Musings on “campus safety” and syllabus statements

safety

photo credit: fastweb.com

Chris Linder
August 8, 2019

Reason #462 I shouldn’t check Facebook before I head to bed.

Tonight, just as I was about to head up to bed, one of my colleagues posted an article from the Salt Lake Tribune about a safety statement professors at the U of U are expected to put their syllabi this fall. It appears the faculty and student senates came together to craft the language for the safety statement and both groups passed legislation requesting that the statement be “required” in all campus syllabi. I put required in quotes because requiring faculty to do anything is next to impossible, especially when it comes to our precious syllabi!

Historically, I have been a fan of syllabus statements and have appreciated the opportunity to tailor my syllabi to include information I think is important for students to consider/know/think about. I like it when people share language they use in their syllabi as something for me to consider. I include a land and labor statement in my syllabi as well as information about resilience and self-care (I teach some pretty emotionally heavy topics). I am a bit concerned about “requiring” faculty to put things in their syllabi because it could result in misinformation or a false sense of awareness about a topic we are actually unaware of.  All of that said, my concerns this time are different.

I shared the Tribune article with a few of my concerns on my own Facebook timeline, and then worried about whether I’d offended the wrong people – that is, the people with power. I am going up for tenure and promotion this year, so I have some concerns about ruffling the wrong feathers. And I always have concerns about being a broken record that people stop listening to – being “that person” who is so “angry all the time.” But damn, there are plenty of things to be angry about! Ultimately, my need to speak up outweighed my concern to be quiet. Suffice it to say, the thoughts rolling around in my head, both about being heard and about how to do better, kept me up for a while…long enough to make me pull out my computer to write down my thoughts and feelings.

The statement we are required to put into our syllabi says, “The University of Utah values the safety of all campus community members. To report suspicious activity or to request a courtesy escort, call campus police at 801-585-COPS (801-585-2677). You will receive important emergency alerts and safety messages regarding campus safety via text message. For more information regarding safety and to view available training resources, including helpful videos, visit safeu.utah.edu.”

When I received the email indicating that this should be in our syllabi, a part of me thought, “hmmm…I wonder if this is about all of the women murdered by former intimate partners over the past year…” then, I thought, “no way…this says nothing about intimate partner violence. It can’t be. It must be just another ‘safety’ precaution box we’re checking to make the lawyers happy.” (Note: This summer, we were also required to watch a “safety” video that also said nothing directly about intimate partner violence (IPV), but was about “firearms on campus.” While firearms play a huge role in IPV, the video said nothing about this, so again, I assumed it was just a generic “safety” video…now I’m questioning that assumption.)

The article in the Tribune indicated that “The idea came out of a task force formed to focus on security after the murder of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey last fall. About a year before that, ChenWei Guo, an international student, was shot to death on campus. And since, two women — Sarah Hawley and MacKenzie Lueck — have been killed.” Three of these four deaths were murders committed by current and former intimate partners or people that these women were in relationship with.

So, here’s my concern: Yes, we must talk about safety. We must talk about violence in all of its forms.  However, we’re doing a whole lot of talking about generic “safety” which actually doesn’t help in situations like these.

UT has an exceptionally high rate of intimate partner violence – statistics indicate that 1 in 3 women in UT will experience IPV; nationally, that number is closer to 1 in 4.

Additionally, more than half of women who die by homicide are killed by former or current intimate partners. This number likely includes cis and trans women, though we cannot be sure because many studies fail to account for the experiences of trans people. And although as a culture we do a horrific job of collecting data about the experiences of transgender people, we also know that violence directed at trans women is exceptionally high, especially trans women of color.

As I review the ideas put forth by safety task force after safety task force, as I sit in meetings with other well-intended people who genuinely want to make our campuses safer, very, very few of us are actually talking about safety as it relates to IPV. In fact, the very use of the word “safety” is likely a problem.

When people think of safety, especially “safety on campus,” they immediately jump to blue lights and pepper spray – things that are important to protect oneself from strangers. Ask the average woman student what they do to protect themselves on campus (which is a terrible question by the way…why must women “protect themselves”? But alas, another blog post for another day) and they will give you an elaborate list of all the things they do to protect themselves from strangers: never walk alone at night, carry mace, put my keys between my fingers, talk on the phone when I’m walking, DON’T talk on the phone while I’m walking. The list goes on and on. We know what we’re “supposed” to do to be safe. We don’t need a reminder. We’ve been taught since we were three years old what we should do to protect ourselves from strangers. Very, very few college women will talk about being aware of potential dating partners’ intentions. It just doesn’t cross most people’s minds when they think of “campus safety.”

So, what’s the harm in a campus safety statement like the one we include in our syllabi? Isn’t doing something better than nothing?

I’m not sure that it is. The reality is that we’re (unintentionally) re-enforcing the idea that people – especially women – should protect themselves from strangers by requesting escorts, not walking alone at night, among many other strategies, when strangers are not our biggest threat. The misinformation teaches students to be afraid of the wrong people and to trust the wrong people. This results in more harm. More lethality. Misinformation in the form of perpetuating myths is extremely dangerous.

However, when we challenge stranger danger safety strategies – when we call out well-intended strategies to address campus safety, we immediately get pushback.  Stranger danger safety is the sacred cow of our campus – it makes people feel better because it’s easier. It’s easier to install more blue lights, increase campus escorts, and ask faculty to watch a 2 minute video about firearms than it is to face the reality that the most dangerous people in most women’s lives are also people who also claim to love them. That’s not a reality that any of us want to face, but we must.

As educators at institutions of higher education, we have a responsibility to do better. It is our (along with many others’) responsibility to make students aware that dating violence is a problem. Are we doing that? Maybe. Some of us are trying very hard. And we’re running up against a culture that doesn’t exactly make it easy. A culture that wants to believe that danger is “out there,” not “in here” and that if we take the “right” precautions, we will not be hurt.

How do we do better?

There are lots of ways, but one simple way that I would advocate for is that EVERY. SINGLE. TIME we discuss “safety,” we must note what “danger” really looks like.  Sure, it’s important for people to remain aware of their surroundings and consider using a campus escort system. It’s also really, really, really important for us to name that domestic, interpersonal, and dating violence are extremely common in UT, and among college students, and that perpetrators do not discriminate – they target college women, middle class women, poor women, women of color, women with disabilities – they target all women. This is not an issue that only happens “out there.” It happens right here. Right now. All of the time. We have to be clear about this – not to scare students, but to give them accurate information about the realities of “safety” on campus. And possibly even more important, to help women who experience IPV know that their experience is real and not something they are imagining.

Here is the note I added in my syllabus to help with this:

*Note from Chris: As you think about this statement, please be mindful of what and how we have learned what “suspicious” is, being sure to consider how our biases related to race and immigration influence our perceptions of “suspicious.” Additionally, please remember that the vast majority of violence is committed by a person known to the victim – stranger violence is very rare. While stranger violence should be taken seriously, so should the threat of violence committed by people with whom we are in relationship.

So, the next time you find yourself wanting to warn students – especially women students – not to walk alone at night, be sure you also remind them to pay attention to their guts when they’re engaging with their “friends.” Remind them that it’s always important to be aware of their surroundings, AND most violence directed toward women comes from people they are in relationship with, not strangers.

And for goddesses’ sake, put whatever the heck you want in your syllabi – just make sure it’s accurate and clear!

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Sexual Violence is an Equity Issue

NOTE: This blog is cross-posted at Emerald Publishing Real World Impact blog, the publisher of my new book, Sexual Violence on Campus: Power-Conscious Approaches to Awareness, Prevention, and Response.

To more effectively address sexual violence, educators and administrators must consider sexual violence as an equity issue rooted in issues of power, oppression, and privilege, rather than solely seeing it as a public health issue.  The historical roots of sexual violence as a tool of domination, colonization, and economic control illuminate the ways sexual violence continues to thrive on college campuses today.  By referring to campus sexual violence as a “national epidemic,” researchers, journalists, and activists disassociate campus sexual violence from larger systems of power, privilege, and oppression. Epidemic implies a “short-term, isolated problem”(Deer, 2015, p. ix) and does not take into account how sexual violence has remained a constant form of power and control throughout history.

Although helping people – students, parents, faculty, staff, and policymakers, among others – understand the relationship between power and sexual violence is complicated, failing to do so is unethical.  Rates of sexual violence on college campuses have not changed in over 60 years, meaning that current practices are not effective.  Further, given that perpetrators of sexual violence target those in minoritized communities at higher rates than their dominant group peers, considering sexual violence a manifestation of power, dominance, and oppression may not be so difficult to understand and present.

Although every campus has unique dynamics requiring specific interventions on that campus, here I offer three specific strategies for administrators who want to more effectively address sexual violence from a power-conscious lens:

  1. Design interventions to more effectively intervene with perpetrators and potential perpetrators. As college and university administrators and educators, we have a responsibility to more effectively intervene and stop perpetrators from causing harm, rather than just removing them from our campuses and pushing them into another community to continue causing harm.  Although our knowledge on campus perpetrators is limited, some evidence points to the reality that many campus perpetrators do not understand their problematic behavior as an act of power and control.  Designing workshops, programs, and one-on-one interventions to engage perpetrators and potential perpetrators around their harmful behaviors requires us to move away from the bad guy vs. good guy mentality and consider that many people have been socialized to believe that they are entitled to take what they want from other people through coercion, violence, and manipulation.  Effective interventions address this behavior and mentality and stop it from continuing, rather than just removing or ousting this person from a community.
  2. Provide accurate information to students and parents about the dynamics of sexual violence on campus. Most students have been socialized to think of sexual violence as someone jumping out of the bushes and attacking an unsuspecting woman walking alone at night.  The vast majority of sexual violence on college campuses happens between two people who know each other and who engage in some consensual romantic behaviors.  All the mace, self-defense courses, and tasers in the world likely would not do much to eradicate this kind of violence.  Most people would not use self-defense tactics when engaged with people they have a relationship with.  Further, misperceptions of the dynamics of sexual violence may contribute to increased risk of violence because we teach students to be “afraid” or “on guard” with strangers, but not with people they know or consider friends or acquaintances, making it easier for perpetrators to cause harm to people who have not considered that violence may be perpetrated by someone they know.
  3. Design identity-specific educational programs. Perpetrators target people with minoritized identities at higher rates than their dominant group peers.  For example, bisexual women, gay men, women of color, students with disabilities, and trans and gender non-conforming people all experience higher rates of sexual violence than their white, cisgender, heterosexual non-disabled peers. Despite this reality, most education and awareness programs fail to account for the unique dynamics of violence outside of a heterosexual, cisgender man and woman who have consumed alcohol.  When educational programs do attempt to account for additional identities in their programs, they often just change the visible identities of the people involved in the educational scenario, but leave the dynamics the same.  Although representation matters, so does accuracy – the dynamics of sexual violence and the role of power look different among different groups of people and should be accounted for in educational programs.

Usually, when I offer suggestions like these, one of the first questions I get is, “Do you know of campuses who are doing this?” or “Who is doing this already?” Although there likely are people across the country attempting to implement programs like these, the reality is most of these strategies have not been deemed “best practices” by any organizations yet.  I struggle with the framework of the question of “who is doing this” for a few reasons, but the biggest one is that we seem to be lacking institutional courage – the willingness to be the first ones to try something that hasn’t been tried before.

To more effectively address sexual violence, educators and administrators must embrace their courage: courage to speak truth to power, to try new and innovative approaches, to be bold and different, to take risks, and to embrace the complexity and nuance that challenging power has always required.  There are people working on most of our campuses who have lots of ideas about how to more effectively intervene with perpetrators, how to design accurate, identity-specific educational programs, and do lots of critical, radical work to more effectively address sexual violence.  Student activists, especially those with minoritized identities; educators working in identity-based offices; and ethnic studies and women’s studies faculty who study and live dynamics of power, privilege, and oppression every day know how to address oppression.  We must listen.   We must consider a new paradigm.  Who are the equity experts in your community and how will you engage, support, and listen to them when it comes to addressing sexual violence?

Citations

Deer, S. (2015). The beginning and the end of rape: Confronting sexual violence in Native America.  Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Want to find out more? Listen to our podcast, in which Chris Linder talks with academics and practitioners Susan Marine, Niah Grimes and Marvette Lacy about the importance addressing sexual violence.  

A series of unfortunate and related events…

clery

Photo Credit: http://www.keephersafe.org/know-your-legislation-the-clery-act/

It’s been a rough week here at UGA related to figuring out how to interpret Clery, send appropriate non-victim-blaming notifications, and respond to students demanding a safe campus. I arrived to my women’s studies class about campus sexual violence today and the energy was exceptionally high for a Thursday. Before I could even start class with my usual question of “what have you noticed going on on campus this week related to sexual violence?”, everyone had something to say!

Last week in class, we discussed an article that ran in the local Athens paper about a sexual assault that occurred on campus, yet no campus timely warning had gone out about the assault. The post in the online paper went up and down a couple of times, so I knew something was up. We never received a timely warning.

Fast forward to today, Oct 12, and we all awoke this morning to a timely warning email sent at 6.39 a.m. about a new sexual assault.

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Appropriately, the students in my class were outraged at the victim-blaming tone of the notice, pointing out that we did not need all of the information provided. We were concerned about the impact on the victim to have all of this information publicly shared. Additionally, the students astutely pointed out that by providing unnecessary and extraneous details, the email contributed to a culture in which people treat victims, especially women victims, as dumb and as though they were “asking for it” through various decisions they made. My experience working with victims of sexual assault tells me that they don’t need anyone to tell them what they could have done differently…they have already been over it a million times in their own head. Additionally, the students pointed out that the “safety tips” standard on all of these email alerts also contribute to victim-blaming, insinuating that if a person just abides by these simple safety tips, they won’t be assaulted. These safety tips are geared toward stranger danger, failing to account for the significant number of acquaintance assaults that happen every week on every college campus across the country. The safety tips on UGA’s campus alert emails target potential victims, and do not tell perpetrators to simply stop raping people.

In our discussion about the alert, I asked students, “have you ever responded to one of these?” The look of amazement across their faces saddened me. I realized not a single person in the room – feminist, upper-level women’s studies students – had ever considered the power they had as students to express their concerns to their campus police department. If we live in a climate where even these students feel silenced and unable to act, where are we? What has become of our world?

Interestingly enough, however, the next topic of discussion was about several signs a few students in the class had seen in women’s restrooms in the main classroom building on campus. The signs urged students to contact UGAPD to address their concerns about the lack of timely warning related to the Sept 30 report.

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Of course, I was excited about the student activism I saw in these posters – the students were less excited about that and more outraged at PD for failing to let students know of potential danger.

We continued on in class and as we were discussing our readings a couple of students started getting antsy. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, then one of the students passed me her laptop. The UGA Police Chief sent an email describing the PD’s decision not to send the timely warning on Sept 30.

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Discussion ensued. Students felt hurt at the flippant response, interpreted the email as the police indicating the victim was lying, and noted that the fact that both of these emails went out today may result in increased victim-blaming and beliefs that victims would not be assaulted if they just made better choices.

I have a love-hate relationship with Clery notifications. Of course, I appreciate the intention behind the law – to keep campus community members informed and aware of potentially dangerous situations. However, my concern with Clery notifications is that they almost always go out in stranger sexual assault situations because the requirement is that universities send a notification if there is a “continued threat” of harm. This “threat” is frequently interpreted as someone who has not yet been identified by police, who is often a stranger to the victim. Unfortunately, in many cases, they are also non-students, which further perpetuates the idea that students should be afraid of strangers and “those creepy guys” and not their peers on campus. While I would never advocate that students should not be cautious around people they do not know, I also believe that by teaching students that assault is only or mostly perpetuated by strangers, we are actually increasing the risk of sexual violence. The vast majority of sexual assault on a college campuses is perpetuated by a person known to the victim (90%) and when we perpetuate myths of stranger danger, we fail to remind students about the ways in which they could be harmed by people close to them. And while it is never a victim’s responsibility to prevent sexual assault, the stranger danger myth also has implications for bystander intervention. When students are led to believe that sexual assaults are committed by strangers, they also fail to intervene in potential situations in which a peer may be trying to cause harm to another student.

And don’t even get me started on the identity implications of the “stranger danger” myth. When the majority of alerts that go out include a racial descriptor for perpetrators of color and no racial descriptor for white perpetrators, who do you think are seen as perpetrators on our campuses?

So, what is the answer? Do we stop sending Clery notifications? When do we send them? What information do we include? I don’t envy the people who have to make these decisions on a daily basis. I know it is hard. However, I do think there are ways to do it better.

First of all, one person should not be responsible for making the decision about what goes out and how it is shared. Certainly, the police department is one of the parties responsible for ensuring that the institution is following policy and attempting to keep students safe. However, many people may be involved in discussing what goes out, when, and why. What if we sent a notification every time an acquaintance assault was reported? How would that change the perception of the dynamics of sexual assault on campus? There is no need to share a lot of detail – rather, just that an assault was reported and that it happened between two people who knew each other.

Next, it could be helpful to involve victim advocates in the process of writing the emails that do go out. The timely warnings are often triggering for survivors and may unintentionally perpetuate victim-blaming. I have been collecting Clery emails from former students and colleagues across the country this fall and have been impressed with some of the ways institutions have been doing their timely warnings. For example, the University of Iowa includes a “trigger warning” at the beginning of their emails that reads, “Trigger Warning: This warning addresses a report of sexual misconduct.
Resources are available on and off campus to provide assistance.” The email then lists those resources. Similarly, Miami University emails are on two pages, so that the person has to scroll down to actually read the notification, giving them time to prepare themselves and decide if it is an ok time for them to read the notification.

The University of Michigan includes information about consent and accurate dynamics of sexual assault:

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Although there is no perfect solution to this, we must do better. We must figure out a way to help students have an accurate picture of the dynamics of sexual violence on campus. Further, we must also ensure survivors and their narratives are centered and protected in these notifications. Further victimizing or blaming victims for sexual assault perpetuates rape culture and allows perpetrators to continue to get away with committing sexual assault.

Dear Doctoral Students…on timelines and writing and boundaries, oh my!

spiral clock

Dear Doctoral Students,

I love you. I really, really, really do. Ask my friends and family how much I talk about you. I am a proud faculty member who thinks the world of her students and their work. I want you to have high-quality work of which you can be proud. And I need you to know that this is extremely time-consuming, even more than any of us think. We all have a tendency to under-estimate how long writing takes. I am just as guilty as any of us of thinking I’m going to finish something well before I actually finish it.

I am writing this blog to provide some context for the writing process and how long things actually take.

Let’s start here:

I know you really, really, really want to graduate or defend by XX date for lots and lots of personal, financial, emotional, mental, and other reasons. That is fine. And real. And everyone has reasons that need to be honored. Let’s do it. Plan backwards. And count twice as long as you think it will take to get to that timeline. For dissertations, you must have a complete draft of the dissertation ready eight weeks before the graduate school deadline for submission of the dissertation. This means you should have a draft of Chapter 4 at least 12 weeks before the deadline and a draft of Chapter 5 10 weeks before. Basically, this means that if you want to graduate in May, you should plan to have a draft of everything by the time you start the semester in January.

Similarly, if there are no graduate school deadlines, you should have a complete draft of everything together (that I have seen at least 2-3 times prior in various chunks) at least a month before you want to defend.

Why?

Two reasons: Feedback takes time and your work involves a lot of people!

The most important part of any writing is the feedback process. Anything I write for publication usually goes through about six to eight rounds of edits. It starts with my writing group, then goes to a conference outlet (2 rounds of feedback), then I will submit it to a journal. At the journal stage, if I am lucky, I’ll get a revise and resubmit on the first go ‘round. Then there are at least two, sometimes three, rounds of feedback between me and the reviewers. This takes at least a year – sometimes 18 months to 2 years. Your process will likely be similar. You start something in a class, get some feedback, get it to your advisor, get some feedback (a few rounds of it), then send it to the committee to get more feedback. This is how ideas evolve and get stronger. It’s the most important part of the process, so plan for it.

You and I will likely go back and forth on drafts at least four or five times before it goes to your committee. This means you have to send me something so I can get you feedback and you can keep working on it. Don’t sit on it. Send it!!

Secondly, these timelines are important because your committee needs any document you plan to “defend” or discuss with them at least two weeks before the meeting – no exceptions. Additionally, if graduate school paperwork is required (oral prelims and final dissertations), that is a 3-week window – no exceptions. This is out of respect for other people’s time. Our academic advisor and your committee members work with a lot of students, and almost every single one asks for an exception. Imagine what this would feel like.

It is my practice to send something to the committee only when it is ready and we don’t schedule a defense until the document is ready – that is the reward for finishing the writing. I know this looks different for different advisors, so it may be different for some of your peers in the same program. Here’s my philosophy on this: It is really difficult to provide feedback on a document that is less than clear and your study will be improved dramatically if you give your best work to the committee to provide you feedback on. I have been in too many defenses (and read too many documents) where the student’s work was not as strong as it could be, and I could not provide good feedback because it simply wasn’t ready to be defended. Additionally, your committee’s job is to provide feedback on the big ideas, study design, and conceptual framework, not the details of clarity of writing, etc. That is my job. Let me do it. If you’re not comfortable with this philosophy, that’s ok too. You are welcome to choose an advisor whose philosophy is more in line with yours.

Setting boundaries is one of the most difficult parts of my job. I really hate it when I have to tell a student, “no, we can’t do that on that timeline.” It makes me feel anxious, and I reflect for days whether there was something I could have done differently to help that student get to their timeline. But if I don’t set boundaries, I perpetuate the cycle of frantic overworking, which is not good for any of us. First, it short-changes your work and teaches you really bad habits. Your work doesn’t get the thinking time it deserves and needs. Next, I get crabby, you get less than stellar advising because I’m not taking the time you deserve, and you don’t have the quality of product you can and should have.

So, plan ahead. Write early and often. You know the drill. Deep breaths. It will be ok. Things will get done.

Writing is a beautiful struggle. And adding into the mix graduate school deadlines and committees certainly takes some of the beauty out of it. It moves from an organic process to one that is on someone else’s timeline with a lot of additional stipulations. I get it. And, it’s the process you signed up for. So, let’s embrace it and do it.

Title IX

www.antialcohol.com

This blogpost is cross-posted on the ACPA Coalition for Women’s Identities’ Blog

As attention to campus sexual violence has increased in the past few years, like many in higher education, I have been both excited and anxious. In many ways, campus sexual violence receiving increased attention from mainstream outlets like media and policy-makers is a welcome change. Maybe people are finally listening to activists who have been attempting to raise awareness about this issue for decades and centuries. In other ways, this attention results in many people who have the power to make change (i.e., policy makers) jumping in too quickly, without a deep enough understanding of the complexities of sexual violence, resulting in less than effective, and sometimes even harmful, strategies for addressing sexual violence.

In many cases, administrators and lawmakers have responded to activists’ demands for increased accountability of perpetrators by creating more policy. Policy is frequently seen as an effective way to address a problem because many people consider policy to be value-free, objective, and the final say. I argue policy is anything but value-free and objective and is frequently applied and interpreted in a variety of ways by people responsible for enforcing it. Additionally, focusing on policy, including the development, application, and enforcement of it, results in people shifting time and energy into logistics, rather than people. While policy should certainly be a part of a comprehensive effort to address sexual assault, it cannot be all of our work and certainly should not consume all of our time and energy.

Overrelying on policy to address sexual violence has significant implications.

First, overreliance on policy distracts campus leaders from addressing a problem because they’re worried about enforcing a policy. I recently read an article in Inside Higher Ed about how campus leaders should address campus sexual assault after the recent election, including changes in key players associated with the Title IX and the Office of Civil Rights (key players in the way administrators are addressing sexual violence). A quote from one of the campus presents was telling, “There are rumors that they’re going to lessen what we have to do. So we are potentially going to need to be far more assertive and far more vocal.” I was struck by the language “have to do.” I’m sure this president was well-intended and was clearly advocating for leaders to do work related sexual violence, whether required or not; yet, I find that I often hear campus administrators, educators, and activists using compliance-related language to describe campus sexual violence efforts. What does it mean when we approach campus sexual violence from a “have to” place rather than a “should do” place? This is one significant problem with policy – people end up focusing on what they “have to do” rather than what they should be doing because it will address the problem at hand, policy or not. And the reality is that the “should be doing” will change and evolve much more quickly than policy can keep up with.

Second, policy focuses on sexual violence on singular campuses and instances, rather than as a bigger problem impacting all campuses (and society at large). Policy is typically rooted in a response to a problem, which often focuses on very specific instances of a problem. An example of this is that activists frequently demand expulsion of sexual assault perpetrators as the appropriate response to sexual violence. While this is certainly one response, and often the best response for the survivor of that perpetrator to feel safe, I worry that expulsion frequently results in that perpetrator going to another campus and committing more harm. Research indicates that most campus perpetrators are serial perpetrators, which means that if they leave one campus, they may go to another and commit the same crime. Further, if they aren’t welcomed on a campus at all, they will likely still commit sexual violence in the community of which they are a member. Imagine if responding to a perpetrator of sexual violence included rehabilitation and community accountability, not just expulsion. Imagine if we worked as hard on identifying and intervening with potential perpetrators as we do on creating policies to exclude perpetrators from particular campuses, or even campuses broadly.

Finally, policy and enforcement privileges people with power. Throughout history, law and policy have been written with people with dominant identities in mind (white, cisgender, heterosexual, Christian, middle-class people). There is really no such thing as “neutral” or “value-free.” Given the way our society functions, “neutral” is really code for “dominant” (often coded with language “typical” or “normal”). As Iverson illustrates in a discourse analysis of sexual violence policy, language used in sexual violence policy results in policies being anything but “neutral.” Additionally, the historical context in which sexual violence laws were written indicates that sexual violence laws were written to center wealthy white fathers. The original sexual violence laws in the U.S. were rooted in property law – sexual assault was a violation was of the father or husband of a girl or woman who was assaulted, with the assumption being that his “property” of his daughter was devalued because she was no longer “pure” enough to be married off to a “good” (i.e., white, middle-class, Christian) man. Today, this translates to victims of sexual violence being taken more seriously if they were virgins when they were assaulted or if they are considered “good” girls by society’s dominant norms.

Where does this leave us?

We must ensure that policy is a floor, not a ceiling, in our campuses sexual violence prevention and response efforts. When we use language like “have to,” we should stop and think for a minute. Even if we “have to do” something, what else “should” we be doing? And why? And how can we make it happen? What are the other necessary components of addressing sexual violence that go with this policy? What is the purpose of the policy? Sometimes understanding the why can help turn the “have to” into a “want to.”

Next, what would it mean to have power-conscious policy? What does it look like to consider ways that different people experience sexual violence when writing policy? Sure, gender-neutral language is a place to start. But what about additional identities? What about the enforcement of this policy? Just because the policy doesn’t say man as perpetrator, woman as victim, doesn’t mean that it’s not enforced that way. What strategies do you use to complicate the nature of sexual assault policy?

 

Both/And…a Critique of our Resistance

Tonight I had the opportunity to participate in the U Penn Race and Equity Center’s Teach-In on the Presidential Executive Order with students and colleagues at UGA. I took a lot from the teach-in, primarily the significance of historicizing current events and the importance of intersectionality in our movements related to equity.

And as always, I left grateful for the CSAA-D community of scholars I get to engage with on a regular basis, students who challenge my faculty privilege and remind me how hard it is for them to speak up in an overly-cautious, status quo, “safe,” political environment like UGA.

Our discussion tonight reminded me of a blog post I wrote for OPEN a few weeks ago. I am reposting the blog here because it connects to some of the discussion we had after the teach-in tonight. Dr. Shirin Vossoughi’s insights that critique and resistance are not mutually exclusive and that pedagogy is a form of resistance resonated with me in profound ways. I appreciated these comments because I have been hesitant to share too widely my critiques of our sudden concern for national politics given that my critique can seem like I don’t care about the very real impact the new administration’s policies are having on people’s lives. As students in my classes know, my motto is both/and….we can do both. In fact, we should be the most critical of the things we love the most. So, thank you Dr. Vossoughi and CSAA-D students for the reminder of the both/and. I can both critique our collective resistance AND participate in it. I share this here in hopes that these unpolished thoughts may contribute something to the conversation about our collective resistance to keep us moving forward.

The original blog post:

Resistant would be a word to describe my response to the drama created by our national politics since the past summer when the media started giving way too much attention to Donald Trump. Not resistant like the activism-related resistance, but resistant, like I don’t want to engage. I don’t want to participate. So, I’m engaging my resistance. I’m going there….trying to figure out why it is that I am so resistant to talking about national politics. And I’m choosing to be vulnerable and reflect on this in a semi-public forum as a way to model what it looks like to engage our resistance, to try to get at the root of our issues, to learn from each other’s processes and experiences.

I despise talking about “the election” and most national politics. And I’m not interested in debating the harm this president may cause or the pain that so many people have already experienced. I do have concerns about the reality that almost half of the American population voted for someone who is openly racist, homophobic, transphobic, islamaphobic, ableist, and admits to regularly committing sexual violence, among many, many other things. Even if this is not why they voted for him, they did vote for him despite these tings. I am also concerned about the ways his behavior may impact some very vulnerable populations in “our” country.

I am interested in engaging in a discussion about the ways “mostly privileged” people (like me!) have got to wake up and stay woke.

I have been having a difficult time articulating my resistance to engaging in conversations about national politics, at first thinking it was about the significance of doing work in our local communities, but more recently, I have realized it is something else.

I am resistant to discussing national politics and “this election” because I am still ANGRY and hurt that this is what it took for so many of us to WAKE UP! I know that I should want to engage – that it shouldn’t matter what it took –the fact that people finally care should make me happy. It doesn’t. It makes me angry. And sad. And skeptical and distrustful.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch ABC’s Black-ish episode, Lemons, in response to the election, please do so. It captures the complexity of the world in which we’re living. The point is that many of us have not been listening to each other – we’ve been living in our own bubbles and we’ve long ignored the oppression going on in the world around us. Specifically, those of us with many dominant identities (educated, middle-class, white and cis) have NOT paid attention to the ways in which people around us experience the world. It took this election for mostly privileged people to actually consider (not understand) what people from marginalized communities have been screaming at the top of their lungs for decades and centuries. Day-to-day oppression is real. And it is perpetuated in day-to-day behaviors of regular, ordinary, well-meaning, well-intended “progressive” and “liberal” people.

So, I’m resistant. I’m resistant because when I get on Facebook, most of the headlines I see are click-batey headlines, leading us to believe things are way more dramatic than they are. And people “on the left” are just as guilty, if not more, of instigating drama as the people they/we think they/we are “fighting” against. A recent example of this was from the night after the Republicans got together to discuss repealing the ACA (the Affordable Care Act for folks who may have missed the actual name of the law). Many headlines the following morning read something like this, “Republicans voted to repeal Obamacare while you were sleeping.” First of all, it is not Obamacare. It is the Affordable Care Act. Calling it Obamacare contributes to people dismissing it just because they don’t “like” Obama. Next, Republican lawmakers cannot repeal something overnight! They got together to see where they as a group stood on things. Repealing the ACA takes a lot more steps than an overnight vote by one group of people. Yes, it is scary. And yes, I do believe this administration has the potential to cause significant harm by doing things like repealing the ACA. AND we must have accurate information (and a basic understanding of how the government works – hello, high school civics class!) to address the very real issues that are going to impact us for the next four years.

However, I would argue that these “issues” have not been impacting “us” for far longer than Donald Trump has been on the scene and will continue to plague us far longer than he will be president if we don’t start paying attention to each other. Our individual and collective privilege prevented us (mostly privileged people) from understanding the very real oppression around us. Until it was blatant, embarrassing, and directly impacting mostly-privileged people (e.g. white middle-class, educated, able-bodied cisgender women and gay men), it wasn’t urgent.

So, what do we do?

Reading headlines on Facebook does not make us civically engaged. Does it help? Yes, it is a start. But we need to click on those headlines, do some digging, and for goddesses sake, read news from multiple sources, including “reputable” news sources and grassroots organizations who represent the concerns of those most marginalized in our culture. I find Colorlines to be a place that provides a clear, concise, intersectional analysis of what is going on in the world.

And we show up. Authentically. Consistently. Vulnerably. Even when it is not popular or visible to show up or speak up. It means interrupting the everyday status quo. It means amplifying (not speaking for!) the voices of people with less access to power than us. It means paying attention and digging deep. It means sitting back and shutting up. It means admitting our mistakes and looking for opportunities to grow beyond our own experiences and worldviews.

It means being open to shifting how we think about things and talking with others about how we do that. Steve presented an excellent example of growth on this very blog a few weeks ago when he vulnerably shared how he learned about polyamorous communities and how a previous post he shared may have hurt or marginalized people he did not intend to marginalize. Educator and activist Franchesca Ramsey also illustrated this when members of the trans* community shared with her that she caused harm through one of her videos. She immediately apologized and discussed how this experience helped her shift her perspective. It is unfortunate that so much learning has to come at the expense of marginalized people, yet it is worse for the learning opportunities to be there and be ignored by people with dominant identities.

It means engaging our resistance. Asking the questions, “Why do I feel defensive? Why am I resisting this conversation?” It means simultaneously making everything about you and NOT making everything about you.

So, I may still resist engaging in discussions about national politics. Consider this a part of my resistance – the activism kind of resistance. I’ll continue to resist engaging in a dramatic fashion – ways that are here today and gone tomorrow. I’ll continue to engage in my kind of resistance. Educating people around me. Interrupting the status quo. Centering and de-centering power in my research and teaching. Getting out of the way. Naming oppressive behaviors. Figuring out ways to do better when I’m the one oppressing. And paying attention to people whose experiences are far different than mine. To people who are putting it all on the line for those of us who are mostly privileged to learn.

 

 

 

 

 

What is an “Associate Professor”? And Tenure? And Promotion?

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When I first accepted my job at UGA and shared with my dad that I was going to be an Assistant Professor, his first question to me was “assistant to who?” My dad is a smart guy – brilliant I would say, but the ways we do things in higher education are bizarre. And sometimes we don’t even know how bizarre until we stop and listen to ourselves talk or someone asks us a question like that (I know my first gen scholar friends can relate!). So, this post is for my friends and family who don’t work in higher education. I am going share my interpretation the concepts of “promotion and tenure,” though I’m sure there are people who would argue with my interpretations!

Promotion and tenure are two separate things, but frequently come together. Promotion means that I am moving from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor (after a few more years, I will have the opportunity to become a “Full” Professor, which most people just call “Professor”). Technically, the criteria for being promoted to an Associate Professor at my institution means that I have an “emerging national reputation.” As you can imagine, this is difficult to measure. Based on whose or what standards? What is “emerging”? What kind of “reputation”? Those of you who are my friends (and haven’t hidden me!) on Facebook could probably summarize my “reputation” in a few words…it tends to come through rather quickly in this arena and a few others. Unfortunately, Facebook likes and Twitter retweets don’t count for much in the promotion process (though I did include the number of Twitter followers I have in my packet of materials!).

To earn this promotion, I did a bunch of research, teaching, and “service” (academic speak for being on committees on and off campus related to my research and teaching) for the past several years and then I wrote up a 12-page document trying to synthesize this work and demonstrate its “impact” on my field of scholarship – higher education and student affairs. This packet of information was then sent to other professors in my field for them to assess it – these are called external reviews. I don’t get to know who my external reviewers are or read the letters they write in support (or not) of my work. These external review letters get put with the packet of information I submitted about my impact, and then the whole packet starts making its way through the academic ranks – first the department I work in votes on the packet, then the College of Education committee, then the University Committee, then the President signs off on it. After each of these committees reviewed and voted on whether I have made sufficient progress toward an “emerging national reputation,” I was promoted. That is the first part.

Tenure is something else – and is a bit more contentious. Tenure means that my colleagues value my work and contributions to the institution enough that they think I should stick around. Tenure means that a faculty member cannot be fired unless they do something really awful (like embezzle money or plagiarize). The point is to protect faculty members who study topics that go “against the grain” of society, to make it ok for us to push on things, to say unpopular opinions without fear of being fired, to make people think about things they haven’t thought of before. Specifically, this is supposed to protect those of us who challenge power and authority and who share ideas that may not be well-received by some people, especially people with power. The idea behind this is that it will advance us as a society – that by exploring new and controversial ideas, new ways of thinking, being, and doing will emerge.

You can see how this could be somewhat controversial. Some people perceive tenure gives permission for professors to be promoted, then stop working. And, just like with every practice, there are some who, in fact, try to do this. However, there are measures in place to stop this from happening – post-tenure review requires that faculty continue publishing and teaching to keep their jobs.

Next, does it really work? Are people who speak up really protected from being fired or promoted? How do social identities play into this? There is lots of evidence that white people and men are more likely to be appointed to tenure-track positions and to earn tenure than people of color and/or women. (C’mon, you really didn’t think I could write a whole blog post without talking about power did you?!). And there are lots of coded reasons that women and people of color are less likely to be tenured – primarily that a group of people who already have something voting on whether someone else should get that. And, we know that we often favor people who are like us in job processes, including the promotion and tenure process.

I’m not saying I didn’t earn this tenure – I did. I worked hard. I wrote a lot. I spent a lot of time and mental and emotional energy with my students and in my classes (a highly gendered experience!). I am, however, saying that some of the advantages I have as a nice white lady set me up to do well in this process. All I had to do was work hard and write a lot. I didn’t have to deal with as much extra BS as some of my friends of color and trans* friends in similar positions as me.

For example, I haven’t really held much back pre-tenure about my thinking about “controversial” issues because it’s just who I am. And I have been “protected” in many ways because of my social identities and access to power. As a white person, other white people (generally the people with power) are more comfortable hearing about “diversity” (my topic) from me than they are my colleagues of color. I am not threatening because they do not perceive me as angry. I AM angry, but because I’m white and a cisgender woman, people don’t always perceive me that way, or if they do, they don’t see it as scary.

So, what do I think of this? I think promotion and tenure are a big deal. I am proud to have reached this next step of my career. I also think we could be doing a better job with it. I think the ways we measure “impact” could be improved. I think that we could do a better job “counting” the extra work that women, people of color, trans* folks, and other minoritized people do in their day-to-day academic jobs.

And I’m going to use this “protection” that I earned to do my part to push us forward. Goddesses know, we have a TON of work to do, inside the academy and out.