“Wrong Problem, Wrong Solutions”: Sexual Violence, Neoliberal Universities, and the Affects of Institutional Betrayal

  • Author / Creator
    Gorsak, Paige
  • This thesis explores the affective and political currents of campus rape culture. Paying
    particular attention to neoliberalism’s transformation of Canadian higher education in recent
    decades, the author describes a “marketized” campus environment in which school reputation
    is frequently prioritized above student well-being, as disclosures of sexual violence impact
    university’s standing and enrolment. The author additionally describes how neoliberal
    discourses of risk and responsibility serve to download the responsibility for social harms
    from institutions to individuals. Thus, in the case of campus sexual assault, students bear the
    burden of preventing and managing the aftermath of violence, in a setting where their
    disclosures may be denied or ignored. Drawing on the lived experiences of student victims/
    survivors who sought support from their universities, the project examines how institutional
    betrayal comes to bear on their lives and bodies. Institutional betrayal refers to the harm a
    trusted institution causes to the student, over and above their initial experiences of violence.
    This project’s participants describe campus cultures in which sexual violence was normalized
    or ignored; school staff and services that blamed or punished whistleblowers; and
    institutional policies and practices that caused lasting emotional harm. The author argues that
    Canadian higher educational institutions offer harmful “solutions” to victim/survivors, in part
    because of their ahistorical and apolitical conception of the problem of sexual violence, and
    in part because of the market orientation of the higher education “industry.” Bringing
    survivor testimony into conversation with feminist political theory and theories of affect, the
    author argues that institutional betrayal and neoliberal rape culture are affective phenomena,
    with social, psychic, and embodied components.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2019
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
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