In recent weeks, there has been much discussion about rape and sexual assault on college campuses, as well as the culture of promiscuity that often exists in those environments. Where I think many have missed the mark is that they conflated these two significant but separate issues. It is only when we divorce the topics of sexual assault and young adult promiscuity that we can have constructive conversations about either.
The issue of rape and sexual assault is one with which all colleges must grapple. Mental health and other professionals who work day in and day out on college campuses are the ones equipped to discuss this important issue in a productive way. As a communal Rabbi, I defer to those experts. Simply put, they are on the front lines of this important issue, and I am not. Statistics tell only a small piece of this story, and it is too easy for those of us who feel removed from the problem to forget that behind each data point is an individual with his or her own story and heartbreak. With this in mind, we must all take the utmost care in discussing this "epidemic," lest our words be interpreted as callous or uncaring and add more pain to those already suffering.
As a Rabbi, my approach to young college-bound adults is to try to understand their struggles and to work with each of them to live a maximally halachic lifestyle amidst any and all obstacles they will face during their college years. We all bemoan the challenges of morality on college campuses, but the question to be asked is, why and how can we help our young adults navigate them? The transitional years of young adulthood, whether spent on a college campus or in other settings, are years of exploration and newly found independence. For some, this sudden onset of “freedom” is more than they are prepared to handle. Less supervision may be misinterpreted as lack of accountability, and lapses in judgment can unfortunately lead to serious breaches of conduct with lifelong ramifications.
In an ideal world, I would love all our young men and woman to attend colleges such as Yeshiva University, where they are not only afforded academic opportunities, but where they are surrounded by spiritual leaders who can guide them toward good choices. However, regardless of the settings our children and students find themselves in, I believe it is our communal responsibility to not shy away from difficult conversations, but to encourage meaningful dialogue which strengthens our core values. May we have the courage and wisdom to meet this heavy task, and may all of our children bring us nachat as they navigate tough choices of their own, and create futures of which we can be proud.