The president of Eckerd College in Florida college sent an email to all students saying that if they wanted to avoid being sexually assaulted, they should drink less and not engage in casual sex.
Students blasted Donald Eastman III's letter, viewed by BuzzFeed News, for being insensitive and not understanding the pervasive issue of sexual assault on campuses.
Sent Monday, the letter asked students to "do your part in helping this College and this culture address this nexus of problems by doing two relatively simple things."
Those things? Drink less – with a reference to Socrates – and stop having sex before marriage:
1. By limiting your own consumption of alcohol, and encouraging your friends to do the same. Socrates included wine at his Symposium, but he did not get drunk.
2. You can be thoughtful about the dramatic and often negative psychological effects that sexual activity without commitment can have. Virtue in the area of sexuality is its own reward, and has been held in high esteem in Western Culture for millennia because those who are virtuous are happier as well as healthier. No one's culture or character or understanding is improved by casual sex, and the physical and psychological risks to both genders are profound.
Students of the college told the Tampa Bay Times that the president's email blamed the victims of sexual assault.
Nineteen-year-old sophomore Marlene Heyning said: "I'm pretty pissed off. That's a pretty insensitive thing to say. Instead of teaching people that it's wrong to have casual sex and drink alcohol, how about teaching them that having sex with someone who says 'no' is not okay?"
Katie Wheeler, an 18-year-old sophomore, said: "I don't think casual sex is in any way related to sexual assault; the problem is people breaking boundaries and not learning respect from a young age."
An Eckerd alumnus has started a petition on Change.org, urging Eastman to "address the topic in a new light." It has received 267 signatures at the time of writing.
Eckerd is a liberal arts college with a Presbyterian affiliation. However, faith is not taught formally and all religions are permitted to be practiced on campus. The Tampa Bay Times reported that there have been over a dozen sexual offenses there since 2011.
Responding to the criticism in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Eastman insisted he was not engaging in victim-blaming, and did not believe that those who become victims of sexual assault should be blamed for what happens to them.
"I was trying to say that we would have a healthier and less dangerous campus if people drank less and took their sexual relations more seriously," he said.
He did, however, say he believed that those not taking sexual relations seriously enough could lead to assaults: "I think maybe that's right. I think that could be right."
He said that his words were written "with great affection and true, deep and lasting concern."
Since writing his email, Eastman said he had received around 12 responses as of Monday afternoon: "The ones that are unhappy are really unhappy and the ones that really appreciate the email thought it was great."
He said the negative responses said "don't tell us this is the fault of the victim, don't blame sexual assault on alcohol, don't blame sexual assault on casual sex. But so far, they haven't told me what you really ought to blame it on."
Francis Whittaker is a homepage editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Francis Whittaker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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