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She Took A Stand Against Rape: My Love Letter To University of Richmond’s Sheroes

Caption: "Your favorite lying sluts." Source: Facebook.

Caption: “Your favorite lying sluts.” Source: Facebook.

Once University of Richmond’s president, Dr. Ronald Crutcher, announced the creation of the proposed Center for Sexual Assault Response and Prevention (SARP), among other important changes to the university’s handling of sexual violence, it all seemed a done deal.  There was nothing more that I could add to the conversation.  But, I did see that some UR students and alumni would not be satisfied until the university had issued a formal apology to CC for publicly implying that she is a liar — a common form of secondary violence against victims of sexual violence.  I doubted CC would ever get it, and she still hasn’t.  But, it does matter.  For, such an accusation, I believe, set the stage for others to harass both survivors who wrote about being failed by the university on Huffington Post: CC and Whitney Ralston.

Source: UR Collegian newspaper

Source: The Collegian, UR’s student newspaper

CC’s and Whitney’s cars have been vandalized; someone scratched the word “slut” into the hood of Whitney’s car.  A picture of CC on a Kappa Delta sorority composite was scratched out (above). This is perhaps the most minor (and cowardly) act of harassment, but I find the symbolism extremely repulsive.  The vandal has sent the message that CC is or should be blinded and silenced.  It is perfectly indicative of what these retaliatory actions intend to do.

But, the harassing messages they have received on social media are perhaps the worst of all:

Source: Facebook.

Source: Facebook.

The above former student, Evan Silverman, also privately messaged CC and Whitney: “you both are very nasty and should just keep your mouths and legs closed.”  Not only do messages like this serve to victim-blame and shame CC and Whitney and all other survivors at UR, they also serve to punish any survivor who dares to publicly talk about it and criticize the institution that facilitates sexual violence and rape culture.

I can only wonder, would people like Evan be so bold in their harassment if the university had not implied that CC was a liar?

A Love Letter To University of Richmond’s Sheroes

For what it’s worth, I want to devote the rest of this blog post to the sheroes of University of Richmond — those women (and a some men) students, alumni, staff, and faculty who have spoken up about sexual violence.  I devoted a fair amount of this post thus far to what I have done and, more so, what I have not done (due to fear).  What appears to be indulgent is actually the context for this love letter.  These courageous individuals have inspired me to do more, or at least to break my silence.

I want to begin by thanking CC for taking the time and incredible risk to tell her story as a survivor.  This entire saga began with her 9-6-16 Huffington Post piece, “There’s a Brock Turner in all o(UR) lives.” Once the story broke, the university responded with a statement to students and alumni and another to faculty and staff, both which implied that CC lied about the mishandling of her reported rape case:

While we cannot address specifically the contentions in the recent Huffington Post commentary, given our commitment to student privacy, and we respect the right of all students to express their opinion and discuss their perspective, we think it is important for us to share that many of the assertions of fact are inaccurate and do not reflect the manner in which reports of sexual misconduct have been investigated and adjudicated at the University.

Refusing to let the university have the final word, CC responded with a second Huffington Post article: “Richmond, all I wanted was for you to say sorry. But instead you called me a liar. So, here are the receipts.”  Her detailed analysis makes plain the cold, bureaucratic handling of her case, and the many times in which the rapist violated the “no-contact” by contacting or approaching her.  CC wrote a third piece in HuffPo on 9/9/16, “Fighting for yoURself is worth it: Report. Report. Report.”

I know from private correspondences with her that this has been hard.  But, CC has pressed on to demand justice.  She continued to show up at meetings and fora held on campus about sexual violence.  And, she has publicly documented the harassment to which she has been subjected.  She has refused to remain silent in the face of being failed as a survivor of sexual violence, then of stalking and harassment by the rapist despite the “no-contact” order, then of the university’s general failure to appropriately protect her, then of the university’s implied message that she is a liar, and now of the ongoing retaliation.  I pray she remains safe, both physically and emotionally, but admire her continued courage and resilience.

Whitney also courageously shared her story on Huffington Post on 9/9/16, “The Other Girl.”  She spares no detail — the ongoing horrific intimate partner violence and terrifying stalking she experienced, the university’s inability (or unwillingness) to protect her, and the gaslighting she experienced as thinly veiled concerns about her mental health.  Unlike CC who only has a couple of months left at UR, Whitney has another year and a half — but, that has not stopped her from speaking up.  In addition to the retaliation, she is being advised (or pressured?) to transfer to another school; it’s unfortunate that the rapists and abusers are perhaps not being advised to leave, rather than forcing the survivors out.  But, anyhow, what I love is seeing pictures of Whitney and CC on Facebook, happily yet defiantly sitting atop the University of Richmond sign, with captions like “your favorite lying sluts,” and “nasty women get sh*t done!”  (obviously echoing admitted rapist Donald Trump’s comment that fellow presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is a “nasty woman“).

I will go on record to say that two other brave women, both UR alumni, should be honored for their hard work to successfully propose UR’s Center for Sexual Assault Response and Prevention: Whitney Schwalm and Gemma Pansch.  In fact, the center should be called the Schwalm and Pansch Center for Sexual Assault Response and Prevention.  Or, maybe the Schwalm, Pansch, Carreras, and Ralston Center for… ok, yes, it’s a bit long.  But, it would be nice to see a building named to honor these anti-rape activists to counter the overwhelming trend of naming campus buildings after white men with ugly racist, sexist, and homophobic reputations.  I digress.

Whitney Schwalm (not to be confused with Whitney Ralston) was one of the brightest, most conscious students in my medical sociology course a couple of years ago.  Toward the end of the semester, she told me about the SARP center she and Gemma were proposing, and the associated petition.  I have a soft spot for this kind of student activism given my own efforts to create a campus resource center for LGBTQ students at my alma mater, University of Maryland Baltimore County.  But, I’ll admit that I didn’t have high hopes for the success of their proposal, just as my proposed center was never created.  Just like me, Whitney and Gemma graduated and moved on, and the university was off the hook for having to take seriously their demands.  But, as the university became the subject of national media attention for failing CC, Whitney R., and potentially other survivors, the demand to create the SARP center was reignited.  And, Whitney S. and Gemma were back to work, though they could have wiped their hands clean of fixing a university they no longer attended, perhaps eventually sending a donation or two as alumni, but nothing more.

A few weeks ago, I met Whitney S. for coffee.  She had reached out to me and other supporters about the revival of her proposal for the center.  She decided to visit her alma mater to see friends, former professors, and attend meetings with faculty who wanted to push the university to take seriously the center.  She was already incredibly mature for her age as a student, wise beyond her years; but, she seemed even more “grown” now.  Whitney told me about her busy agenda for that weekend; she was here on business.  She seemed so focused and so determined, but, above all, so committed to make UR a better place.  I feel such incredible pride in seeing a former student’s activist work become a reality.  How many women in their early 20s (or any age, really) can say that they successfully demanded the creation of a campus rape crisis center?

Of course, others have lent their support, as well.  Countless alumni have spoken up or threatened to withhold donations to force the university to do better in supporting survivors and preventing sexual violence.  Two faculty members in the Jepson school for leadership, Drs. Crystal Hoyt and Thad Williams, created a faculty committee to address sexual violence on campus.  And, under Dr. Mari Lee Misfud’s leadership, the WGSS program has developed an 8-point plan to address sexual and gender-based violence [download it here].  Students have spoken up at meetings held by administrators, or held their own meetings to plan actions, and held other forms of protest around campus. And, kudos to Collegian editor, Charlie Broaddus (a former student of mine) and his staff at the newspaper for tirelessly covering sexual violence on campus.  For a campus with a reputation for being in a bubble from the rest of Richmond, and with little history of campus activism, I am in awe of the ways in which the UR community has spoken up to demand change.

My hope is that this saga rewrites UR’s narrative around sexual violence.  My dream is to see a student researcher conduct a historical analysis of sexual violence and responses to it (especially student and faculty activism) of the university, like alum Dana McLachlin’s analysis of LGBTQ history and culture on campus.   I want future students to know these names: Carreras, Ralston, Schawlm, Pansch, Misfud, Hoyt, Williamson.  I want us to mark 2016 as a major turning point in our university’s history, when we went from one of nearly 300 schools under federal investigation for mishandling Title IX violations to a model, rape- and rape-culture-free institution.  This could be the point at which we offer another, perhaps more pressing Richmond Guarantee: that, just as every student is guaranteed one summer fellowship for research or an internship, each student is also guaranteed safety from sexual violence in their 4-6 years as a student at UR.  Or, maybe this can be the year that we stop shrouding the crisis with silence and, instead, commit to regularly having open, frank, critical discussions about sexual violence; can you imagine something more than the obligatory 3-hour-long training on “don’t rape,” something like a “themester” of critical courses across various disciplines on sexual violence?  What if, rather than being complicit in rape culture, we equipped UR students to lead the next generation of anti-sexual violence advocacy, especially in light of the real threat that an admitted predator may be our next US president?

I can dream.  For now, I will continue to be inspired by these women and their supporters.  If they are capable to move an institution even a few inches, I am hopeful that we can move it by miles in the future.

My University Failed Yet Another Rape Survivor And Protected Yet Another Rapist

"Don't Rape" by Richard Potts

“Don’t Rape” by Richard Potts

I want to start this essay by thanking CC Carreras for taking the time to share her story with Huffington Post and the world.  CC graduated from my university — University of Richmond (UR) — in May with a degree in Criminal Justice.  She was in my Sociological Research Methods course a couple of years ago.  I was initially shocked when I realized that she was the author of the HuffPo piece, that she would be so public about such horrific events and her critique of the university.  And, then, I was heartbroken.  CC isn’t a stranger; she is a student I saw twice a week for 15 weeks.  I can put a face to a story.  And, it makes me feel as though I somehow failed her as a professor.

I also want to express a deep sense of respect and admiration for CC’s bravery for speaking up.  We live in a society — UR not exempt — that does not believe women in general, especially about their experiences of sexual violence; that would rather blame survivors for their own victimization than the perpetrators or the society and institutions that enable them; that would rather protect rapists than rape victims; that would rather discredit, undermine, and attack survivors who speak up than to support them.  CC’s bravery has fueled others to speak up, either publicly or privately revealing their own experiences or fears of sexual violence at UR.  CC is a role model in my eyes; she has spoken up about injustice at an institution she called home, only after failing to see justice by going through the “proper” channels.  I hope that every UR alum feels called to speak up against sexual violence at UR and beyond.

Unfortunately, I also want to apologize to CC — as a faculty member, fellow spider, and concerned human being — for such an ugly end to her time at UR, topped only by being further failed by the university.  CC, I am sorry that UR chose to imply that you lied about the mishandling of your reported case.  I am sorry that the university chose not to support you as you bravely spoke up, or to apologize to you for failing you.  I am sorry that it chose to distance itself from you rather than from the predator-student-athlete who raped you.  I’m sorry that the university has not lived up to its desire to be a model institution, instead being one of over 200 that repeatedly fail rape victims.

Already, my words feel hallow.  But, it took working up the nerve to sit down to write this.  For, professors who take to anti-sexual violence activism do not fair well in the academy; some are censured, some are fired, some are merely tolerated.  I already have three strikes against me as a Black queer non-binary person on faculty.  And, I am pre-tenure, though basking in a much needed year-long leave from teaching to focus on my research.  I have already developed a reputation for being outspoken on campus about racism, heterosexism, and transphobia.  And, here I go again.

The fear I feel in speaking up as a faculty member is just another manifestation of a larger problem at UR: rape-culture.  Despite having a feminist, sociological understanding of sexual violence, and sexuality and power more generally, despite having worked with a rape crisis shelter in the past, and despite a desire to work with students to improve our society, there is some chance that I will pay the price for speaking up.  Rape-culture silences victims and their supporters, and it censures those who dare to work against sexual violence.  Yes, rape-culture can exist even in where a campus office has been created for Title IX compliance, where “compliance” sounds an obligatory adherence to the bare minimum standard to ban harassment and discrimination.

Unfortunately, we have further proof: the University of Richmond sent emails to students, staff, faculty, and alumni that effectively implies that CC lied about the mishandling of her case:

While we cannot address specifically the contentions in the recent Huffington Post commentary, given our commitment to student privacy, and we respect the right of all students to express their opinion and discuss their perspective, we think it is important for us to share that many of the assertions of fact are inaccurate and do not reflect the manner in which reports of sexual misconduct have been investigated and adjudicated at the University.

Rape-culture, to me, is writing a two-page-long email to the student body and never once even mentioning the name of the alum — CC Carreras. It is speaking of her in the abstract — an “opinion” to be tolerated — only to say that she is making it all up (because who can trust rape victims, right?).  Rape-culture is never saying a word about the rapist who may or may not still be walking around campus.  It is using the cloak of confidentiality to protect certain details (the rapist’s name, whether he is still a student at UR, etc.) but not others (publicly stating that CC is lying about how her case was handled); it is using the law as a tool to revictimize a survivor and protect a rapist.

I am relieved that CC refused to let the university have the last word.  She took the time to write an extensive response, in which she shares many official correspondences regarding the case and the many times the rapist violated a (rather flimsy) no-contact order.  If you take the time to read the entire thing, your head may begin to hurt as mine did.  The legalese used to protect a rape victim from further contact from the rapist is quite off-putting and cold; it reads more like divorce papers for a couple that is splitting up property than an effort to protect someone from violence.  I have to wonder — why has the university asked CC to stay away from the rapist, just as it asks the rapist to stay away from her?

More importantly, I am inclined to agree with CC’s sentiment that the rapist received a slap on the wrist from the university, even as he repeatedly violated the no-contact order and admitted to raping her.  He admitted to committing a violent crime and, as far as I can tell, was never arrested nor spent any time in prison.  He was instructed to avoid certain parts of campus, but his time on the field and gym was not to be interrupted; that proved to be more important than CC’s safety and well-being.  Further, the university has effectively allowed the rapist to attack other people.  Indeed, there is research that is now 15 years old that highlights the reality that rapists tend to be repeat offenders.

As I dug through the many documents in CC’s second HuffPo piece, feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, I was reminded of the ways in which the university is perhaps complicit in facilitating sexual violence.  There is sociological research that highlights the ways in which institutions and organizations either fail to genuinely prevent sexual violence and punish perpetrators or actually enable rapists to attack people.  The Hunting Ground, a recently released documentary, highlights the ways in which the promotion and protection of Greek Life and athletics provide free reign for college men to make a sport of sexually assaulting college women.  It is naive to assume that campus rape is the “good guy” who slips up or goes to far or got a little too drunk, or that an obligatory three-hour-long workshop on drinking is enough to prevent rape, or that the university is a neutral party in this crisis.

As a professor at UR, I am quite troubled by the position the university has put me in.  I vehemently disagree with the official statement that the university sent out to dismiss CC’s story as lies, and, instead, pat itself on the back for how well it handles sexual assault cases (despite being under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases).  This is blog post serves as my statement — I speak for myself.  Believing CC was never a question; my only question was how do I support her and ensure that students are able to do their work on campus free of harassment and violence.

The university’s email to faculty and staff, unlike its letter to students, gave no indication of responsibility or how I might get involved to prevent sexual violence and support survivors.  It seemed as though the sole purpose of the communication was to let me know I could sleep easily at night because CC made it all up.  It gave no reminder of my obligation to report to the Title IX office any instance in which a student has disclosed that they have been sexually assaulted.  It made no mention of how I might navigate contact with the rapist, or even who he is.  (Just last year, a student and advisee of mine mysteriously withdrew from the university — something about “for Title IX” reasons I learned.  Was he a rapist?  Since there is little punishment for perpetrators, how many of my students have been rapists?  These questions are unsettling.)

Rather than keeping faculty in the dark, instead relying on staff tasked with “Title IX compliance,” the university has right at its finger tips a wealth of expertise about sexual violence, sexualities, gender, oppression, law, the criminal justice system, and so on.  Rather than relying exclusively on peer-to-peer sexual violence education, the university could be employing professors to give talks, host workshops, teach courses, consult Title IX affairs, etc. Even outside of those of us with research-based expertise, it should be giving faculty more opportunities to work on sexual violence prevention.  I know from private conversations that many of us are concerned, and now outraged in light of the university’s statements about CC’s original post; we are ripe with passion, concern, and conviction to see that UR reverses its reputation as being one of the must unsafe campuses for women.  Can you imagine a university that has a reputation for a near-perfect record of punishing perpetrators, for supporting and affirming survivors, and for truly practicing a bystander intervention approach to sexual violence prevention?  That could be us, UR!

We have to do better.

___

GrollmanDr. Eric Anthony Grollman (they/them/theirs) is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Affiliate Faculty of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Richmond in Richmond, VA.  They teach courses on gender and sexuality, sociology of health and illness, social inequality, and sociological research methods.  Their research examines the impact of prejudice and discrimination on the health, well-being, and worldviews of oppressed communities.  They are also an intellectual activist and maintain the blog Conditionally Accepted — a weekly career advice column on Inside Higher Ed for marginalized faculty.

Sexual Violence At The Sociology Conference

"Don't Rape" by Richard Potts

“Don’t Rape” by Richard Potts

At last week’s American Sociological Association (ASA) annual meeting in Seattle, WA, two women of color graduate students separately disclosed to me that they had been sexually assaulted or harassed at the conference. Beyond courageously sharing their experiences with me, they do not feel brave or protected enough to report their experiences to the ASA. For, their vulnerable positions in the profession (graduate students) and in society (young women of color) present the very real concern of professional or personal backlash if they were to report the sexual violence. We live in a rape culture that denies the prevalence and impact of sexual violence; that does not believe victims, but rather blames them for their own victimization; that celebrates predators and excuses their violation of others’ bodies and space. ASA and the discipline of sociology exist within that culture. Why should we expect different results from them?

The perpetrators of the sexual violence in both instances are senior men faculty members – but, from different institutions. As such, the responsibility to pursue these cases – were they to be reported – falls outside of a particular institution. These incidents occurred at an ASA meeting, and thus are the organization’s responsibility to pursue.  As one of the two women pointed out to me, had she reported the assault to local police, she would be offered no support by local police at the next ASA conference as the location changes every year.

I took to social media to ask my fellow sociologists what resources existed to prevent sexual violence at ASA meetings and to support survivors of violence at future meetings. Few colleagues responded, all to say they wanted to know the answer, too. I did receive a response from ASA’s twitter account (@ASAnews) to look to page 2 of this year’s annual meeting program guide:

Ethical Conduct during the Annual Meeting:

It is unethical in any professional setting, including the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, for sociologists to use inequalities of power which characterize many professional relationships to obtain personal, sexual, economic or professional advantages.

Sexual, sexual identity or racial/ethnic harassment is also unethical behavior under the American Sociological Association Code of Ethics.

Attendees are encouraged to immediately report instances of harassment during the Annual Meeting to the ASA Executive Officer at Hillsman@asanet.org or through the ASA Annual Meeting Office.

To read the American Sociological Association Code of Ethics in its entirety, visit www.ASAnet.org and follow the link to “Ethics.”

I should note that I never read the front matter of the annual meeting program guide, and I imagine few other attendees do.  It is a thick book!  I only use it to find out when and where my sessions are.  Some attendees exclusively use the phone app, which won’t force them to flip through the front matter.  More importantly, it seems naive to assume that the above statement would stop a predator from assaulting or harassing others at the conference.  (Sexual violence is already illegal, yet the law doesn’t seem to stop it from occurring at alarming rates.)

I responded, pressing ASA about what is actually done to prevent sexual violence at these meetings, and to support survivors of sexual violence that has occurred at past meetings. I was informed that the Committee on Professional Ethics deals with reported instances of sexual violence on a case-by-case basis.

I felt underwhelmed by this response. When I returned home, I sent an email to the Sociologists for Women and Society (SWS) listserv to ask what feminist sociologists knew of existing resources and strategies for preventing sexual violence at academic conferences. I also contacted the ASA Committee on the Status of Women in Sociology and the ASA Committee on the Status of Racial and Ethnic Minorities in Sociology to ask that they take on this issue.

I had not anticipated Sally Hillsman, Executive Officer of ASA, to catch wind of my emails; she chimed in on the SWS listserv to emphasize that victims of sexual violence could confidentially report these events to her, and that this approach to handling such reports was voted on by ASA members. I pressed still to highlight the enormous fear that victims experience that prevents most of them to report sexual violence, and that these reporting mechanisms still do not address my concerns about sexual violence prevention and supporting survivors. Sally responded again to offer the following:

For the women who experienced sexual harassment at the Seattle, Chicago or recent meetings:

Please call me WITHOUT REVEALING YOUR NAME IF YOU CHOOSE at my office. I will return to my office this Wednesday August 31 to discuss your experience ANONYMOUSLY. If I am away from my desk, leave a message when you will call again and I will be there.

202-383-9005×316 goes right to my desk; no one else will pick up.

This is standard operating procedure. If you didn’t know about how ASA handles these situations it is good–insofar as confidentiality has been maintained–but bad that we have not been as available to sociologists as we could be.

The ASA has a Code of Ethics that everyone who is a member of the Association FORMALLY AGREED to abide by, and ASA has investigation and sanctioning ability within the scope of the Association.  These include confidential (non-public) and public sanctions for those found by COPE to have violated the Code.  Council is not involved.

Sally

I appreciate that ASA has allowed (which seems like a problematic verb here…) victims to report sexual violence without revealing their names. However, as others pointed out in the SWS discussion, eventually anonymity would become confidentiality, which eventually be disclosed to perpetrators if ASA pursued the reported case. This system does little to protect victims of sexual violence from being further victimized. And, given the horrendous reputation of other institutions, there is little reason for the discipline’s most vulnerable members to expect they won’t be victimized by ASA itself.

Rethinking Sexual Violence In Academia

I bring these events and conversations to the public stage not to criticize ASA, though I am clearly underwhelmed by its handling of sexual violence. Rather, I want to further contribute to the conversation about sexual violence in academia. There is fear that prevents many of us from talking about it, reporting it, criticizing it. Hell, even some sexual violence prevention activists have been censured or worse by academic institutions. Indeed, they are complicit in the production of rape culture within the profession.

There are many points that I wish to make – others have already said this, but it bears repeating. Sexual violence is an expression of power. Academia is obsessed with power and hierarchies. The profession enables predators to prey upon vulnerable members with little recourse. Those same power-dynamics leave victims and witnesses with few options to seek justice and prevent future instances of sexual violence. Professional hierarchies are laid upon social hierarchies; it is no coincidence that women and people of color are overrepresented among contingent faculty who – perhaps – have the fewest resources and least amount of support to avoid being victimized.

Just as academic institutions facilitate sexual violence among undergraduate students, it does so among graduate students, staff, faculty, and administrators, as well. There exists a rape culture on many campuses, and within disciplines and professional organizations. Victims are either blamed for their own victimization or not believed. Predators go unpunished, and are often times rewarded; their behavior is excused because of their professional status (which is likely enhanced by the privileged statuses of whiteness, masculinity, heterosexuality, wealth, older age, etc.). I once sat in a conference meeting that seriously considered naming an award after an older white man professor from my graduate program who has a long, loooong history of sexually harassing women students and colleagues; with great trepidation, I spoke up to oppose such an honor, but I believe he will still be honored in some other way. Others in that meeting were hesitant to entertain “hearsay,” but conceded when I stressed that I was privy to more than mere gossip about him.

Sexual violence exists at the intersections among racism, sexism, cissexism, heterosexism, classism, fatphobia, ableism, religious intolerance, ageism, and xenophobia. White heterosexual cisgender women are not the sole victims of sexual violence; sexual violence is not merely a “white woman’s issue” or a feminist issue (with the necessary critique of the white, cishet, and middle-class biases of each wave of feminism). We fail many, many victims of sexual violence when we rely on ways of addressing it that are typical among white middle-class women; for example, there are racial differences in even naming one’s experiences of sexual harassment as such, and in reporting these incidents. A focus on sexual violence against white cishet women (presumably by white cishet men) ignores the gross unwanted sexual attention I (a Black queer non-binary grad student at the time) received from two white gay cis men professors at a Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS) conference years ago. Such a focus ignores nuances of sexual violence in queer spaces and in communities of color, to name a few – especially across racial, gender, and class lines within those spaces communities.

We need to take seriously the bystander intervention approach to prevent sexual violence in academia.  That means it is not merely the responsibility of potential and actual victims of sexual assault and harassment to seek justice and support survivors.  It is everyone’s responsibility.  Yes, everyone.  Sexual violence is a systemic issue.  It is an expression of systems of oppression.  It operates within the very social institutions each of us inhabits everyday.  We must each challenge victim-blaming, rape-myths, and institutional practices that either ignore sexual violence or that even facilitate it.  We must intentionally support all survivors of sexual violence, even those who do not come forward.  Predators must be banned from our academic spaces so that they do not perpetrate violence again (because there is a good chance that they will).

I could go on. And, all of this is coming from someone with limited scholarly expertise on sexual violence and minimal personal experience with it. There is a great deal we can learn from the experts and survivors to actually prevent sexual violence in the academy. Right now, it is a crisis. In these first few weeks of the semester, countless undergraduate students are joining the statistics of victims of sexual violence; universities are continuing to be complicit in the predatory practices of perpetrators of such violence. And, graduate students, staff, and faculty are returning for another year – some to continue to be harassed as they suffer in silence. Who are we to offer guidance to the rest of society on ending sexual violence when hundreds of schools are currently under federal investigation for the mishandling of reported sexual assaults?

Further reading and resources:

Back From Teaching Bootcamp

Earlier this month, I attended the summer Teaching and Learning Workshop of the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS), held at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX.  ACS is an organization of private liberal arts colleges in the US South, including my own institution (University of Richmond).  My university offered funding for any faculty, especially those of us on the tenure-track, to attend, as this summer program can enhance one’s teaching.  I jumped at the opportunity to attend, admittedly, in part, to signal my immediate willingness to grow as a teacher.  I attended the program genuinely open to learning and receiving feedback on areas where I may improve, and I ended up finding the workshop extremely helpful.

The crux of the teaching training at the summer workshop is microteaching.  Workshop attendees were divided into groups of six, in which we stayed for the week.  In these groups, we took turns teaching a seven-minute “slice” of a full lecture.  Other members of one’s group participated as students, took notes, asked questions, and attempted to understand the material — but as themselves, not pretending to be a typical student.  The slice was recorded, and immediately played back for the class.  Before and after playback of the slice, the teacher reflected on how the lesson went, and offered specific concerns and areas of improvement for the class to attend to.  Then, guided by the teacher’s reflections, students articulated what they thought, felt, and experienced during the slice.  The major challenge during these reflection sessions was for the teacher to simply listen to the students’ experiences without responding, and for students to avoid giving advice or reflecting on what should/could/would happen outside of the slice.

As you can imagine, this process challenged each workshop attendee.  Finding a solid seven minutes of material, which would hopefully be engaging and understandable to a group of students outside of your own discipline, was tough.  And, seven minutes seemed to be just enough time to get started, but to stop just before getting to the heart of one’s lecture or exercise.  Many — myself included — find it strange, even uncomfortable, to watch yourself teach immediately after the slice, and then to hear how five other instructors-as-learners experienced the lesson.

This aspect of the workshop was extremely powerful for me — and emotional.  In each of the three slices that I taught, I was asked to open up about how the experience of teaching was for me.  This usually meant expressing self-doubt, worry, and uncertainty.  And, watching the playback offered even more opportunity to be my biggest critic.  Ironically, nothing the students said was ever as harsh as the things I said about my teaching.  In fact, the feedback was generally positive, including the sentiment that my self-identified nervousness was never apparent to my students.  (Although, several students mentioned my nervousness in their course evaluations of one of my spring semester classes.)  There were a few areas wherein students felt uncomfortable or confused, but I could readily identify how to improve the lecture in my mind.

This process is also designed to make us feel safe and braver as teachers.  We were encouraged to experiment and take risks with each subsequent microteaching session.  I took the program staff up on this challenge.  On day 2, I pushed myself to use John R. Brouillette and Ronny E. Turner’s “spit” exercise to teach social constructionism, even though I felt other academics would find the exercise silly or childish.  Fortunately, this exercise went well and was very effective.  This usually goes well in my classes.  But, in this context, the immediate feedback session allowed me to hear why.  These students were able to pinpoint their own visceral reaction to someone’s spit as driving home the point that “spit” (how we understand and react to it) is socially constructed.

On the third day, I challenged myself to give a lecture on sexual violence.  As usual, I agonized over this lecture, worrying that it might upset students.  The slice went fine.  But, when invited to express how I felt after seeing the video of me teaching, I got choked up.  Though not at a conscious level, I had found a safe space to express how charged the topic has been for me, in general and specifically in the classroom.  I left that microteaching session feeling encouraged and empowered to take more risks in the classroom — and to feel comfortable having certain emotions related to the lecture.

Outside of teaching, we attended daily plenaries that exposed us to various classroom activities and teaching styles.  Some of these sessions were devoted to reflection, either to process what we had done earlier that day or to develop goals for teaching upon our return home.  In a later plenary, we were asked to choose one issue that we had not had the chance to address yet during the week, which we would share with a small group and receive feedback.  I felt reassured to hear that I did not appear nervous when teaching, but feeling nervous and the pesky issue of self-doubt in general continued to plague me.  During this plenary, I received encouragement and many suggestions to kick self-doubt to the curb for good.

Clearly, I enjoyed the workshop!  Admittedly, I did not feel up to attending, as it was scheduled right at the point that I felt recovered from academic year.  But, it was truly worthwhile, providing feedback on teaching that you cannot find anywhere else.  I highly recommend attending ACS’s or similar workshops.

Sexual Violence: What I Have Learned (And Experienced?)

I am a believer of the notion that we are forever students.  From birth to death, we learn new things, revise things we already knew, and sometimes dispose of knowledge that is no longer true or useful.  So, I am comfortable in admitting that there is a particular aspect of sexuality — sexual violence — about which I am woefully ignorant, but constantly learning.  Even with a PhD, prior research on sexualities, and teaching and advocacy experience on sexual violence, I am no expert on the subject.

Personally Speaking

I conceive of myself as an advocate for survivors of sexual violence.  I have lost count of the number of friends, colleagues, family, and even strangers who have disclosed that they were raped, sexually assaulted, and/or sexually harassed.  With each disclosure, I do my best to affirm that:

  1. I believe them, in light of the norm of not believing survivors.
  2. the perpetrator’s actions were immoral, illegal, and inhumane, in light of the norm of victim-blaming.
  3. I am available to support survivors in whatever way possible.  For the most part, this means helping to direct them to the party who is qualified to deal with certain issues (e.g., law enforcement, healthcare, counseling).

But, this happens alongside regulating my own emotions, for I often feel the urge to release a cry of hurt, disappointment, and helplessness.  Foolishly, I feel as though I have let survivors down, as though I could have single-handedly prevented the sexual violence they faced.  I suppose it is sympathy gone a little too far.

All of that is to say that I am not a survivor of sexual violence.  I have not been the victim of repeated sexual harassment, nor an instance of sexual assault or rape.  But, I am tempted to put my intellectual energy to work to find those instances where, on a small scale, I was or could have been victimized:

The fellow camper who peeped over the bathroom stall wall to watch me pee.  The fourth-grade classmate who, upon staying the night, unbuttoned my shorts and fondled me while I pretended to be sleeping — after we consensually experimented with our new-found sexualities.  The numerous times friends or strangers have visually ogled, or even fondled, my chest in disbelief that men can have breasts.  The numerous times a fellow gay bar patron has grabbed either my butt or genitals or both.  The first boyfriend, 24 to my 18 years of age, who (unsuccessfully) attempted to have condomless sex with me on his friends’ living room floor.  The other sexual partners who (unsuccessfully) pressured me to have sex without a condom.  Or, the guy who successfully did penetrate me without a condom after I stated very clearly that penetration was off-limits.  The fellow academic summer program participant who pressured me to drink more at the bar, even after I clearly declined, (I presume) to get me drunk enough to have sex.  The friend and colleague who felt me up in front of my faculty adviser at an academic conference on sexualities.

Now having written that list of experiences, I feel a bit queasy.  But, I still refrain from labeling myself as a victim or survivor of sexual violence.  I worry doing so trivializes the experiences of people, particularly women and children, who have actually been raped or sexually assaulted.  Maybe I hold too limited of a concepualization of sexual violence, erasing men’s experiences, erasing same-sex sexual violence, or allow any degree of my own interest in the other person involved deny the non-consensual aspects.  Maybe I fear what follows thinking of myself as a victim of sexual violence.

For now, I am sticking by my initial point: I do not want to trivialize others’ experiences by thinking of my own as comparable.  That “sympathy gone a little to far” when I hear of others’ experiences has never felt like empathy, nor the triggered emotional reaction of someone who has faced sexual violence themselves.  I do not know, however, what to do with the queasiness I just felt in reflecting on my experiences, however I may classify them.  And, in the midst of telling my partner about this post, I stopped midway to run upstairs trying to fight back the tears.  I felt like a fraud as he hugged and comforted me.

Academically Speaking

At the time of writing this post, I have just watched The Invisible War and prepare for my upcoming lecture on sexual violence in my gender and sexualities course.  Though I stand by the importance of teaching about sexual violence, I feel a fair amount of anxiety about what to teach and how to teach.  I am hesitant as a cis man, and as a non-survivor.  Who I am to teach on a subject that overwhelmingly affects ciswomen and trans* people?  How could I do the subject justice, not teaching it too abstractly as a matter for academic pontification nor so personally that it may be triggering for survivors in the classroom?  Most importantly, how do I navigate what students say, from the disclosing of survivors’ stories to other students’ victim-blaming?

The most important lesson I convey is that we must think of sexual violence as a systemic problem that can only properly be addressed at the societal and community levels.  Social institutions like colleges and the military are often complicit in, and even promote, sexual violence.  It is dangerous to maintain an individualistic focus, wherein an otherwise good guy goes too far but will never assault or harass anyone again.  It is dangerous to assume all instances of sexual assault and harassment are properly reported and pursued to bring justice to victims.

I also advance a perspective on sexual violence that reflects my intellectual emphasis on intersections among systems of oppression.  Too often, we think of a young heterosexual cisgender man without disabilities who rapes or harasses a young heterosexual cisgender woman without disabilities of his same race/ethnicity.  We think of sexual violence as purely a manifestation of sexism and misogyny.  That erases the ways in which sexual violence occurs as expressions of racism, homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, classism, xenophobia, ableism, ageism, fatphobia, and xenophobia.  And, indirectly, it reinforces the underlying assumption that sexual violence is about sexual desire, rather than power.  It erases the way these systems of oppression intersect in and as sexual violence, for example, the history and contemporary practice of white men who rape and sexually harass women of color.

Concluding Thoughts

Well, I will admit that this post did not unfold as I had initially planned — probably unsurprisingly around my personal reflection.  I suppose it is fair to say that my understanding of sexual violence, personally and academically, is an evolving matter.  I am certain I will continue to write about it as it unfolds.  Maybe others will find this useful; maybe I am not as full of shit as I feel right now.