Tag Archives: equality

How Faculty Can Use Syllabi to Help Reduce Campus Sexual Assault

Note: This article was also published in The Chronicle For Higher Education and The Huffington Post.

As university presidents, deans, lawyers and counselors are called to task for their missteps in handling the rash of campus sex abuse scandals, the one group that has the most interaction with students is largely left out to sea–their professors. Faculty are rarely informed of individual cases, and are told little about personal issues which lead to students suddenly failing or withdrawing. This occurs despite studies which show that more than with any other group, interaction with their professors provides vital support and strengthens not only students’ academic but also personal outcomes.

While they deal with students primarily in the classroom, faculty are not insensitive to their students’ larger struggles. Is there anything professors can do to complement the work done by counseling centers? There is — and it involves adding only one paragraph to a syllabus.

The campus sexual-assault bill this past summer, plus the many media exposés about the campus rape crisis, have raised awareness of Title IX. Title IX mandates that colleges receiving federal funding provide gender equity, not just in sports, but in all areas of campus life, meaning that all students should be able to study in an atmosphere free of harassment, sexual violence, and gender discrimination.

By taking the simple measures of incorporating Title IX language into syllabi and giving students the names and numbers of the primary campus resources, educators can do their part to provide support for victims and help end the epidemic of campus sexual violence.

Consider the example of Laura Dunn.

Dunn was just a freshman at the University of Wisconsin when her life changed forever. The dedicated student-athlete was out drinking with new friends from her crew team when two of her male team members offered to take her to another party. Instead, she says, they drove her to their place and took turns sexually assaulting her as she drifted in and out of consciousness, begging them to stop.

Laura’s story is not unusual. Sexual violence has been labeled by the Centers for Disease Control as a major public-health problem, affecting approximately one-fifth of American women. The percentages are staggering for younger women; it is estimated that between 20 to 25 percent will be the victims of a completed or attempted rape during their college careers alone. College men are not immune either; 6 percent will be victims of some form of sexual assault during their college tenure. That said, sexual violence remains a gendered crime, with most victims women and most perpetrators men.

According to a 2007 report, first-year students like Laura are especially susceptible, particularly during the first three months of their freshman year. Not wanting to accept the fact that she had been raped and not knowing that she had the right to report, Dunn, like so many survivors, stayed silent. For over a year she told no one, while she fought to focus on her schoolwork. Her grades dropped, she lost weight, she struggled with nightmares, and she broke up with her boyfriend, whom she never told about her attack.

But then things changed. During a summer philosophy class she was finally given the tools to take back control over her life. While discussing how rape is used as a weapon of war, the professor stopped the class to mention that sexual assault is also prevalent on college campuses, and that the dean of students was required by Title IX to handle assault cases. As soon as class was over, Laura went to the dean of students and reported, launching a two-year process that would prove stressful but would lead to her decade of work in survivor advocacy.

Laura Dunn’s case reveals the value of faculty involvement. Professors are not substitutes for trained counselors, but because of their daily interactions with students, they constitute the most obvious source for early intervention. This process can begin by simply incorporating into the syllabus relevant language, such as:

Title IX makes it clear that violence and harassment based on sex and gender are Civil Rights offenses subject to the same kinds of accountability and the same kinds of support applied to offenses against other protected categories such as race, national origin, etc. If you or someone you know has been harassed or assaulted, you can find the appropriate resources here …

These resources should include the Title IX coordinator, counseling services, a rape crisis center, and campus police. Confidentiality is of the essence. The Campus Sexual Assault Study indicated that when students know they can talk confidentially, they are more likely to report. Furthermore, since many universities and colleges have poor resources for students and are even under federal investigation, it is suggested that other resources besides campus authorities be included. A few good organizations are Know Your IX, End Rape On Campus, SurvJustice, the Clery Center for Security On Campus, and Not Alone.

A statement in a syllabus might also send a message of accountability to potential perpetrators. In a now-classic study, the authors found that the perceived threat of formal sanctions (being dismissed from the university or arrested) had a significant deterrent effect on potential perpetrators of sexual assault. In a 2002 study that utilized self-reporting, the majority of undetected rapists were found to be repeat rapists, and the results of this study were replicated in a subsequent 2009 study of Navy personnel. These studies suggest that many perpetrators continue to offend because they have not been caught and do not think they will ever be caught, or if caught, sanctioned. Depriving them of the culture of silence may limit their actions by increasing their fear of the consequences.

Thus, a statement in a syllabus could send a multipronged message: Survivors have the information needed, and the campus community as a whole is watching and will hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.

Many departments now mandate that syllabi include the university’s religious-holiday policy, the code of academic integrity, and contact information for disability support services. Since a quarter of female students are or will be survivors of sexual violence, a statement on Title IX is just as important. One simple paragraph could provide students with the tools they need to come forward and report the violence they have suffered. The more we normalize the conversation, the easier it becomes.

This article was co-authored by Karen Dawisha, professor of Political Science at Miami University – Ohio.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

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Insightful comments on Romney’s 47%: Can we talk about poverty?

So I was reading this breakdown on the 47% that Romney described as ‘paying no income taxes’ and ‘freeloaders’ and I came across two reader comments that I wanted to share with my peeps. I found them to be right on, and truly, inspirational. If mainstream news channels brought in more people like this to share their perspectives, maybe we could have some actual conversations instead of just the usual partisan bickering.

The problem with folks that don’t really do their homework, is they think that folks earning 20K or less do so on purpose. They think folks are lazy and take the easiest, thoughtless jobs so they can spend most of their time doing nothing. If they actually tried living that way they’d see that it isn’t true. There’s also a toxic amount of judgement that happens without a depth of knowledge. I say this as a social worker who works with low income folks. There are many who are tired, stressed out, and cranky … and yes, sometimes it’s hard for them to give up time with their children to flip burgers or wait tables for people that do the same amount of work but make tons more. In America, we say you have to work hard for success but the truth is, we inherit our lifestyles and defend them to the death. In more socialized countries, folks get what they need and you work hard to get that extra. Do you really think Mitt Romney works harder that a miner in Eastern Kentucky? I say this with a healthy acknowledgment that I have been blessed with privilege myself.

And this comment in reply:

I also work with low-income people and have realized that a lot of “poor” people make more money than I do, but face much higher economic barriers because they got a point of destitute poverty.

For example, someone who is homeless and has to rent a hotel room every night for shelter might end up paying $1200/mo. Because it’s owed weekly or daily, there is no point where they actually have that $1200 all at once to use for an apartment rental.

Falling all the way into unassisted poverty incurs great cost to individuals. Going from homeless to housed and employed costs much, much more than being employed and finding new housing.

When was the last time you heard voices this insightful on FOX or MSNBC?

There is, indeed, a crazy amount of judgement towards people who are struggling that come from people who a) have never really struggled and b) have never worked with people who struggled. Furthermore, there is this tendency in our country to make giant, lazy leaps to socialism every time there is a call for greater government involvement. Support labor unions? You’re a socialist. Support a fair minimum wage? You’re a socialist! Support health care? Obvi, you’re a socialist. And of course, any support for these policies means we’re one step away from becoming the old Soviet Union or China … watch out!!!!

OK seriously. Calling someone a socialist for wanting a health care system that protects people from dying is way harsh, Tai. Instead of engaging in one-sided debates that avoid the complexity of the issue, perhaps Americans should  look beyond the confines of their small towns to countries in Western Europe, where people work their asses off despite a more socialized system. Reading this article by an American who lived in the Netherlands for a few years, titled “How I learned to love the Dutch Welfare state,” will prove enlightening. Here are some snippets:

“Over the course of the 20th century, American politics became entrenched in two positions, which remain fixed in many minds: the old left-wing idea of vast and direct government control of social welfare, and the right-wing determination to dismantle any advances toward it, privatize the system and leave people to their own devices. In Europe, meanwhile, the postwar cradle-to-grave idea of a welfare state gave way in the past few decades to some quite sophisticated mixing of public and private. And whether in health care, housing or the pension system (there actually is still a thriving pension system in the Netherlands, which covers about 80 percent of workers), the Dutch have proved to be particularly skilled at finding mixes that work.”

“I think it’s worth pondering how the best bits of the Dutch system might fit. One pretty good reason is this: The Dutch seem to be happier than we are. A 2007 Unicef study of the well-being of children in 21 developed countries ranked Dutch children at the top and American children second from the bottom. And children’s happiness is surely dependent on adult contentment. I used to think the commodious, built-in, paid vacations that Europeans enjoy translated into societies where nobody wants to work and everyone is waiting for the next holiday. That is not the case here. I’ve found that Dutch people take both their work and their time off seriously. Indeed, the two go together.”

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Chick-fil-A and marriage equality-a civic, not religious, issue

So just yesterday, Chick-fil-A made a statement that “going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.” This, just a month after their chain was the center of one of the biggest culture wars recently, when the owner revealed that his restaurant supported ‘the biblical definition of the family unit,’ and regularly donated to organizations like Focus on the Family, which does not support marriage equality.

In the week following that announcement, all hell broke loose on Facebook. I saw posts from some of my Christian friends expressing anger at the owner of Chick-fil-A for making such a broad statement about Christianity. These friends cited that Christianity should be based on love, and not hatred and bigotry, and how can this one man define their belief system for them? Then I read other posts by Christians who stated that the government shouldn’t enforce its views on their moral beliefs, and that the definition of bigotry is relative, and that this guy was just practicing freedom of speech. I appreciate these different views, and I think that anyone who knows me would know that I agree with the former view of Christianity, but to that end, I find debates about what the Bible says to be fruitless. Everyone has their own definitions of Christianity, and there are some who look at the Bible as a book that emphasizes love and compassion, and others who take it in a more fundamentalist way. And that’s that – we can’t enforce our religious interpretations on other people, and I wouldn’t want to try.

So what I would like to do in this post is make the argument that the issue at hand is not entirely a religious one, it is a civic one. I want to address the supposed conflict with gay rights and Christianity, and I’m going to do so by digging up any knowledge I have left of Christianity from the eight years of Catholic school I attended. 😉 I also want to make it clear that I am framing this argument within a Christian framework, even though I personally do not consider homosexuality a sin. So please, bear with me. 🙂

I recently read on someone’s wall that the bible considers both theft and homosexuality to be sins, and why should he support something that is punishable by law because it is a sin? So I thought it was important to make a distinction here. While both theft and homosexuality are defined as a sin by the Bible, the issue at hand is not entirely a religious one. It is also a civic matter, and history has shown that some things that are explicitly applauded by the Bible and based in Biblical principles (for example, the practice of slavery), are not always the best principles for civic life.

If a man steals from you, he has committed a sin, and trespassed upon one of your civic freedoms (the right to own property). When that man is arrested and taken to prison, this does not happen because we live in a Christian country, but because we live in a country where the right to own property is upheld as a basic human freedom (which is not always the case in every part of the world).

Basically, there is a difference, legally and civilly speaking, between a sin and a crime. We as a nation punish and/or prohibit crime, but we do not always punish and/or prohibit ‘sin,’ as defined by many Christians.

I mean seriously, thank God (literally-oh dat’s cold!) for that, because if we treat sin and crime as the same thing, then wouldn’t we all be placed in jail, because … didn’t God say that everyone has sinned?

Let’s say that a Christian believes that the forgiveness of Christ is the only remedy for sin. And let’s say that a Christian thinks that homosexuality is a sin (again, not representin’ here, just trying to make an argument within this framework). Well if Christians believe that evil or lustful thoughts, or jealousy, or stubbornness can all be considered sins, can the ‘sin’ of homosexuality honestly be one that can be cured by the government? It is not like murder or theft, which deprive others of their rights to life and property.

I think that it is dangerous to deny anyone their civil rights based on a sin that, according to some religious fundamentalists, is largely of the mind.

I think that our Christian culture has become so enamored with the idea that a “Christian” law can somehow remove a sin from our country that it has lost all perspective. It seems to me that Christians have come to believe that they can somehow control sin through culture, if simply pressed down hard enough. And then, people won’t actually need the redemption of God to save them. If the laws of our land perfectly match the Bible, then we need only be “good Americans” rather than actual followers of Christ. Then the flag can replace our Bibles and the pledge of allegiance can replace the Lord’s Prayer, because they’ll be one and the same, right?

And, if you really believe in the power of God’s forgiveness, then doesn’t that reveal an insecurity with your faith if you have to rely on the government to eliminate what is considered internal sin? Isn’t that God’s role? Doesn’t She (oh no I didn’t!) do that for you individually?

Does it really line up with Christianity to force others to die to themselves so Christians can feel more comfortable and more righteous?

Ultimately, whether you consider homosexuality a sin or not, in my opinion our laws do not support the merging of religious and civic life, and legislating morality. You may believe that being gay and stealing is the same sin in the bible, but in civic life, it doesn’t really work that way. Stealing deprives others of their property and even their life, being gay does not. I have no problem with people having private religious beliefs that are kept in their homes and churches, but see a larger problem when these personal religious beliefs affect civic life-like denying a certain group their rights to life, liberty and happiness.

I’ll end with this. Courage of convictions is laudable, awesome, and necessary, but can and is historically capable of being applied incorrectly, in spite of the beliefs and faith of those holding those convictions at the time. People need to be cautious of confusing sin with crime and vice versa, and of mixing civil and religious motives.  As the recent statement released by Chick-fil-A reveals, having faith doesn’t mean never changing your mind. 

Thoughts?

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