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  • Sexual Misconduct Discourses Within a Gendered Campus Environment
  • Kathryn A. E. Enke (bio)

Sexual misconduct on college campuses recently has garnered media, governmental, and research attention (e.g., Reed, 2015; Rosman, 2015; U.S. Department of Justice, 2017; Wooten & Mitchell, 2015). New laws have resulted in increased tracking and reporting of sexual misconduct on college campuses, the creation of Title IX Coordinator positions and offices dedicated to serving the needs of survivors, and high profile cases related to institutions' handling of allegations. Sexual misconduct, within this article, is defined broadly to include sexual harassment, relationship violence, stalking, and sexual assault, a definition in line with guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education (Ali, 2011).

This study was informed by literature about sexual misconduct on college campuses that focuses on the relationship between sexual violence and sexism, hegemonic masculinity, and patriarchy (e.g., Angelone, Mitchell, & Grossi, 2015; Armstrong, Hamilton, & Sweeney, 2006; Jozkowski, 2015; Kilmartin & Berkowitz, 2005). Research confirms that women are more likely to experience and report sexual misconduct than are men (Krebs, Lindquist, Warner, Fisher, & Martin, 2007) and that popular understandings of gender violence are often heterosexist (Wooten, 2015).

This study was focused on the following research question: How do Title IX and sexual misconduct discourses on campus reflect a gendered campus environment? I employed critical discourse analysis as a framework for understanding the relationships between language in use on campus and the social structures, power relationships, and identity work represented within that language. I drew on a Foucauldian perspective that discourse is a system of representation that creates and regulates meaning (Hall, 2001) and on Gee's (2005) assertion that discourse is a tool for making certain things significant or not.

The study was conducted at two single-sex residential Catholic colleges in the Midwestern United States: one a college for men and the other a college for women, which collaborate to provide a coeducational academic experience for students. The colleges are predominately White. Nearly 9 in 10 students come from the Midwest, and just under half identify as Catholic. The colleges are independent, with separate campuses, residential life programs, and facilities, but students attend classes and participate in cocurricular activities at both colleges. The result is an undergraduate experience attentive to the development of women and men as gendered beings in a largely coeducational context. [End Page 479]

Education at Catholic colleges is informed by the Catholic Church's broader perspectives related to women's and men's roles in church and society (Hesse-Biber & Leckenby, 2003; Poulson & Higgins, 2003). Although Catholic colleges interpret and act upon their missions in various ways, Catholic culture is generally conservative with regard to gender roles and sexual norms (Morey & Piderit, 2006; Stetz, 2003). In addition, the Catholic Church's connection to sexual misconduct is fraught, given cases of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, nuns, and monks and subsequent cover-ups (Terry, 2008). American cases of clergy sexual abuse has received wide publicity in the last 15 years. Most popular and research attention, however, has been on sexual misconduct within the Catholic Church rather than on sexual misconduct on Catholic college campuses.


Data were collected through two methods to gain a robust understanding of the ways that students talk about sexual misconduct on campus and ensure construct validity (Yin, 2003). First, I conducted three focus groups with a total of 5 men and 8 women students. (Although gender is fluid, within these single-sex colleges students had to self-identify as "women" or "men" to enroll.) The focus groups were conducted in Fall 2015 using a protocol focused on students' perceptions about sexual misconduct issues on campus. Potential participants were identified when students voluntarily registered for a sexual misconduct prevention session on campus, and in total, 32 students were invited to participate in the focus groups: 9 of the participants were seniors in college, 3 were juniors, and 1 was a sophomore; 8 were White and 5 were students of color; 2 participants were international students, 8 were from Minnesota, and 3 from other states; 8 identified as Roman Catholic, 3 as other Christian denominations, and 2 did not express a religious preference; 1...


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