Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sarah Hepola, BYU, Alcoholism, and Honor Code Enforcement

BYU students protest the role of honor code investigations follow the reporting of sexual assaults among the university's students.


I'm doing very little of anything other than intense studying these days. My reading material is limited essentially to content I need to review in preparation for Step 1 of the USMLE. (There. I said it again out loud, or at least wrote the name of the exam. Doing so continues to make me nervous, though I would expect that if lightning were going to strike me dead for referring so explicitly to the gatekeeper exam, I would already be six feet under.)

In any event, though  I have little time for pleasure reading, I took the time to re-read Sarah Helpola's Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget. Reading the book was a most welcome diversion from reviewing the symptoms of (and i'm not exaggerating in the least) every medical condition under the sun and some that aren't.

My extended family has a bit of shared history with Ms. Hepola, a journalist who wrote and edited for, among other publications, Salon magazine. my cousin and her first-cousin-once-removed were fans of Sarah Hepola and frequently responded to her blog posts. Ms. Hepola had a fascination with all things Mormon at the time, which eventually led to a two-part interview with my cousin and her cousin. The interview may still be accessible in some long-forgotten archives somewhere on the Internet, though I wouldn't have a clue as to how to go about finding it. 

Sarah Hepola's book is probably the most excruciatingly  honest memoir I've ever read. She doesn't spare a single self-incriminating detail of her drinking exploits as far as I I can tell. She writes of taking her clothing off when drinking and of waking up in the beds of strangers following alcohol-induced blackouts.  She shares details of her very early introduction to sex at the hands [or, more literally, at the phallus] of a man far older than she.  Her life, even up to the point when she reached the age I presently am,  is one I could scarcely imagine.

I've been cautioned by a few presumably well-intentioned individuals about the evils of alcohol consumption, though I don't buy into most of what I would consider scare tactics along these lines.  I'm aware that being under the influence of alcohol can leave any person -- particularly one of my gender and size -- more vulnerable than she would otherwise be. 

Still, it will be my choice to continue to imbibe [albeit relatively moderately] on occasion. After careful consideration, I have decided that a couple of drinks in one sitting when I'm surrounded by people I have good reasons to trust will not place me in any particular peril. I haven't consumed any alcohol other than my twice-weekly half bottle of Guinness, which I detest but drink for health reasons, since my birthday nearly five months ago. I have no idea when I will again feel compelled to drink myself into  the nirvana-like state between  buzzed and wasted, though I know it will happen.

In relation to the negative press BYU is getting over enforcing its controversial honor code in relation to the reporting of sexual assault, I've certainly thought about alcohol consumption and its role in creating vulnerability.  I don't have a great deal to say about the particular issue because I don't feel that there is much more to be said about it. A person needs to have a solid handle on how much he or she can drink and still maintain control of his or her circumstances. On the other hand, it was with good reason that I chose not to attend Brigham Young University, where I would be subjected to the draconian policies of the LDS-operated institution.  Besides, BYU doesn't even have a medical school. I'd be finished with them by now even had I done my undergraduate work there.

I don't think there are many rational minds out there who would place the blame on a woman who was sexually assaulted for having consumed alcohol prior to the assault. For me, though, I don't want merely not to be blamed. If I drink, it will be to have a good time that is not spoiled by the prospect of assault of any kind.  I will always be careful where and with whom I drink, but  I could not ever take another drink for the rest of my life and still be sexually assaulted again. The last time I was assaulted, alcohol played no role.. Life offers few guarantees.

8 comments:

  1. The only guarantee in life is that one day it will end.

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    1. True, and sooner than we think for most of us, not that it means tomorrow or the next day.

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  2. Thanks for bringing light to the honor code policy at BYU. I'm always extra impressed by students who protest there as they are facing restrictions that don't exist on other campuses.

    Enjoy your occasional happy hours! They're a welcome respite after long bouts of studying!

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    1. My undergrad university provides a free campus escort to any student at any time after dark when the student must travel from from one part of the campus to another or from campus to the off-campus residential community in which most of the students live. There was and is no curfew at my old university, of course, as most university students are legal adults and need no curfew, but still it's something BYU could think about providing if the Lard's university truly wanted to prevent rape. (Rape happens at my undergrad university, too, but they're at least doing something to try to prevent it. Most assaults at my old university happen when students travel from one Isla Vista location to another. It would be nice if the university escorted people from one frat party to the next, but there are limits the services any university can provide.

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  3. The issue with BYU is that they use any reported sexual assault as a starting point to see if the victim did anything wrong. One of the cases had the police giving the BYU honor code office the report so they could investigate the victim! Which is insane. It's along the same lines as sexual assault victims having to be interviewed by their bishop to "make sure they don't have anything to repent for" which is so incredibly damaging, because it is never the victims fault. A woman could dance naked in front of a bunch of drunken frat boys (not advisable) and any assault that happened will still be 100% on the perpetrator. By investigating the victims first before anything else they are perpetuating rape culture that excuses men who assault women.

    Also my BYU alum sisters are both incredibly horrified by these cases which makes me happy that not everyone there is crazy.

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    1. Perhaps in some cases victims of any kind of assault might have acted in a more prudent manner, but you're right that it makes no difference when they did not give consent to sex. I could understand if the goons at bYU wanted to find one sensitive person who works at BYU who actually possesses a soul(I'm not sure such a person working there even exists, but who knows?) to talk in a sensitive manner with victims about how best to be safe without preaching at them, it would MAYBE be oK, but we all know the BYU honor code police are not trying to help victims; they want to levy consequences and further victimize those who were or are already victims.

      I know it's not a great practice to hate people I don't actually know, but I sort of do.

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    2. Yeah this is a topic that just makes me so angry. My sister had a visiting teacher (she is still a grad student at BYU) tell her that if the girl was drinking it was her fault because she had already sinned. She also went on to rant about some nonsense about transgender people. My normally very quiet, non outspoken sister told her how wrong she was. I am so proud haha. But yeah it's just disgusting that anyone even thinks of "what did the victim do wrong?" Because it just feeds the idea that the rapist isn't 100% responsible for the rape.

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  4. My alma mater is also facing a crisis in how it responds to sexual assault. There are petitions and campaigns on public media which will force the school to respond much quicker and more decisively in the wake of assaults. It has been shameful how things have been handled previously.

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