaps, they whine, should not result in custody hearings.

This is not to mention a genuine social tragedy that has men forcing or pressuring women to have abortions or abandoning them when they discover that the woman is, indeed, pregnant.

Or the fact that abortion has assisted pimps, rapists, and misogynists in continuing the crimes of sex trafficking, sexual abuse, and sex-selection abortion.

And coming against these disgusting trends are thousands of men in the pro-life movement who believe that shared humanity means shared responsibility, and that when the weak and vulnerable are robbed of their rights, we have to stand up and speak out.

We are not at all convinced by the feminist argument that people should think with their reproductive organs or genitals. We think that the number of people currently doing that has perhaps contributed to the problems we face. And we refuse to be told that protecting the human rights of all human beings is “none of our business” and “outside of our interests.”

Arguments don’t have genitals, feminists. It’s a stupid argument trying to protect a bloody ideology.

Reprinted with permission from CCBR.


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Rachel Daly

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Gvmt strikes UK Catholic school admission policy that prefers Mass attendees

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By Rachel Daly

St. Joseph's Catholic Primary School in Epsom, England, was ordered to change its admissions policy after it was ruled discriminatory by the nation's Office of Schools Adjudicator, according to Your Local Guardian. St. Joseph's reportedly had been granting preferred acceptance to students whose families attended Mass at the affiliated church.

St. Joseph’s School is for students from age 4 to 11 and describes itself as “enjoy[ing] a high level of academic success.” The school furthermore places high priority on its Catholic identity, affirming on its homepage that “We place prayer and worship at the center of everything we do.”

The school states in its current admissions policy that it was "set up primarily to serve the Catholic community in St Joseph’s Parish" and that when the applicant pool exceeds 60 students, its criteria for prioritizing students includes "the strength of evidence of practice of the faith as demonstrated by the level of the family's Mass attendance on Sundays." 

Opponents of this policy reportedly argue that since donations are asked for at Mass, it could allow donation amounts to influence acceptance, and that forcing non-accepted local students to seek education elsewhere imposes a financial burden upon their families. 

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As Your Local Guardian reports, the adjudicators dismissed claims that donation amounts were affecting school acceptance, given that it is impossible to track donations. Nonetheless, the adjudicators maintained that "discrimination ... potentially arises from requiring attendance at the church rather than residency in the parish."

The Office of Schools Adjudicators, according to its website, is appointed by the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State of Education, to perform such functions as mediating disputes over school acceptances. The Office's ruling on St. Joseph's will require the school to release a revised admissions policy, which is expected in the next few days.

Reprinted with permission from the Cardinal Newman Society.


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Carolyn Moynihan

African women at risk of HIV, hostages to birth control

Carolyn Moynihan
By Carolyn Moynihan

Which should be the priority for a health organisation: preventing an incurable disease, or preventing a natural function that might have adverse physical consequences?

Preventing the disease, you would think. But the World Health Organisation would rather expose African women to HIV-AIDS than withdraw its support from a suspect method of birth control, arguing that childbirth is also risky in Africa. Riskier, apparently, than the said contraceptive. And at least one of WHO’s major partners agrees.

This is one of the stories you will not have read in coverage of the International AIDS Conference held in Melbourne last week, despite the fact that WHO made an announcement about it during the conference and the findings of a highly relevant study were presented there.

The story is this: there is increasing evidence that the method of contraception preferred by family planning organisations working in Africa (and elsewhere) facilitates the transmission of HIV. The method is the progesterone injection in the form of either DMPA (Depo Provera, the most common) or NET-En (Noristerat).

Millions of women in sub-Saharan Africa receive the injection every three months. The method overcomes problems of access. It can be given by nurses or health workers. A wife need not bother her husband for any special consideration; the teenage girl need not remember to take a pill.

But for 30 years evidence has been accumulating that, for all its “effectiveness” in controlling the number of births, the jab may also be very effective in increasing the number of people with HIV.

Three years ago at another AIDS conference in Rome, researchers who had analysed data from a number of previous studies delivered the disturbing news that injectables at least doubled the risk of infection with HIV for women and their male partners.

That study had its weaknesses but one of the experts present in Rome, Charles Morrison of FHI 360 (formerly Family Health International, a family planning organisation that also works in AIDS prevention), considered it a “good study” and subsequently led another meta-analysis that addressed some of the issues with previous research.

Last week at the Melbourne conference he presented the results. His team had re-analysed raw data on the contraceptive use of more than 37,000 women in 18 prospective observational studies. Of these women, 28 percent reported using DMPA, 8 percent NET-En, 19 percent a combined oral contraceptive pill, and 43 percent no form of hormonal contraception. A total of 1830 women had acquired HIV while in a study.

The analysis showed that both injectables raised the risk of infection by 50 percent:

Compared to non-users [of any hormonal contraceptive], women using DMPA had an elevated risk of infection (hazard ratio 1.56, 95% CI 1.31-1.86), as did women using NET-En (1.51, 95% CI 1.21-1.90). There was no increased risk for women using oral contraceptives.

Similarly, comparing women using injections with those using oral contraceptives, there was an elevated risk associated with DMPA (1.43, 95% CI 1.23-1.67) and NET-En (1.30, 95% CI 0.99-1.71).

Morrison also noted:

The results were consistent in several subgroup and sensitivity analyses. However, when only studies which were judged to be methodologically more reliable were included, the increased risk appeared smaller.

Morrison acknowledged that observational studies such as the FHI analysis depended on have their limitations. He is looking for funding to conduct a randomised controlled study – something that, after 30 years of suspicions and evidence, still has not been done.

So what is his advice to the birth control industry? Stop using this stuff in regions with a high prevalence of HIV until we are sure that we are not feeding an epidemic?

No.

One reason is that FHI is at least as interested in contraception as it is in HIV prevention. Though its website reflects a broad range of development activities, its core business is integrating birth control programmes with HIV prevention. The WHO – one of its partners -- describes the US based, 83 percent US government funded non-profit as “a global health and development organization working on family planning, reproductive health and HIV/AIDS.”

Another reason is that FHI 360 has a vital stake in precisely the kind of contraceptives that are under suspicion. Its annual report refers to:

Our trailblazing work in contraceptive research and development continues, as we develop and introduce high-quality and affordable long-acting contraceptives for women in low-income countries. Research is under way to develop a new biodegradable contraceptive implant that would eliminate the need for removal services. We are also working with partners to develop an injectable contraceptive that would last for up to six months. Currently available injectables require reinjections monthly or quarterly, which can be challenging where health services are limited.

That project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID.

So Morrison did not argue in Melbourne for restrictions on the use of injectables, and neither did the WHO, whose representative at the conference outlined the UN body’s new guidelines on contraception and HIV. Mary Lyn Gaffield said a review of studies up to – but not including Morrison’s – did not warrant a change to WHO’s policy that DMPA and NET-En should be available, without restriction, in areas of high HIV prevalence.

The most WHO will advise is that women should be informed of the risk:

“Women at high risk of HIV infection should be informed that progestogen-only injectables may or may not increase their risk of HIV acquisition. Women and couples at high risk of HIV acquisition considering progestogen-only injectables should also be informed about and have access to HIV preventive measures, including male and female condoms.”

Condoms? How do they defend such cynicism? By equating the risk of HIV with the risks of motherhood – complications of pregnancy or childbirth, maternal death and the effect on infants... And yet motherhood remains risky precisely because 90 percent of the world’s effort is going into contraception!

Seven years ago a meeting of technical experts convened by WHO to study the injectables-HIV link showed the reproductive health establishment worried about that issue, to be sure, but also concerned that funding was flowing disproportionately to HIV-AIDS programmes, setting back the cause of birth control. The integration of family planning and HIV prevention spearheaded by FHI 360 looks like they have found an answer to that problem.

Whether African women are any better off is very doubtful. They remain pawns in a game that is, above all, about controlling their fertility. They and their partners are encouraged to take risks with their health, if not their lives, while researchers scout for funds to do the definitive study.

FHI had an income of $674 million last year, most of it from the US government. Couldn’t it give Charles Morrison the money to do his research today?

Reprinted with permission from Mercatornet.com.


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