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You have my partner to thank for the above title — the product of a compromise, softening what would have been “The American Sociological Association Doesn’t Care About Survivors Of Sexual Violence” (channeling my pre-MAGA Kanye West on former President George W. Bush’s racism). Though I desperately need to prioritize recovering from a busy, sleep-deprived five days of conferencing, while also finishing up my tenure dossier, annual report, and course prep all in a couple of weeks, I find myself writing another blog post about sexual violence in sociology.
For the first time, I’ve left an ASA annual meeting feeling angry, disappointed, and defeated. Rather than my usual practice of journaling about how great the conference was, and new heights I reached in my career and journey to self-definition as a scholar-activist, I ended up launching into a Twitterstorm about whites’ defensiveness in the face of being called out (or “called in”) for being offensive toward people of color. (I recommended, instead, that whites view this as a courageous act of patience and kindness to hold you accountable, even seeing it as a gift from a person of color who could otherwise dismiss you as hopefully racist. I don’t want to get into specifics here, but suffice it to say the ASA 2018 annual meeting’s theme of Feeling Race was ironically absent from many white conference attendees’ self-reflection during the conference.)
It is the first time I’ve left the conference seriously considering letting my ASA membership lapse and not attending next year’s conference. But, I don’t want to follow the pattern of radical, marginalized sociologists who swear off ASA because it is unwelcoming and conservative, instead attending Association of Black Sociologists, Sociologists for Women in Society, Society for the Study of Social Problems, Humanist Sociology, and/or National Women’s Studies Association conferences. While I fully understand that decision, I don’t want to give ASA the pleasure of my silence and invisibility. You can’t get rid of me that easily.
One ASA staff member asked me not to villainize the organization, which is actually staffed by “allies.” (The quotation marks here reference a direct quote, not me doubting those claims, per se.) My partner asked me to ensure that this blog post be productive — not merely another condemnation of ASA. So, to honor these requests, I want to present an investigation of the evidence — does ASA care about survivors of sexual violence, or not? — rather than jumping to any conclusions (i.e., that it doesn’t).
ASA Cares About Survivors Of Sexual Violence — The Evidence
To offer historical context, ASA meetings are notorious for instances of sexual violence. Two years ago, I found myself gifted with the trust of two survivors who disclosed to me that they had been harassed or raped during prior ASA meetings. The cis male privilege that is perpetually bestowed upon me, despite my queer sexual and gender identities, had long shielded me from recognizing that sexual violence could occur even in sociology contexts. (Just last week, I finally came to terms with the sexual harassment I endured and witnessed during graduate school.) Once I knew these women’s horrific stories, I felt an obligation to call ASA’s and the discipline’s attention to what may be an epidemic, or at least the problem of victims’ fear of reporting. (At the time, ASA’s policy was to notify sociologists accused of sexual violence of the identity of their accuser[s].) In doing so, a dozen other survivors disclosed their own experiences with sexual violence to me, ranging from being choked in the middle of a crowded conference room, to groping, to invitations to hotel rooms, etc.
In the two years since, ASA created an anti-harassment working group to improve the organization’s anti-harassment policy, host workshops on sexual violence at ASA, and provide further recommendations to ASA to better address the issue and support victims. Six scholars with expertise in sexual violence were tapped to generously volunteer their time to help ASA do this work more effectively. A few members of the anti-harassment working group released essays through the organizations Footnotes newsletter:
- Dr. C. Shawn McGuffey, “#MeToo and the ASA Working Group on Harassment“
- Dr. Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev, “Can Anti-Harassment Programs Reduce Sexual Harassment?“
- Dr. Justine E. Tinkler, “Sexual Harassment Training: Promises, Pitfalls, and Future Directions“
Every conference attendee was asked to read the new anti-harassment policy and check a box that indicated they did so and agreed to follow these guidelines during the meeting. The working group created a 2-page document that explains the new policy and what to expect if one reports sexual violence, and offers resources to support survivors during the meeting in Philly and after when they return to their own campus. And, the working group hosted two workshops: 1) Bystander Intervention for Combating Sexual Misconduct in Sociology: Everyone Can Be Part of the Solution (which was cosponsored by Sociologists for Women in Society); and 2) Sexual Harassment in Professional Associations.
In addition to receiving training in handling reports of sexual violence ahead of the conference, ASA staff also passed out copies of the aforementioned 2-page document, as well as copies of Sherry Marts’s (of S*Marts Consulting, LLC) “No Means No: How to Respond to Harassment” guide. (Also see this site and this training.) I also heard several times that “sexual harassment is all ASA has been working on lately,” or “most of ASA staff members’ time has been going to this issue.” And, two ASA staff members kindly attended the Sociologists Against Sexual Violence meeting, held late at night on the Saturday of the conference.
ASA, I will give credit where credit is due. You have stepped up your game. But, it’s not enough, especially in light of other concerning actions and messages I received or witnessed.
ASA Could Care Less About Survivors Of Sexual Violence — The Evidence
I can only imagine the beast of an undertaking it is to plan and host a conference attended by 5,000+ people in a major city. I never saw a staff member sit or stand in one place for longer than an hour before running off somewhere else. To ASA’s credit, it must be incredibly difficult to also be forced to deal with the big flaming turd that was left on their doorstep just days before the meeting: several accusations of harassment were made against gender scholar Michael Kimmel in light of his selection to win the 2018 Jessie Bernard award for enlarging the horizons of the sociological study of women. And, to their credit, I fully recognize that they (as well as the anti-harassment working group and the Jessie Bernard award committee) were left to clean up a mess made by Kimmel’s own institution. With that in mind, I think it is still fair to call out ASA’s failures, at least in hopes to see a much better approach to addressing sexual violence in the future.
Weaknesses Of ASA’s New Policy And Other Documentation
I still have little hope that the anti-harassment policy will do anything to curb the epidemic of sexual violence. The new policy is a slight improvement from the previous protocol for reporting sexual violence, which seemed to automatically reveal the identity of accusers to the accused; the new policy vaguely promises that “Information will be kept confidential to the extent possible.” It seems anonymity is still not offered. Therefore, only a few brave (or naive?) victims will bother reporting. And, it is still too early to tell how many reported cases result in sanctions for the perpetrators and/or justice for the survivors. Many in the discipline are well-versed in the research that suggests that: 1) few victims report sexual violence, 2) even fewer reports are taken seriously, 3) even fewer result in sanctions for the perpetrators, 4) the reporting process serves as a secondary form of trauma, 5) retaliations against accusers are very common. ASA’s reporting system seems to mirror other systems that we already know don’t work.
ASA’s efforts to educate potential and actual victims of sexual violence about how to avoid sexual violence falls into the old trap of placing the burden on victims to end sexual violence. Though the new anti-harassment policy explicitly identifies “unacceptable behaviors,” I do not see an attendant effort to educate potential or actual perpetrators to not rape, assault, or harass. I am worried that ASA is a bit naive in thinking having to read (or, more realistically, skip over) the new policy and checking a box will actually stop sexual predators from harming others. Indeed, I’m sure every perpetrator is aware that sexual assault and rape are illegal and punishable crimes. I am worried the organization fails to acknowledge power dynamics that facilitate sexual violence. For example, the S*Marts Consulting “No Means No” guide seems woefully ignorant of the fact that telling a more senior colleague “don’t talk to me” or “move away from me” won’t be as simple in the face of potential professional consequences or the real threat of intensified harassment or even physical violence. This guide seems to assume embarrassment will be enough to stop a predator in their tracks, or that others will do their job as bystanders to intervene.
Repeated Instances Of Ignoring What Survivors And Allies Want
In mid-July, I invited two ASA staff members to attend Saturday’s Sociologists Against Sexual Violence meeting in large part to be present in case attendees wished to report sexual violence they witnessed or experienced and/or became upset during the conversation. They accepted the invite and offered to provide copies of the aforementioned anti-harassment 2-page document and the “No Means No” guide. The email read: “Just let me know and I’ll make copies according to your preferences.” I declined both, expressing concern that these documents placed all of the burden on potential or actual victims to stop sexual violence and, worse, could be used to blame victims for not taking these actions. So, I was surprised to see that stacks of both documents were held out to me at the beginning of our meeting. “Well, they were already printed,” one staff member said to me, continuing to stare expectantly at me in hopes that my desire to be polite would override my desire to forgo engaging in victim-blaming. I caved, noting that I would hand them out with the caveat that these documents are as problematic as they are helpful. I feared the already tense relationship with ASA would become even worse. Essentially, ASA ignored my “preferences” and put me in a position to be an asshole or to override my convictions.
As the two ASA staff members left the Sociologists Against Sexual Violence meeting, I shouted to their backs that the doors to the Pennsylvania Convention Center were locked keeping some late-arriving attendees out. “Well, they shouldn’t be locked until 11,” was their response. And, they continued walking off to their next engagement. What am I supposed to do with what should be when it wasn’t the case in reality? The next night, during the Sociologists for Trans Justice meeting, the same thing happened. Apparently this was not ASA’s problem — that conference attendees were locked out of the building during officially scheduled meetings.
The next day, a friend texted me about a concerning thread on the notoriously misogynistic, white supremacist, cis- and heterosexist Sociology Job Market Rumors wiki (that has since been deleted):
Mind you, these anonymous, cowardly bigots-as-colleagues have been trashing me and other scholar-activists for years (though the “Grollbaby” reference to me is new). So, this is nothing new nor is it even upsetting anymore. But, what concerns me is that someone from this cesspool of a site attended the Sociologists Against Sexual Violence meeting with the sole purpose of mocking us on the wiki. It violates our sense of trust and privacy, and went against our explicit instruction that nothing of the meeting be discussed online.
I emailed the ASA staff members who attended the meeting. I received the following response:
I am truly sorry to hear this. It saddens me to learn of this violation of trust. Unfortunately, thought, there really isn’t anything ASA can do. This is one of the reasons I’m not a big fan of social media. These days we always have to be prepared for the possibility of something like this everywhere we go.
Maybe they were tired or overwhelmed or truly are pessimistic about their role in fighting sexual violence in sociology. However, I find this defeatist attitude irresponsible on their part. These two staff members sat in the meeting, faced directly with an ASA member who, through tears, said they expected much more from ASA after years of paying dues, giving up time and labor, mentoring students, etc. – what does the organization owe it its members? While I do not expect an immediate solution, I expect ASA to at least take some time to search for potential means to prevent this from occurring in the future, to signal that this behavior is abhorrent. Perhaps attending a meeting of survivors and their allies with the purpose of intimidating them online could constitute a form of harassment and, as such, should be added to the new anti-harassment policy. I cannot help but wonder whether ASA would do more if a white supremacist sociologist did something similar against race scholars of color.
I cannot help but read this is “why I’m not a fan of social media” as a feeble attempt to deflect responsibility. And, the last sentence — telling me to simply be prepared for this everywhere we go — at best reads as resignation and, at worst, reads as alluding that I should have known to expect this given the work I do.
Allusions That There Is A Right Way To Fight Sexual Violence
In light of accusations that Michael Kimmel perpetrated sexual harassment, ASA has attempted to police how survivors and witnesses come forward. Nancy Kidd, executive director of ASA, is quoted saying:
Should a complaint be filed and investigated, through us or other investigative bodies, that leads to a finding of misconduct, ASA will take appropriate action.
What we can take from this is that the anonymous @exposeprof does not warrant ASA concern. Dr. Bee Coston’s brave essay on Medium, accusing Kimmel of harassment, anti-LGBTQ bigotry, sexist discrimination, and stealing students’ work, is not of concern to ASA. Instead, ASA will take seriously reports from those who are brave/naive enough to subject themselves to a confidential-to-a-point reporting system — and, it seems, only those reports ASA deems worthy of investigation.
Through several brief interactions with ASA staff and some members of the anti-harassment working group, it became clear to me that my approach to speaking up about sexual violence in the discipline was deemed radical, perhaps radical enough to prove disruptive. Ahead of the meeting, I received a very suspicious-sounding email about the the call for conference attendees to wear white to raise awareness about sexual violence — was this to target specific members accused of sexual violence? When I responded that we were not interested in devoting attention to any one person accused of sexual violence (when there are so many besides Michael S. Kimmel — Robert Reece, Matthew Hughey, Martin S. Weinberg, John DeLameter, Stephen M. Cohen), and asked whether they’d be willing to take part, I was told “we’ll have to see…” That was the last time we’d communicate about it.
As I noted in my opening here, one ASA staff member privately asked me not to forget that ASA is taking sexual violence seriously, and that I should recognize them as allies rather than enemies. At the time, I saw the genuine pleading behind this exchange. But, subsequently, I began revisiting the conversation as a potential threat — were they saying “don’t make an enemy out of us”? Or, were they alluding that I am a villain here, giving ASA too little credit for what it has done so far?
A couple of members of the working group praised me for my radical approach. But, I had to ask — what about my approach is so radical? As I did the math — #MeTooPhD and Sociologists Against Sexual Violence buttons + a panel on addressing sexual violence + a meeting with survivors and their allies + wearing white to stand with survivors — I wasn’t able to compute what constituted radical activism. I trust that these individuals were being kind, even appreciative, but their compliments add to the sea of others’ opinions about my activism that I have been wading through for a couple of weeks. Many fellow conference-goers stopped me to thank me and commend my bravery. Yet, some leveled veiled criticisms that I was ignoring how Kimmel’s graduate students would be affected (what about the children! what happens if we prevent an accused rapist-thief-bigot-fraud from working with the children!), or not-so-veiled accusations that I was leading mob violence. (Wait — buttons, white clothes, and meetings that were a part of the official ASA program are “mob rule”? Isn’t the mob all of the colleagues and students who protect people like Kimmel despite decades of harassing people?) I am once again frustrated by the extremely low bar for what constitutes activism in sociology.
At the opening of the second of two ASA’s anti-harassment group’s workshops on sexual violence, their previous workshop was described as a success while my #MeTooPhD panel was described as “interesting.” Sure, that could be a genuine read, but it was was much more successful than their workshop, with about 20 people having to sit on the floor or stand because it was so well-attended, and the panel featured not just one perspective on sexual violence but seven. Humbly, I take issue with the mere, potentially passive aggressive description of “interesting.”
Throwing Survivors Under The Bus That ASA Allowed Kimmel To Drive
Perhaps the most insulting to survivors of sexual violence is the handling of the Michael S. Kimmel debacle. Again, I give ASA a pass to the extent that accusations against Kimmel that were finally taken seriously emerged just days before the conference started. (Although I have heard ASA knew much earlier, and there are 2-3 Title IX investigations against Kimmel at SUNY already.) However, what the organization did in light of those accusations was far worse than simply carrying on with the conference as planned.
Ten days before the conference, a Chronicle of Higher Education article was published about new allegations of sexual harassment against Kimmel. In that article, a public statement issued by Kimmel, in which he deferred receiving the Jessie Bernard award by six months, was quoted. The article also notes that ASA agreed to the six-month deadline that Kimmel set for his accusers to formally report the sexual violence he committed to ASA. Interestingly, as Dr. Wendy Simonds noted on Twitter, ASA’s Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE) sets an 18-month time limit for reporting sexual violence; Dr. Simonds also aptly points out a failure of the committee’s guidelines to consider the risks inherent in coming forward against one’s perpetrator (especially without the protection of anonymity) and the power dynamics that prevent victims from doing so.
So, news broke that Kimmel would not attend the conference. And, instead of receiving the Jessie Bernard career award, his public statement would be read during the ASA award ceremony. What occurred, however, was a huge slap in the face to survivors at the ASA meeting. First, as Dr. Simonds tweeted, the program for the formal awards ceremony still announced Kimmel as the award winner.
Sure, so, 10 days wasn’t a lot of time to right this wrong. But, I firmly believe that the labor and costs required to fix this were well worth the effort to not still symbolically give Kimmel the damn award. As with other program corrections, small slips correcting the honor could have been printed and included. Or, better yet, a black marker or stickers could have been used to cross out his name and image. (A non-binary individual can dream… just write “RAPIST” across his image.) I can’t imagine how triggering this could have been for his victims.
Oh — but, maybe someone verbally noted the allegations made against him, and that it remains up in the air whether he should be honored for his scholarly efforts to support women? Thanks again to Dr. Simonds for tweeting video of the announcement:
Michael Kimmel has been selected as this year’s recipient Jessie Bernard award. He is unable to join us today. He asked us to read the following statement on his behalf. ‘I thank the committee and I have decided to defer accepting the award’.
Wait… wait! “He was unable to join us today”? Did he call ASA and say, “sorry, can’t make it — turns out I’m a serial predator, bigot, and a fraud. Hit me up in February with the JB award”? There was zero reference to the allegations. As framed, it seemed he chose to defer receiving the award. Once again, he set the terms and ASA went along with them. There was zero acknowledgement of the survivors who have come forward. Do they get to say “sorry, can’t make it — sociology feels too unsafe, so I’m no longer attending ASA”? Nope. Kimmel’s celebrity remains intact. This was ASA’s biggest “Fuck You” to survivors of sexual violence.
To make up for this, an email was sent from ASA council the day after the conference ended:
Harassment, exploitation, and discrimination are violations of the ASA Code of Ethics and can be fundamentally damaging to the wellbeing of our community. The ASA Council is aware of allegations that have been raised about Professor Michael Kimmel and has voted unanimously to defer delivery of the Jessie Bernard Award until more is known about those allegations. In the coming months, members of Council will be working with the ASA Working Group on Harassment (formed in 2017) to conduct a thorough review of awards policies, nomination and appointment processes, and the process for reporting and responding to ethical violations.
What Would Caring Look Like?
My partner challenged me to do one more thing: articulate suggestions for what could have been done better. He’s right and throwing a tantrum “but I don’t wannaaaaa!” would be irresponsible. So, let me at least try. But, please note I am no expert. For example, I still only have the vaguest idea of what restorative justice and transformative justice are. And, I still roll my eyes when I begrudgingly add “alleged” or “accused” before calling out perpetrators of sexual violence — you know, to avoid being sued and what not.
One thing that has been on my mind is for ASA to take stock of what damage sexual violence has done to the discipline. How many people begrudgingly attend ASA despite feeling unsafe — fearing seeing one’s perpetrator, being victimized (again), investing money, time, and emotional energy in to avoiding sexual violence? How many are extremely selective about when they will attend ASA conferences, and for how long? How many stopped attending ASA because it is simply too unsafe or triggering? And/or attend SWS, NWSA, or other conferences that are more hospitable to survivors? How many will not be attending the ASA 2019 annual meeting after this year’s shit-show? How many have left academia, or at least sociology? How many survivors have left tenure-track positions, contingent positions, or graduate programs? What have been the professional, interpersonal, and personal costs to survivors and their allies? How many sexual predators have gotten away with their crimes without being held accountable?
I’d like to see ASA take seriously survivors’ disclosure that they DO NOT feel safe at ASA meetings. I witnessed one survivor do so — they cannot feign ignorance. Meetings should be restructured accordingly. ASA could create a hospitality suite for survivors for upcoming meetings, hiring rape crisis counselors who are easily identifiable with a button or hat or badge ribbon during ASA annual meetings. ASA could provide a block of hotel rooms at a nearby hotel that won’t be home to conference events and/or a small fund for travel should survivors wish to stay even further away.
Perhaps those accused of sexual violence should be asked to skip the next meeting, especially if the accusers will attend. Or, at a minimum, bar them from staying at the conference hotel. Sure, innocent until proven guilty and all that jazz, but we have to recognize how few survivors are brave enough to come forward and how exceedingly rare it is for such reports to be false. It means those “convicted” should be barred from the meetings indefinitely or at least for some productive length of time, at which point they should be forced to undergo some sort of training for sexual predators. ASA should be sure that the institutions of those accused are aware, perhaps even partnering with them to go beyond addressing sexual violence that occurs during the four days of ASA’s annual conferences.
Frankly, bystander intervention training should be mandatory. Block out one session for all attendees at the 2019 meeting, the 2020 meeting, the 2021 meeting, and so on. Once is not enough for this to sink in. And, bystander intervention methods change and improve over time. Department chairs, administrators, and anyone who serves as a mentor and instructor should be required to attend such training.
Moving forward, I’d like to see ASA amplify the voice and power of survivors not perpetrators. What we saw this year is that the organization gave more space and recognition to Kimmel after a series of allegations were made against him. We saw a refusal for the organization to delete a tweet celebrating an Vox essay by Robert Reece, who called for attending to “gray areas” in obtaining consent for sexual activity and was later outed as a serial rapist and abuser. Meanwhile, ASA never engaged with his accusers on Twitter. And, I’ve yet to see any action or statements released from ASA about Matthew Hughey, John DeLameter, Martin S. Weinberg, or Stephen M. Cohen — either from/about them or from/about those who accused these men of sexual violence.
There are so many experts on sexual violence, gender and violence, sexualities, policy, and organizations within the discipline — ASA could tap more than six people to do this work. (Compare that to the number of people on the ASA Task Force on public sociology.) Maybe it’s worth creating an ASA staff position exclusively for addressing sexual violence. And, surely, it is ASA’s job to look to other models of organizational responses to sexual violence.
That’s it for now. I’m tired, y’all. But, I refuse to give up.
Wear your Cite Black Women t-shirt on Saturday, August 11th!
Sociologists attending one or more of the upcoming conferences in Philadelphia, PA in August — Association for Black Sociologists, American Sociological Association, Society for the Study of Social Problems, Sociologists for Women in Society, Association for the Sociology of Religion, Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction — please take part in the #CiteBlackWomen t-shirt campaign. Purchase your “Cite Black Women” t-shirt immediately so that you can take part. We will wear our cool t-shirts on Saturday, August 11th. Besides taking part in this important cause, doing so is a great excuse to dress a bit more casual for the day. And, the proceeds go to the Winnie Mandela School in Salvador, Bahia.
(And, while you’re at it, please plan to wear any piece of white clothing on Sunday, August 12th in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence in our discipline. And, keep an eye out for #MeTooPhD and Sociologists Against Sexual Violence buttons. See more info here.)
Growing evidence points to yet another way in which Black women’s contributions are devalued and ignored: academic citation rates. Unfortunately, even for those Black women academics who are able to thrive despite subtle and overt efforts to push them out of academia, their work is undercited relative to their white and male counterparts. To put it bluntly, the extent to which one’s publications are cited is a form of professional capital. So, this means that Black women are at yet another disadvantage when it comes to merit reviews, tenure, promotion, awards, grants, invitations, etc. — all of which also translates into yet another mechanism producing racial and gender disparities in income, power, and influence. It is yet another way in which Black women are not recognized for their intellectual and creative works, not compensated for their labor, and not considered worthy of learning from.
It’s simple: Cite Black Women. We have been producing knowledge since we blessed this earth. We theorize, we produce, we revolutionize the world. We do not need mediators. We do not need interpreters. It’s time to disrupt the canon. It’s time to upturn the erasures of history. It’s time to give credit where credit is due.
To be clear, these racial and gender disparities in citation rates undermine the advancement of new knowledge. So, why call for political action to address this matter? Because “[c]itation is political.” This t-shirt campaign is, of course, just a start. But, every movement starts by bringing light to the issue.
The campaign’s broader goals are to encourage academics to make the following commitments:
- Read black women’s work.
- Integrate black women into the core of your syllabus.
- Acknowledge black women’s intellectual production.
- Make space for black women to speak.
- Give black women “the space and time to breathe.”
Beyond buying and wearing the t-shirt, I call upon my fellow sociologists to intentionally and actively counter the systemic erasure of Black women academics’ work. Cite them. Assign their work. Hire them as consultants. Pay them for their labor. Nominate them for awards and elected positions. Include them on conference panels. Invite them to speak on campus. Become familiar with their work, and use whatever your privilege to amplify that work.
Further Reading About The #CiteBlackWomen Campaign:
- “Cite Black Women” by Dr. Christen A. Smith on Afro-Paradise.com
- “‘Cite Black Women’ campaign gains momentum” on Times Higher Education (note: paywall)
- @CiteBlackWomen on Twitter and keep up with the #CiteBlackWomen conversation, especially the weekly #CiteBlackWomenSunday Twitter conversations
- Cite Black Women on Instagram
- Cite Black Women on Facebook
- “#CommunicationSoWhite” by
“Men Set Their Own Cites High: Gender and Self-citation across Fields and over Time” by King, Bergstrom, Correll, Jacquet, and West (2017), Socius 3: 1-22.
- “Include Readings By, About, And For Women On Your New Syllabus” by Eric Anthony Grollman on Conditionally Accepted
- “A Woman’s Work is Never Done, Part II: And Even When It Is, It’s Not on the Syllabus” by Ann M. Little on Historiann.com.
- “The Racial Politics of Citation” by Victor Ray on Conditionally Accepted
Dear University of Richmond President Ronald A. Crutcher,
The following serves as an open letter to you in response to your July 10 opinion piece on The Hetchinger Report entitled, “Defending the ‘right to be here’ on campus.” My hands shake from the building anxiety as I write this public statement of dissent while I should be continuing my pattern of 12-hour days to prepare my tenure dossier.
In your essay, you argue:
Colleges and universities are uniquely positioned, and have an explicit responsibility, to model substantive disagreement and dialogue that foster change — to give students information they can take into the classroom, living room, workplace and voting booth.
The true test of your publicly espoused beliefs about protecting free speech will be whether I am denied tenure in the next few months because of this blog post. Or, when I recently sparked a heated discussion on UR’s faculty listserv about institutionalized racism in higher education (including UR) after innocently sharing our colleague Dr. Bedelia Richard’s blog post on Conditionally Accepted (IHE). Or, in 2016, when I publicly criticized the university for failing to serve UR alumni CC Carreras and Whitney Ralston, who were raped by fellow students, and then blamed by university administration for the sexual violence perpetrated against them. Or even my 2014 blog post criticizing UR trustee Paul Queally for sexist and homophobic remarks that became public news and the university’s failure to distance themselves from such bigotry; since then, Queally has now been elected Rector of the Board of Trustees, and two additional buildings have been named after him. I acknowledge that some will read this blog post — coming after the president and the head of the trustees — might as well be a death-wish.
But, as Black lesbian feminist scholar-activist Audre Lorde aptly penned, “your silence will not protect you.” I see your continued campaign for your vision of free speech to be a threat to my free speech, my safety, and my career. So, writing this essay (and all of the others before it) is a risk — but so, too, is keeping my mouth shut as a good little pre-tenure professor is expected to.
Power And Oppression Are Missing From Your Analysis
Dr. Crutcher, the way that you write and talk about “free speech” treats “both sides” (to quote our nation’s president) as peers, equal in power and status. To you, it seems the Right and the Left, conservatives and liberals have equally valid points and perspectives — and each should be heard. But, all too often, what one “side” (the one on the right) has to say is not simply in opposition to what the other “side” has to say; frequently, conservatives and bigots espouse beliefs that undermine the humanity and safety of marginalized groups. By protecting the “free speech” of people like Charles Murray, you have invited a person whose perspective literally argues that Black people are biologically inferior to whites. This is not productive dialogue, or even disagreement; this is racial violence. Son of Baldwin has a very fitting view here: “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
You miss the important question of who even has the right and ability to speak in the first place. Your note about the practice of disinviting controversial or even offensive speakers fails to acknowledge that marginalized populations are woefully underrepresented among those who have access to a big enough platform to be invited by a college to speak. Certain ways of speaking and types of scholarship are systematically privileged over others. Even in the rare moments that our own university has invited marginalized speakers — like Alicia Garza of #BlackLivesMatter, actress and activist Laverne Cox, and Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas — these individuals have achieved an almost impossible level of visibility for others like them.
You fail to acknowledge the way in which you and UR have privileged the free speech of some over others. In the 2017-2018 speaker series on “Free Speech, Immigration, and Identity,” 4 white cisgender men and 1 Latino cisgender man were featured. This signals to the university that we only value what cis men (especially white cis men) have to say. Apparently what trans women and men, cis women, non-binary and agender folx, and people of color have to say is worthless. If the views of marginalized groups are equally valued, that is not currently reflected in the university’s practices. I’ll go one step further to say that our views should be valued even more to challenge the systemic ways in which our scholarship, creative works, speeches, and communities are devalued, dismissed, or destroyed.
Speech Isn’t Free For People Like Me
In the wake of intensified right-wing assaults on public scholars (particularly women of color), I am shocked that you — as a Black man who wields great power — are currently campaigning to make more space for conservative view points.
As a university president, I expect that you are well-versed in the literature on attacks on scholars by conservatives. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) created an entire site devoted just to the issue of targeted harassment against scholars. The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed have featured multiple essays on the “outrage machine” — a network of conservative journalists who intentionally and systematically spark assaults against public scholars. Scholars (especially those from one or more marginalized communities) who do work on racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, climate change, gun control, abortion, etc. are vulnerable to this manufactured outrage, which then leads to harassment, hate-mail, calls for their termination, bomb-threats, rape-threats, and death-threats. Former Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) President Abby Ferber recently published an essay on the issue: “‘Are You Willing to Die for This Work?’ Public Targeted Online Harassment in Higher Education.”
Her question isn’t an exaggeration. It is literally a question scholars must ask themselves before engaging with the public. The harassment I have endured for a year now recently intensified to the level of threats of violence. I’ve been trolled and mocked by white supremacists and fellow sociologists alike. Our colleague, Dr. Bedelia Richards, received hostility after penning her blog post on institutionalized racism. (She’s fortunate that the “outrage machine” didn’t come for her; it seems the major conservative outlets like Fox News and Washington Times didn’t catch wind of what the conservative student journalists had to say.) Assuming we continue our public writing, this will not be the last time that our “free” speech comes at a cost.
I pray we are never faced with Dr. Ferber’s question. But, at the moment, it seems all that Dr. Richards and I have is prayer because the university is ill-equipped to protect us. You see, as you are demanding free speech for all, you are ignoring that there is a systemic effort to silence us or worse. In order to do more than say you value free speech, you must act to protect free speech. And, increasingly, that means protecting marginalized scholars and students from the hostility we endure when we dare to speak. What will you do to ensure that we live long enough to fully enjoy the right to free speech?
What will you do to prevent students from filming our classes without our knowledge or consent, creating fodder for right-wing attacks? (There is literally a website devoted to shaming and ultimately targeting professors deemed too liberal.) What will you do to end the university’s reliance on student evaluations for tenure and promotion decisions and merit reviews in light of the mounting evidence that these forms really only measure students’ racist, sexist, transphobic, homo- and biphobic, and fatphobic biases? From personal experience, I estimate that the accusations that I am promoting a political agenda, or even a “gay agenda,” in my classes are greatest when I am the least reticent to teach material on which I am an expert. This is an example of university policy that actually emboldens bias and hate speech and silences marginalized individuals. I lose out, and then my marginalized students lose out even more because I still end up centering my classes around what privileged students will object to the least.
As a Black queer non-binary tenure-track professor, I have repeatedly had to choose between my tenureability and my survival. Your campaign for free speech has no bearing on my life when I may lose my job, or even my life, in daring to speak in an institution and a society that demands my silence, invisibility, and conformity. Once again, you cannot continue to peddle these color-, gender-, sexuality-, and class-blind calls for free speech.
Privileged Speech Isn’t Under Threat, But Higher Education Is
What I see from your free speech campaign is a Black, presumably politically liberal university president who is playing into the Right’s efforts to demolish higher education in the US. The very thing you call for — “free speech” — has been turned into a weapon. Dr. Victor Ray (now editor of Conditionally Accepted after I stepped down) wrote an excellent blog post on the topic., “Weaponizing Free Speech”:
This basic pattern has been playing out across colleges and universities recently, as a cottage industry of white liberal columnists regularly castigate undergraduates for interrupting conservative speakers like Charles Murray or Ann Coulter, casting students as unruly, childish and nearly incapable of reason. Thus, the right ends up enlisting liberal commentators to advance their illiberal agenda.
Yet those free speech warriors are nowhere to be found when faculty of color, or those speaking out against racism, are the targets. Typically, here, critics of my position will resort to a “both sides” argument, saying that the left also stifles free speech. At times, this is true. But, to my knowledge, the left has no coordinated national apparatus that specifically and systematically targets individual professors.
Dr. Ray concludes:
It is time to stop assuming good faith in the free speech debate. The right has weaponized free speech, framing campus debates in a way that resonates with liberals to destroy the very things liberals purport to care about. By capitulating to the demands of those who threaten violence against professors, colleges and universities undermine one of their central functions as refuges for debating controversial ideas.
It seems you are playing right into the hands of the Right. But why? Whose right to speech has been denied on UR’s campus? Well, as I noted above, it seems to be Black public scholars like Dr. Richards and me. It seems to be students like CC who point out the persistence of rape culture at UR. It’s others who are not wealthy white cishet men without disabilities — whether student or faculty. I’m sure, given the constraints of being a Black president of a historically white university, it’s you, too.
As the US political climate grows increasingly xenophobic, misogynistic, transphobic, bi- and homophobic, I charge you to prioritize the speech of those of us whose lives are literally at stake for daring to speak our truths. Please stop making a case for conservatives to be heard on campus; they are not a minority simply because their closed-minded views are debunked by rigorous empirical research. As you allude in your title, it is not whites, men, cis people, the wealthy, people without disabilities, and heterosexuals who don’t have a “right to be here” on campus. It is those treated as the Other who are regularly reminded that we are lucky to even be allowed to step foot on campus or, as you alluded in your USA Today opinion piece, that we are simply invited because it’s good for the business. As a condition of the generous gift of no longer being legally barred or slipping through systematic exclusion, we must keep quiet about the microaggressions, discrimination, sexual violence, and harassment we experience at UR.
Your call for free speech threatens to only welcome even more hate-speech and violence without recourse. Oppression is counter to UR’s liberal arts mission and values; as such, the university must create platforms for marginalized students, staff, and faculty to speak without the threat of dismissal or violence. You have got a lot of work to do if you will make a genuine effort to ensure that everyone has a protected right to free speech. I hope you will hear my disagreement with an open-mind, and that you will stand up for me (even if you disagree with my views) when the inevitable backlash comes my way.
Update, 7/29/2018 3:15pm EST:
Note that free speech should be distinguished from academic freedom, where the latter refers to the freedom to share one’s empirically-grounded perspective — freedom from professional consequences or attacks from the public. See Dr. Fulhana Sultana’s insightful 2018 essay on this distinction: “The False Equivalence of Academic Freedom and Free Speech,” in ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 17(2): 228-257. (Download the essay for free here.)
Events Related To Sexual Violence At The American Sociological Association 2018 Annual Meeting (Philly)
For my fellow sociologists planning to attend the 2018 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Philadelphia, I have compiled a list of meetings, workshops, paper sessions, and roundtable presentations related to sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence, the #MeToo movement and other activism to end sexual violence. You may download a PDF version here or see the full list below. These events will also be listed in an upcoming issue of Footnotes.
WEAR WHITE ON SUNDAY, AUGUST 12TH TO SUPPORT SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE.
Sociologists Against Sexual Violence – a proposed new group
Sat, August 11, 8:00 to 10:00pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 104.
Organizers: Eric Anthony Grollman (University of Richmond) and Shantel Gabrieal Buggs (Florida State University)
Given their critical investigation of power, gender, sexuality, and organizations, sociologists are in excellent position to raise public understanding of sexual violence and to inform laws and policies to support survivors and punish perpetrators. Yet, since news broke of then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump’s taped admission of perpetrating sexual violence against multiple women, sociologists were noticeably absent from national discourse on sexual violence. This silence is even more suspect now as a national movement has taken shape (#MeToo), and initiatives focusing on the issue specifically within academia have been launched (#MeTooPhD). In fact, even in the discipline as multiple perpetrators have been identified and victims have voiced their experiences, most sociologists have done little beyond discussion of this epidemic. While public statements are an important first step, sustained action is needed to dismantle the systems that facilitate sexual violence. This meeting is open to sociologists who are interested in brainstorming short- and long-term strategies to address sexual violence both in and through sociology.
#MeTooPhD: Addressing Sexual Violence in and through Sociology
Sat, August 11, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Street Level, 104A
Organizer and Presider: Eric Anthony Grollman (University of Richmond)
- Irene Shankar (Mount Royal University)
- Shawn McGuffey (Boston College)
- Karen Kelsky (TheProfessorIsIn.com)
- Bethany Coston (Virginia Commonwealth University)
- Leslie Jones (University of Pennsylvania)
- Hephzibah Strmic-Pawl (Manhattanville College)
- Nicole Bedera (University of Michigan)
Ways to effectively prevent sexual violence and support survivors of such violence in multiple contexts in sociology, including classrooms, departments, conferences, research abroad, and online. And, ways that we might use sociology to support broader movements to end sexual violence around the nation.
Bystander Intervention for Combating Sexual Misconduct in Sociology: Everyone Can Be Part of the Solution (Organized by the ASA Working Group on Harassment; Cosponsored by Sociologists for Women in Society)
Sun, August 12, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, Franklin Hall 9
Organizer: Kathrin Zippel (Northeastern University)
Leader: Sharyn J. Potter (University of New Hampshire)
How to intervene as engaged bystanders before, during and after instances of sexual and relationship violence, stalking and harassment.
Sexual Harassment in Professional Associations
(Organized by the ASA Working Group on Harassment)
Sun, August 12, 2:30 to 4:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, Franklin 13
Organizers: Kathrin Zippel (Northeastern University) and Erika Marín-Spiotta (University of Wisconsin – Madison)
- Alexandra Kalev (Tel Aviv University)
- Frank Dobbin (Harvard University)
- Justine E. Tinkler (University of Georgia)
- Erika Marín-Spiotta (University of Wisconsin – Madison)
Drawing on research on and experiences with harassment prevention in workplace organizations, we will discuss what steps professional associations can do to promote a professional, learning and working environment free of harassment.
- Sexual Assault and Intimate Partner Violence: Explanatory Factors Across Multiple Contexts; Mon, August 13, 8:30 to 10:10am, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, Franklin 13
- Gender, Social Movements, and (In)Justice; Mon, August 13, 4:30 to 6:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, Franklin Hall 6; Jaime Hartless – “#MeToo and the Silence Breakers: Managing Allyship and Incorporating Intersectionality Without Derailing Activism”
- Gendered Violence, Sexual Harassment, and Title IX; Tue, August 14, 2:30 to 4:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Street Level, 111B
- Informal Discussion Roundtable Session; Sun, August 12, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 5, Salon G; Table 9; Judith A. Richman – “The ‘ME Too’ Movement challenging male abuses of power: Addressing the psychotherapy arena”
- Section on Communication, Information Technologies, and Media Sociology Refereed Roundtable Session; Sun, August 12, 10:30 to 11:30am, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Street Level, 103B; Table 05. Identity and Influence in the Digital Landscape; Leslie Jones – “#MeToo and the Digital Black Feminist Critique of Colorblind Feminist Politics”
- Section on Social Psychology Refereed Roundtable Session; Mon, August 13, 2:30 to 4:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 5, Salon D; Table 1; Kaitlin M. Boyle, Jennifer Turner, and Tara Elizabeth Sutton – “Feeling Sexual Harassment and Microaggressions in Graduate School: The Role of Negative Emotion in Disordered Drinking”
- Section on Sociology of Sex and Gender Refereed Roundtable Session; Tue, August 14, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 5, Salon H – tables 13 (Intimate Partner Violence) and 17 (Sexual Assault, Trafficking, and Street Harassment)