“While Kimberly Theidon, a professor of humanitarian studies at Tufts University, took her dogs for a walk on Wednesday morning, she thought about the numerous times guys have driven by and shouted “some disgusting version of ‘great tits.’”
“This morning I blinked back tears, realizing those guys are even more emboldened as a result of this election,” Theidon said. “Yet another generation of young women will grow up having been made to feel that their bodies are somehow public property, and they will also keep putting one foot in front of another and not say a word for fear the car will circle back around a second time.”
“We cannot be a great College unless we are a good community.” Indeed. It is time to investigate the professors who sexually harass students, who engage in quid pro quo sexual transactions for letters of recommendation, for writing prologues to forthcoming books, and for placing phone calls to members of search committees looking to hire a tenure track professor. I refuse to remain silent, and I encourage my colleagues to speak out. Even if you were silent in the past about the professorial misconduct you witnessed, you can still step forward now. It is not too late to do the right thing. Stand shoulder to shoulder with students, and take a stand to make certain this sort of behavior stops. Stand up. If there is something to be learned from this interminable and infernal presidential campaign, it is the strength of numbers. Each time a sexual assault or harassment survivor comes forward, she or he emboldens others to do the same. And let me be clear: the narrative burden for sexual violence must not rest upon the shoulders of survivors. We all have a responsibility to speak out and demand change.
We watched “Spotlight” last night and it is a powerful film which I highly recommend. It is based upon the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting of widespread clerical sexual abuse in our city. As I watched, the parallels to professorial sexual harassment were stunning: complicity of those in power (and colleagues in the know who said nothing); structurally vulnerable young people who feared speaking out; priests who preyed upon poorer students whose parents were delighted their children were being singled out for the attention; a church policy of moving priestly predators from one parish to another when their actions became so extreme as to draw attention (akin to moving professors from one center or department on campus to another when their harassing ways cannot be swept under the carpet, or encouraging them to take a paid leave or early retirement); and Cardinal Law who knew about all of it for years and did nothing (the deans and campus presidents who file away the harassment reports in ever-thickening-and-sickening-folders to gather dust while lives are wrenched apart and academic careers derailed). If all the students and untenured faculty who have been targeted for harassment joined forces with formerly complicit senior faculty who finally found their courage and their voices —- this could equal the power of the student-led Title IX Movement spreading from one side of this country to the other. For every person who watches “Spotlight” and is justifiably horrified by all of those who silently stood by, isn’t it time to stand up and speak out?
Thank you to my students and colleagues. It is time for faculty to step up and be our students’ best allies in making campuses safer and more equitable learning environments. And as long as students, faculty and staff are more frightened by the capacity of their universities to retaliate than they are of their assailants or harassers, then policy reforms are largely cosmetic, designed to placate donors and keep the Department of Education at bay.
“Grab its motherfucking leg,” she heard a voice say. And that’s when Jackie knew she was going to be raped.” Many of us have read the recent article in Rolling Stone, sickened by the brutal fraternity gang rape Jackie survived — and outraged by the University of Virginia’s institutional response. “Grab its motherfucking leg.” Not her leg — grab its. I cannot get that line out of my mind, nor can I stop thinking of a powerful scene in Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz. In the chapter “Chemical Examination,” Levi sits across from a civilian chemist, Doktor Pannwitz, who tests Levi on this knowledge of chemistry before deciding whether to admit him to the relatively privileged “Chemical Kommando.” Selection for the chemical commando might save Levi from the gas chamber and that other, lethal selection. Levi describes Pannwitz as “tall, thin, blond; he has eyes, hair and nose as all Germans ought to have them” (105). Levi notes that he feels “like Oedipus in front of the Sphinx” as he searches his memory for the chemical training he had received long before he was reduced to the status of an emaciated haftling. Then those lines: “From that day I have thought about Doktor Pannwitz many times and in many ways. I have asked myself how he really functioned as a man; how he filled his time, outside of the Polymerization and the Indo-Germanic conscience; above all when I was once more a free man, I wanted to meet him again, not from a spirit of revenge, but merely from a personal curiosity about the human soul. Because that look was not one between two men; and if I had known how completely to explain the nature of that look, which came as if across the glass window of an aquarium between two beings who live in different worlds, I would also have explained the essence of the great insanity of the third Germany” (105-6). Back to UVA. What were those young men thinking, both those who participated in the rape and those who stood by watching? What, not who, did they think Jackie was as they lined up to rape her one after the other? What made it possible for one of the rapists to approach her two weeks later and say, “I wanted to thank you for the other night. I had a great time”? Grab its leg. Perhaps if I knew how to explain the nature of that incitement — to explain the thick glass window that made it possible for those young men to sexually assault a struggling, bloodied, pleading, sobbing young women — then I could explain, at least to myself when this keeps me awake at night, what made those young men cheer each other on. Read more:
Rolling Stone and UVA: The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Report
http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/a-rape-on-campus-20141119#ixzz3Jur4aB73 Follow up: A letter from a friend: Jackie’s story is not a hoax http://www.cavalierdaily.com/blog/on-sexual-assault-letters-from-the-community/2014/12/a-letter-from-a-friend-jackies-story-is-not-a-hoax Rape survivors feel bus-sized weight of Rolling Stone’s ‘misplaced trust’ http://america.aljazeera.com/blogs/scrutineer/2014/12/5/rolling-stone-rapeuniversityvirginiaretraction.html On Being A Journalist And A Sexual Assault Survivor Watching the disintegration of Rolling Stone’s story has been a brutal reminder of the enormous chasm of understanding that too often stands between journalists and survivors. http://www.buzzfeed.com/annawalsh/on-being-a-journalist-and-a-sexual-assault-survivor The lesson of Rolling Stone and UVA: protecting victims means checking their stories http://www.vox.com/2014/12/5/7341973/trauma-rape-allegation-uva From the Washington Post: U. Va. Phi Psi members speak about impact of the discredited gang rape allegations http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/u-va-phi-kappa-psi-members-speak-about-impact-of-discredited-gang-rape-allegations/2015/01/14/d781ad90-9c04-11e4-bcfb-059ec7a93ddc_story.html?hpid=z4