University of Pennsylvania

Oh, how I despair for the next generation of comedy writers.

It’s not just comedians who are avoiding college campus gigs because students are hypersensitive – it’s student writers themselves who are marking certain subjects off-limits.

The Daily Pennsylvanian has a nice little feature on how Penn students in comedy groups are reacting to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The wrong way, pretty much:

“There are certain ways you can talk about certain groups,” said Rosa Escandon, College senior and head writer for Bloomers — an all-female comedy group on campus. “I like to think that all jokes are okay as long as it’s making the joke about society rather than about the victim of society.”

“Victim of society”? What does that even mean?

In theory, anything you want it to mean.

It would seem to apply to the oppressed religious and ethnic minorities who lashed out at a sneering society by shooting up a cartoon office, as well as the stereotypical villains in the dorm.

Accused students under the thumb of campus sexual-assault tribunals that deny them due process easily qualify as “victims of society” – yet barbs directed at alleged rapists are all the rage (in particular a certain former Jell-O spokesman).

The most recent episode of The Mindy Project mines the “nerd virgin” stereotype for big laughs, even though we know from personal stories told by MIT professor Scott Aaronson and others that the perceived judgment of society drove these awkward loners into pits of despair. (It’s a hilarious episode.)

Even victims that we could all agree on – let’s say orphans – are frequently the butt of jokes. Remember the recurring orphans on The Simpsons and that ghastly bronchial wheeze? It’s funny because, as a University of Colorado humor researcher would say, it’s a “benign violation.”

And if victims are off-limits, it’s not a stretch to say that putting their oppressors in a humorous light only diminishes their evil, as Escandon herself found out:

In terms of religion, though, the group admits that it is often difficult to preserve the comedic value of their material without offending someone. Escandon — a 34th Street Lowbrow editor — admits that she has even had small generational disputes with her mother after telling her that Bloomers had performed a skit called “Imperialists Anonymous.”

“My mother heard the words ‘there was someone playing Hitler,’” Escandon said, laughing, “and she was like ‘Oh my God, Rosa, that is not okay.’”

Rather than saying “you can’t joke about X,” Bloomers would do well to consider that humor is an inherently community activity that creates an “us” and a “them,” not a victim and an oppressor.

In his book The Morality of Laughter, F.H. Buckley argues that humor only works if there’s a “social tie” between the wit and the audience, “a solidarity with the jester in laughing at the butt,” in the words of one reviewer:

The laughter is judgmental. The jester has proclaimed his superiority over the butt, and the listener who laughs agrees. “There is no laughter without a butt, and no butt without a message about a risible inferiority.”

The good news is Bloomers doesn’t seem to taking its head writer’s philosophy too seriously, because this sketch is funny enough to get the writers fired from the Michigan Daily. “Hey, I’m diggin’ that tattoo of gender.”

Greg Piper is an assistant editor at The College Fix. (@GregPiper)

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A group of bioethicists at the University of Pennsylvania are recommending reestablishment of mental asylums in a new paper titled “Improving Long-term Psychiatric Care, Bring Back the Asylum.”

Lead author Dominic Sisti says the use of the word “asylum” in the paper — featured in the Journal of the American Medical Association — wasn’t meant to be “intentionally provocative.”

“We’re hoping to reappropriate the term to get back to its original meaning, which is a place of safety, sanctuary, and healing, or at least dignified healing for people who are very sick,” Sisti says.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

In the essay, the Penn team said the number of patients in the country’s state psychiatric facilities fell from 560,000 in 1955 to 45,000 as a result of the deinstitutionalization movement. The United States now has 14 public psychiatric beds per 100,000 people, the same as in 1850. On average, Sisti said, countries in the European Union have 50 beds per 100,000.

Pennsylvania has about 1,390 patients in its state psychiatric hospitals, with room for 1,450. The highest number on record was 35,000 inpatients in 1966. The New Jersey Department of Human Services did not respond to a request for information.

The bioethicists, who do not shrink from multi-syllable words, argue that what really happened was not deinstitutionalization but transinstitutionalization. That means that at least some residents of mental hospitals did not thrive in their communities, as hoped, but shifted to inappropriate institutions, most notably prisons.

“Prisons have become our largest mental health facility,” Sisti said.

An estimated 10 million U.S. residents have serious mental illnesses, according to the article. And many of them – especially those with severe schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – cycle among the street, hospitals, and jails.

While it is clear that the country did not create enough community services, the ethicists argue that some seriously mentally ill people need inpatient care because they “cannot live alone, cannot care for themselves, or are a danger to themselves and others.”

The deinstitutionalization movement began in earnest in the 1960s due to several factors — horrific conditions in some (mental) hospitals (remember One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?), development of better psychiatric drugs, and laws/court decisions which greatly limited involuntary institutionalization.

Contributing in the legal realm were the Supreme Court case O’Connor v. Donaldson (pushed by the ACLU) and California’s Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which served as a national model.

Critics say deinstitutionalization has contributed to homelessness and, as noted in the article, incarceration of the mentally ill.

Read the full article.

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Agency’s previous interaction with University of Montana led to controversial harassment ‘blueprint’

Even as the Department of Education hammers colleges to be more transparent in their handling of sexual-assault allegations, it’s helping schools to legally hide their investigations from public scrutiny.

That’s because the agency takes a broad view of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), arguing that the student-privacy law shields “disciplinary records” from disclosure – including how schools have treated students accused of sexual assault.

The department laid out its views in a Montana Supreme Court case over whether the state has to turn over disciplinary records involving a University of Montana quarterback whom the school found responsible for sexual assault in 2012, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The university court decided the quarterback would be expelled, but after he appealed to the state commissioner of higher education, he was suspended instead.

Journalist Jon Krakauer is seeking the records from the commissioner for a book he’s writing about student athletes and sexual assault, saying the accused student’s identity is widely known and the records are a “matter of public interest and safety,” overriding FERPA.

Though the commissioner lost the case in a lower court, the Department of Education is defending Montana’s FERPA reasoning now that the state’s highest court is hearing the appeal, saying Montana could lose federal funding if it turns over the records.

Harassment is whatever you find ‘unwelcome’

The department hasn’t always been so friendly to the University of Montana when it comes to sexual-assault proceedings.

In a widely derided letter in May 2013, the departments of Education and Justice resolved their case against the university for its handling of sexual-assault and sexual-harassment allegations.

That letter, called a “blueprint” that every college should follow, said that “sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as ‘any unwelcome conduct of sexual nature’” including “verbal conduct,” meaning speech.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said that means if someone finds sexually related speech offensive, regardless of reasonability, the speaker may be punished.

FERPA was designed to punish schools that don’t secure their students’ records, but some college lawyers are “extremists” who want to “apply FERPA as an invisibility shield to conceal records they find unflattering,” Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, told The College Fix.

With its brief at the Montana Supreme Court, “the Department of Education has refused to stand up to them,” LoMonte added.

LoMonte told The Fix that universities should ask legislators for a specific exemption if they want to shield sanctions records. “They can’t make FERPA into a catch-all excuse to withhold everything they prefer not to produce,” he said.

‘Two-tiered system’ for misconduct records

LoMonte’s group is also faulting the University of Pennsylvania for withholding data on how it punishes sexual-misconduct perpetrators.

The Daily Pennsylvanian reported that the school’s Office of Student Conduct plans to release “disciplinary statistics” in January – its first such release in four years – but will only “quantify outcomes and sanctions under the broad categories of academic integrity violations and student conduct violations.”

Office Director Julie Lyzinski Nettleton justified the withholding by saying that “the closer you get to attaching a sanction to a certain case, the more potential information you’re divulging to the community about any specific student’s specific case, which we don’t do,” the Daily said.

“The norm really is to give out as little as the law requires when it comes to discipline,” LoMonte told the Daily. “Colleges are much more image-conscious than they’ve ever been because of competition for dollars and competition for students.”

Colleges are creating a two-tiered system, LoMonte said. “It makes no sense that I can go to the courthouse and look up minor nonviolent misdemeanors that a 20-year-old commits off campus while the records of felony-level violent behavior for that same 20-year-old remain sealed just because the behavior happened on campus.”

College Fix reporter Samantha Watkins is a student at Point Loma Nazarene University.

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Via The Daily Pennsylvanian, this reminder that some anti-Israel rhetoric is too much for even Israel critics to tolerate.

Former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges has been disinvited from a conference at the University of Pennsylvania after he penned a column calling the terrorists of the Islamic State “the new Israel,” the Jerusalem Post reports:

Hedges, now a columnist for the website, was to speak at an April forum on prospects for peace in the Middle East sponsored by the university’s International Affairs Association.

Zachary Michael Belnavis, a student leader of the association, wrote to the lecture agency that his group didn’t see Hedges as a “suitable fit” for the conference. …

“In light of this comparison, we don’t believe he would be suitable to a co-existence speaker based on this stance he’s taken.”

Hedges wrote a followup column after his disinvitation, calling himself a victim of the campus push for “civility” – the same tack that anti-Israel academic Steven Salaita took after his job offer was revoked at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

“Being banned from speaking about the conflict between Israel and Palestine, especially at universities, is familiar to anyone who attempts to challenge the narrative of the Israel lobby,” he wrote. “This is not the first time one of my speaking offers has been revoked and it will not be the last.”

In the original column, Hedges said the Islamic State’s “quest for an ethnically pure Sunni state mirrors the quest for a Jewish state eventually carved out of Palestine in 1948″:

Its tactics are much like those of the Jewish guerrillas who used violence, terrorism, foreign fighters, clandestine arms shipments and foreign money, along with horrific ethnic cleansing and the massacre of hundreds of Arab civilians, to create Israel.

Read the Jerusalem Post story.

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A columnist for Philadelphia magazine weighed in on that University of Pennsylvania frat Christmas card with the Beyonce sex doll The College Fix noted last week, saying everyone’s getting a bit careless in throwing the “racist” claim around:

In addition to the potentially offensive words “Merry Christmas,” the appearance of not one but two Dallas Cowboys shirts, and some guy who seems to be biting into a large fish (for the love of God, somebody page PETA!), the Penn bros also chose to include in their photo a naked blow-up sex doll with brown skin.

Stupid? Yes. Tasteless? Yes. But racist? I dunno, folks. I’d be more offended by the Cowboys shirts. (Or by the fact that the frat is apparently lacking in African-American membership, at least based on the photo.) The photo neither states nor implies that the young men think that whites are superior to blacks, that black people are evil, that there’s anything wrong with being black, that black people are somehow suspicious. …

So they’re not racist, because that is what racism is — a dehumanizing belief in the superiority of one race over another.

It’s just the latest of many overwrought “racist” incidents, columnist Victor Fiorillo says, which includes:

  • an Urban Outfitters holiday party that asked attendees to wear “jutis, kurtans, turbans, saris, lehenga cholis and harem parents”
  • a birthday cake given to a University of Maryland sorority sister stamped with “suck a nigga dick” – possibly “an allusion to the outrageously offensive Three Six Mafia song ‘Suck a Nigga Dick‘”

Thoughtless accusations don’t promote dialogue, Fiorillo says:

You call someone a racist and everybody freaks out. The accused racists are shamed, silenced, and stigmatized. And any chance for a meaningful discourse implodes. And if anything is clear, it’s that a meaningful discourse is exactly what we need right about now.

Read the Philadelphia column.

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IMAGE: Phi Delta Theta’s Facebook page via Daily Pennsylvanian

It’s debatable whether a sex doll of any ethnicity should be in a Christmas photo, but Phi Delta Theta is in trouble for using a “dark-skinned” one in their Christmas card.

The Daily Pennsylvanian reports that the frat president has already apologized for the photo, posted to the frat’s Facebook page, and explaining to the “African Diaspora” campus group UMOJA that “the doll was a Beyoncé sex toy originally meant as a gag gift at the group’s Secret Santa event.”

Because Ferguson just happened, this is terribly offensive, the NAACP Penn chapter president said, and her reaction was mild compared to another group of activists:

“The inclusion of a racially and sexually charged object in such a flagrant fashion displays a serious and immediate need for repercussions that reflect the severity of this misogynistic, racist offense,” a joint statement issued by the 5B — the five umbrella coalitions for minority groups on campus — and the Penn Consortium for Undergraduate Women said. “We—UMOJA, APSC, UMC, Latin@ Coalition, Lambda Alliance, and PCUW—firmly believe that when an event like this marginalizes one of our communities, it marginalizes us all.”

“What particularly concerns us is how flippant this deeply misogynistic and racist choice seems to have been,” an addendum from the PCUW read.


Like many campus activists responding to claimed misogyny, these groups have a complete agenda for redress:

UMOJA specifically called for the chapter to be fined and its rush activities to be suspended until “a council of peers deem it acceptable to resume activity after and instituted education process.” Further, the group urged the Office of Student Affairs/Fraternity and Sorority Life to enforce “mandatory cultural competency courses for all members to resume activity…” and for the fraternity’s national organization to be notified.

So remember, Greeks… keep your sex dolls Caucasian.

Read the Daily article.

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IMAGE: Phi Delta Theta’s Facebook page via Daily Pennsylvanian