Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Tremble Administrative Swine: Reports From The Field On Sexual Assault

How about we go to court on our first date?
Tenured Radical is out of town and a little slow on the flip-flop lately, but here's news:  following an incident in which  fraternity pledges chanted sexist slurs on the Old Campus last fall, sixteen Yale students have filed charges with the federal government that Yale University has a sexually hostile environment.  As CBS News reported in its online edition,

“What we’re saying is that Yale, in its failure to respond to both public and private instances of sexual harassment and sexual assault, has said to the campus ‘this is OK’,” said plaintiff Alexandra Brodsky.

That belief pushed Brodsky, Hannah Zeavin, and 14 other men and women at Yale to file a complaint, charging the university has repeatedly failed to take action on harassment and sex crimes, including rape.

The students, who include men and women, are alleging a Title IX violation, and the Department of Education has launched an investigation

This follows on the occupation of an administrative building at Dickinson College earlier this semester by students demanding that anti-rape efforts be jacked up at that school.  Here's a hint, ladies:  if you've asked for action at your school and they don't hire anyone, if your school offers "consent training" rather than anti-rape workshops, they don't open a women's center, faculty are not receiving mandatory sexual harassment training, and the bulk of the website on rape is still devoted to all the things you, as a woman, can do to "avoid" being raped -- your school might benefit from a Title IX investigation too.


Anonymous said...

Let's go one step further: If your school has an office allegedly devoted to investigation of harassment and assault, yet that office has never, not once, found evidence that claims of harassment or assault were validated, you may have a problem, too. Some schools (and workplaces) appear to use the existence of an ineffectual investigatory office as a smoke screen for avoiding real action on these matters.

Dorothy Potter Snyder said...

Thanks for weighing in on this topic of which I, a Bulldog alum, was painfully aware when attending Old Blue.

Still burned into my memory are: the Big Kahuna in East Asian studies who, in a 12 person seminar which I fought to get into, on the first day of class made fun of my nickname and then said (publicly) that I was cute enough to survive having such a dopey moniker. Like the doctor at Yale Health who threatened me with violence if I every showed up needing an abortion again (my IUD, which he had placed, had failed); like the rape attempt that I fended off with a shoe and a copy of Canterbury Tales and the subsequent failure of my student advisor (a woman) to give a damn.

The list, sadly, goes on. So I could not be less surprised that the Old Blue is disinterested to say the most in defending American womanhood from abuse and illegal attacks on its liberty.

But we live in a weird world. Only last week, Phyllis Schlafly (yes, she's still alive...I think...) was on NPR spouting the same bizarre nonsense about how the feminist movement has destroyed the world. Did you hear her, TR? Amazing.

Cedar said...

I am on board with the other suggestions, but I had thought that the evidence was still out on whether mandatory sexual harassment training was effective. I guess, like anything, it depends on what the training is. But if I had to make choices about what policies to implement, I would chose others, like ensuring a muscular and independent investigation process like the one anonymous suggests above.
But I am open to being corrected here, by people who clearly know better than I.

Tenured Radical said...

I don't know whether mandatory sexual harassment training is effective. We do know that analagous reminders of ethical behavior are. For example, if students have to take some action on a regular basis that reminds them of the honor code, incidents of cheating drop. I also think part of sexual harassment training needs to be recognizing and responding to sexual harassment when you see a colleague engaging in it. I have been told both times I confronted colleagues over relationships that had already become sexual that the relationships were consensual which, of course, is better than raping or coercing them, but doesn't effing matter if they are still students. This kind of confrontation is nasty, and their needs to be a confidential reporting system where a colleague can be confronted in a safe space, with a third party present, and the person in my position not having ending the person's career as a potential consequence of getting help. I also think training on how to respond to a student effectively when s/he seeks help or advice about sexual harassment/sexual assault would be useful.

These are complex and difficult issues, and for my money, training helps people discuss them. It also makes the institution responsible for setting up guidelines for action and adhering to them, or risking legal consequences. In addition, I would say both faculty that I have confronted point-blank were, themselves, in relationships as younger people that were similar to what they were reproducing. It's not an uncommon phenomenon, but you can't count on everyone to get effective assistance to sort out why they might reproduce that behavior.

Another thing worth thinking about is that it not uncommon for graduate students (usually male) to date undergraduate students, often reasoning that if they are no longer teaching them it is ok. I have no opinion about that, really, but notifying new faculty that they have crossed a line into a new status where they have to be more keenly aware of those distinctions strikes me as a very good idea.

And, btw, I have only confronted two. I have known more colleagues who had inappropriately sexual/intimate relations with students. I have had *numerous* students report rapes to me, and despite a recent hullabaloo and task force at my own college, really have no better idea how to help them than before. Yes, we received an email. But in a training you discuss how the systems work, and you become a community of people who are committed to helping each other solve the problem.

Token Straight Breeder said...


Here's an idea that is midway between mandatory training and nothing. Why don't you write a multiple choice quiz, and have the powers that be insert it at the beginning of the faculty log-in, as they do for certain "acknowledge that you have read and understand these policies" sections once a year? Passing might not be required, just answering the questions. Some could be judging whether a situation is ok, morally questionable, or illegal, others could be where on campus info is available. Last set could be about whether these issues are irrelevant/clear cut/confusing and need more discussion.

NOw that I think of it -- your readers might like to help write such a quiz.

Anonymous said...

The "training" policy at the school where I work consists of an online video/tutorial, with mult. choice quiz at the end. Employees must take, and pass, the quiz.

Honestly, it is better (in some ways) than sitting through an awful, droning, presentation by our incredibly ineffectual investigatory officer. But only marginally so, and I doubt if people actually learn anything by doing it. There is certainly no opportunity for discussion, action, consideration of aspects of campus climate that make harassment and abuse more likely, etc. It becomes a bureaucratic tool for the school to cover its liability, rather than an honest teaching/learning/reflection/engagement tool.

From an HR standpoint, that's probably fine. From a civil rights standpoint, it is pretty useless.

Perpetua said...

@Anonymous: I'm not sure I agree with you. I mean, on one level I do. The system you describe is what happens at my uni, too, and I found the whole thing absurd, tedious, and annoying. At the same time, I did have to answer the questions correctly, so whether or not I wanted to, I had to "learn" something. Whether that changes the ethical environment on campus is another question, but I tend to agree with TR here. While it's not enough, it is something. Because when you have a policy and it's publicized and it's clearly stated, along with the *consequences* for behavior, then you are starting to create a culture wherein such behavior is acknowledged as not acceptable. That doesn't go far enough to get rid of the behavior, but it does do something. TR's analogy to the honor code is a good one. I know students at my honor-code-heavy college still cheat, but they know they shouldn't and know there are strict consequences, whereas at the large public uni where I used to teach, they cheated like they breathed, with no sense that it was unethical. Policies are not a solution, but a step - Step 1 maybe, but still an important step.

I just want to say how heartened I felt at this story of students at Yale taking collective action. You guys rock.

Sarabeth said...

My understanding of the state of research is that anti-harrassment training works when there is actually a deeper institutional commitment to the issue. Kind of a chicken-egg problem, perhaps, but it means that the pro-forma types of "watch this video then take a quiz" trainings are not generally making a difference.

"The impact of reason for training on the relationship between “best practices” and sexual harassment training effectiveness", Human Resource Development Quarterly, Elissa L. Perry et al.

Anonymous said...


Could you elaborate on the difference between "consent training" and anti-rape workshops? I'm curious.

-Zenith undergrad

Tenured Radical said...

"Consent training" operates on the assumption that sexual violence is neither intentional or, in fact, actually violent. It asks each party to not only seek consent from the other, but to actively produce consent. It presumes that sexual violence occurs when one or both parties are swept along by impulses that are operating independent of the rational mind.

It's not useless. But that said, the vast number of campus rapes are committed by serial rapists who actually do intend to find erotic gratification by doing violence to another person.

What consent training does, when it is emphasized over anti-rape consciousness, is confuse the question of what counts as violence. I think this has quite broad consequences. Cruel people who deliberately rape are not labeled as such, but merely as people who don't understand "consent." Raped people, usually women, are left with residual guilt that it was their own failure to communicate that produced or contributed to the violence. And sexually inexperienced people who may have genuinely failed to communicate, and who did not intend to be cruel, are left believing that they have been involved in "violence."

Abstract violence --i.e., feeling violated and hurt because of a lack of consciousness about what constitutes a mutually pleasurable erotic experience -- is just not the same as intentionally ripping into someone's body and causing hir deliberate pain and suffering. When consent training dominates the landscape, however, these two categories are dangerously blurred.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Here at the University of Ghana we just had a rather large scandal where a number of male students allegedly stripped and molested a woman they accused of stealing. The incident took place at one of the dorms. There is supposedly a video of the event, but I have not seen it nor do I wish to see it. But, evidently you do not need a NCAA team to have such problems.

GlassPen said...

and when these guys grow up, they can go to work for KBR, a "Top Employer for Women". if you can stand it, follow the links or read about the original offense here.

becca said...


AYY said...

"if you've asked for action at your school and they don't hire anyone, if your school offers "consent training" rather than anti-rape workshops, they don't open a women's center, faculty are not receiving mandatory sexual harassment training, and the bulk of the website on rape is still devoted to all the things you, as a woman, can do to "avoid" being raped -- your school might benefit from a Title IX investigation too."

Benefit from a Title IX investigation? You mean that whether or not there's harassment, if the school isn't taking affirmative steps to fulfill an agenda, someone at the school should ask for a Title IX investigation so that this agenda can be fulfilled? That sounds like an abuse of the purpose of a Title IX investigation.

A Title IX hostile environment investigation involves claims of actual harassment. What you've mentioned doesn't amount to harassment.

Tenured Radical said...

Not worthy of response, dude.

Redbookish said...

I have been told both times I confronted colleagues over relationships that had already become sexual that the relationships were consensual which, of course, is better than raping or coercing them, but doesn't effing matter if they are still students.

Working my way through comments, but this one struck me. I have worked in two Departments where male lecturers (faculty in your language)have been in relationships with female undergraduates. Consensual apparently, but it's way more complicated than that. As we know, but if one says anything, one is a prudish puritan apparently.

And anti-feminist, according to one colleague's reasoning.

He seriously told me that I shouldn't infantilise these young women by assuming they had no feelings or desires. So that's why it's OK -- and indeed even feminist -- to sleep with your undergraduates.

I'm so pleased I've had such progressive male colleagues to instruct me (just a woman) in feminism.

I am no longer in a Department where it's part of the culture to have relationships with your students and it is far more professional and conducive to wonderful team work.

The problem is, in the UK, it's not even proscribed, let alone illegal. I think that relationships between tutors and students should be like those between doctors and patients -- grounds for charges of serious professional misconduct. But such policies indicate where the power is, and the aging males still in charge of most policy-making in British universities don't like to see their field of available bright young things diminished.

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