College Students Need to End the Pence Rule Now

Change begins at the collegiate level – if college campuses can end the Pence rule, then so can society.
February 10, 2018
7 mins read

With the recent wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, sexual misconduct has been at the forefront of conversations across the nation. Most recently, over 100 young women in Michigan spoke up against former renowned doctor, Larry Nassar, who had sexually assaulted them. Left with disgust, many have been discussing how this pervasive problem can be solved.

One of the suggestions for a solution, made widely popular in March of 2017, has become known as the “Pence rule,” which suggests that men should not be seen alone with women. Based on the past thoughts of the Rev. Billy Graham, this rule is degrading to society, in regards to both men and women. The Pence rule is not the solution to this ever-present dilemma and the eradication of this notion should begin on college campuses.

The Pence rule, derived from statements made by Vice President Mike Pence, says that a man should never be seen alone with a woman who is not his wife. Additionally, he indicated that he does not attend parties where alcohol is served without his wife by his side. The policy he’s referring to was widely known in the past as the Billy Graham rule; Graham refused to meet, dine or travel with a woman alone.

The tweet mentioned below, from Sebastian Gorka (Image via Vox)

Several politicians and journalists have suggested that the Pence rule would help to avoid issues of misconduct. Sebastian Gorka of Fox News said, “If Weinstein had obeyed @VP Pence’s rules for meeting with the opposite sex, none of those poor women would ever have been abused.”

The notion that avoiding one-on-one interactions between opposite sexes is the key to fixing sexual violence is absurd. The underlying suggestion is that if a male is never alone with a member of the opposite sex, they never have the opportunity to indulge in such activities. By presenting an image of men being uncontrollable, lustful and power hungry, and women as temptresses, the Pence rule only perpetuates gender roles which help lead to sexual violence in the first place.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college; thus, college is a major breeding ground for sexual violence. Students, typically young adults, are on their own for the first time and they are being released into a world where curfews and rules no longer exist.

Both male and female students have newfound independence and increased access to the opposite sex within student housing; hookup culture is what defines many individuals’ college experiences. While this is a personal decision, many times hookup culture can be confused and blurred with sexual violence.

Many believe that the Pence rule can solve the issue of sexual violence especially within the realm of college atmospheres, but this mindset is one that needs to be dismantled by college institutions and students. Due to sexual violence having a higher prevalence on college campuses, colleges need to begin working towards maintaining an image that men and women are equal, and that their presence with one another should not always be considered as intimate.

One of the largest issues with the millennial generation is the idea that females and males cannot be platonic with one another. When men and women are seen in public together, millennials assume that they are in a romantic relationship and that they cannot just simply be friends — one could even argue that they automatically must have feelings for one another.

The fact that men and women cannot be viewed as friends is another reason why the Pence rule exists in the first place. There is a sense of distrust of men and women being alone, solely because of their sexes. How can the problem be solved if people believe that men and women cannot be trusted alone?

Change begins at the collegiate level — students must be the first to stop seeing one-on-one interactions between the sexes as purely romantic. The constant fear in a college environment, that men are out to get women, requires students to be trained on sexual assault, warning women to be careful of being drugged at parties and of being alone with a boy.

The culture of college campuses should not require another male to be present in an interaction between a male and a female, just to avoid potential sexual assault claims. If students can be the first to stop this perception and culture of sexual violence on college campuses, there should be no need for the Pence rule.

But to change the culture on college campuses, in regards to relationships between men and women, a multitude of things must be done. Males need to stop seeing females as sex objects and women need to be seen as equal to men; colleges can work towards implementing feminist groups onto their campuses to support both sexes. Institutions can educate their students on what constitutes as sexual violence, encourage men and women to pursue nonsexual relationships and work towards removing the stigma that millennials have generated concerning one-on-one opposite-sex interactions.

Starting at the college level, these issues can be addressed so that they stop growing into societal norms in the future. By eliminating the Pence rule, female students will have the opportunity to pursue platonic and sexual relationships without worrying about how male students or even professors are viewing them. Women will have the opportunity to be with men without feeling a sense of oppression that the Pence rule embodies.

Katie Lommen, Saint Louis University

Writer Profile

Katie Lommen

Saint Louis University
Communication and Psychology

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