Monday, November 21, 2011

Silent Majority: On UC Davis and the War on Students

Depressingly, few of us who work at the University of California were surprised by the fact that demonstrating students would be treated with such violence. A squad of colleagues affirmed that it was business as usual when they stood passive while Officer Pike calmly went about his task. UC Davis's Chancellor and its Police Chief both reacted as if this were an unpleasant routine, until it became a news item.

The University of California's leaders have been a waging war on students for years. This scene is repeated with increasing force directed at protesters who have sought ever more dramatic ways of demonstrating their "non-violence." Shouting? Too violent. Standing? Violent. Sitting down and chanting? Still violent. Finally, our students are on the floor with their mouths shut.

We have also witnessed Orwellian twists in the system's efforts to quash dissent. When demonstrating students aren't bludgeoned and sprayed, they are marked with antiquated labels like "disrespectful," "intolerant" and "uncivil" in a prelude to "discipline" and disenfranchisement. In a February 2010 memo ominously titled "Intolerance on Campus," UC President Mark G. Yudof lumped organized student activists together with racists when he compared the Irvine 11 to the students who thought hanging a noose in the UC San Diego library was funny. Both, he wrote, showed a lack of "tolerance."

The comparison (which Yudof has made more than once) is chilling. It draws a line of equivalence
between a loud but non-violent protest against violence, and an action that is itself shorthand for a quite specific history of terrifying violence. Students protesting systemic, state-sanctioned violence were equated with students casually citing lynching. The political and historical acrobatics required to draw that equation are dizzying.

For crying out during a presentation by Israel's ambassador to the United States, the Irvine 11 wound up in the middle of a criminal prosecution. The Muslim Student Union was banned from Irvine's campus for six months - an extraordinary disciplinary measure I haven't seen duplicated except in cases of violence at frat parties. In fact, I've seen the latter treated more generously.

One administrative response to "the Irvine 11" has gone completely unnoticed in commentary about the case, perhaps because it is so utterly banal. The Office of Student Conduct forced the three UC Riverside students who participated in that protest to write essays about the First Amendment.

Let me repeat that: UC Riverside's Office of Student Conduct forced three students to write about freedom of expression, as a form of punishment. (In his memo on "campus intolerance" Mark Yudof identifies himself as "a scholar of the First Amendment.")

No UCR faculty member was involved in creating, reading or evaluating that assignment. What self-respecting scholar could bear such a thing? I can think of no surer way of alienating a student from his or her authorial voice that to tell them what to say, and then force them to say it. (Incredibly, these punitive essays are routinely assigned across the UC system.)

There is violence embedded in that kind of "discipline." It is not the kind that goes viral. It is the kind of thing that feeds on a system like a slow-growing cancer - empowering police officers to wield their weapons as educational tools.

In setting up camps, by so visibly occupying their schools, students acknowledge that they are at risk of being disposed of their education if they don't insist on the campus's responsibility to their presence. That University of California leadership has produced a situation in which the most effective protest has been silence should give us all pause.  Students should not have to sit down and shut up in order not to be read as a threat.

That is one reason why the UC Davis action was so shaming - such a demand is grotesquely odds with our mission, but it is exactly what the system has been asking students to do for years. In literalizing that demand, however, UC Davis's students also powerfully asserted their connection with and allegiance to the ever increasing numbers of people whose mere existence poses a problem to those who have taken so much from them.

[Obviously, it's hard for me to care much about the Galaxy winning the MLS Cup with this stuff going on.]

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Footballers on the Dancefloor: from Hollywood to Bollywood, Solo, Savage and God Himself

I'm in denial. Hope Solo was voted off Dancing with the Stars. She and Maksim were ROBBED by the judges. The Argentine Tango is a perfect framework for the two strong and combative personalities. Their performance was interesting, ambitious and fun to watch.  Nevertheless, Solo and Maksim were given quite low scores. (Their Paso Doble was awesome from a head-banger's perspective but perhaps not so ballroom. Their Cha Cha was OK, but in the "relay" format you can really see the qualitative difference between Martinez, Lake and the rest (how Kardashian won that segment is beyond my understanding). Anyway, here's the Tango:

Bravo to Solo for bringing it.

This seems like a good moment to survey performances by a few other footballers. For example, Robbie Savage is on this season's Strictly Come Dancing

That performance needs no comment from me. Bless him.

Diligent readers of FaLW will know that I'm a fan of Baichung Bhutia, who won India's Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa in 2009. Bhutia played for Kolkata clubs Mohun Bagan and East Bengal - two of the most stories clubs in Asia. His career has largely been built around long-term ambitions for soccer in India, and he is one of the founders of the country's first player's union. Without a doubt, he participated in India's version of Dancing with the Stars in order to raise awareness of Indian soccer. Nevertheless, Mohun Bagan questioned his commitment to the sport when his succesful run on the dance show caused him to miss a practice and exhibition match. The club took a ridiculous, short-sighted stand and Bhutia left them for East Bengal.

He retired from play this year, but owns United Sikkim and is a key figure for the future of the sport in Asia. Bhutia's the kind of person many of us would love to see head FIFA. The guy has a soul. And that shows in all of his performances. (Jhalak Dikkhla Jaa is fun to watch because the dances are hybrids - part ballroom, part Bollywood. They are very theatrical and often quite athletic.) 

The most fascinating turn in this genre comes from Italy's Ballando con le Stelle. God himself appeared on its dance floor in 2005. He withdrew from the show after four weeks - he'd been flying back and forth between Buenos Aires and Italy, shortly after undergoing surgery to control his weight problems. Around this time, however, Italian tax authorities tried to collect his earnings from the program, in order to cover debt dating back to his days as a player. I'm grateful for the three weeks he gave us - everytime I watch this, my brain goes: "No, is that" And then it short circuits.

If you need more after that, I recommend Bleacher Report's survey of footballers who should be on DWTS. Given that this Bleacher Report researcher confined herself to the men's game, she missed one, most obvious candidate. For of all the dancing footballers surveyed by Bleacher Report, none actually incorporate dance into their play. For them, it's a post-goal scoring celebration. For Marta Vieira da Silva, the samba is a cruel taunt embedded into play - an announcement of her opponent's imminent humiliation (see, especially the move that starts around min 3:35):

Hope Solo would be the first to observe, however, that had she been in goal in 2007, Marta would have had much less to Samba about.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

More Notes on a Scandal: Cultures of Compliance (the Penn State/Berkeley comparison)

The other week, my university's Chancellor sent out a message encouraging people to respect each other's differences - be they cultural, political, religious, academic, etc. 
It's the kind of thing administrators generate to look like they are doing the right thing. It's also the kind of thing that makes 'doing the right thing' look easy. As if difference - being different, feeling differently, living differently - was reducible to a matter of taste. The actual aim of that message was to discourage students from raising their voices. The memo's central purpose, in other words, is to minimize conflict.
That same week, at Berkeley, campus police wedged their batons into student bellies. Some show of respect. 

Dave Zirin said something a lot of us were thinking when he contrasted Penn State students with Berkeley's - one set rioting at the firing of a coach who failed his community by burying accusations of child abuse, the other peacefully asserting their right to demonstrate in support of the #Occupy movement - and beaten by the campus police for doing so. (Penn State students also "rioted" at the announcement of Osama Bin Laden's death - so, this seems to be their default mode.)
Sneering at jarhead Penn State fans is a little too easy. It's close to the flipside of the knee-jerk, smug righteousness of the fans themselves - who decry the defilement of the abused in the same gesture they flip a news van and set it on fire. These things feel related to me - the macho posturing that wraps itself around the idea of protecting innocent children, coming from the last people one would actually trust to know what it means to support a healthy sexual culture.
In any case, both situations express a crisis in the integrity of university culture. And it does feel like this problem goes coast to coast. 
There is a growing gap between what students want from their universities and what those campuses are giving them. They want an education. They are being given lessons in compliance - comply with the corporate culture or get beaten for resisting it.
It's a miracle that California students haven't started burning down their schools. The entire system has been raped and pillaged by the selfish class. It's that simple. Administrations collaborate, making deals with the "1%" by selling bad debt - what is the difference between a shady mortgage on an overpriced home sold at the edge of a bubble, and dramatic rises in tuition that can only be paid with loans that will enslave students with outrageous "unsecured" debt for most of their adult, underemployed lives?
The brutal realities of this are perhaps nowhere more evident that in the Golden State, which once boasted the best public education system in the world, but now can't afford to give its students desks and textbooks. Tuition escalates beyond a working person's reach. Families lose their homes and kids are caught between paying for school, or helping mom and dad with the mortgage. Everybody is losing.
Students should occupy their campuses - they need to unite in their grief and outrage, and they'll find plenty of staff and faculty willing to pitch their tents alongside them. But it's their campus. We work for them.
Turning to Penn State: I can't fathom making a martyr out of Joe Paterno, and there's no crowd that makes me more uncomfortable, feel more "unsafe" than college football fans.
But: I can imagine being very suspicious of Penn State's public sacrifice of its father-figure.
The atmosphere at Penn State has been described to me as "cult-like." That intense attachment to the campus, secured through its football program and its symbolic Father, is what most universities are aiming for: Rather than build the campus up from the ground with good teaching, resources for research, support for student learning - they are trying to create a corporate brand, administrations want students to have not an education but an "experience."

The myth here is that this nostalgia for "the college experience" will fund public education. For a handful of colleges it might, but at what cost to them, and to the rest of the system?
University executives now want former students to look back on their education with uncritical nostalgia, with the same set of feelings they might have for their first pair of Nikes.
If I send a check to Rutgers, it isn't because I think back on my "college experience" and feel wistful. I think about how the education I received - which was pleasurable, challenging and sometimes soul-rattling - changed my life. Enabling that in the classroom is hard work. It isn't pretty. It is a hard sell.
The Penn State students who rioted clearly drank the campus Kool-Aid. But I can imagine being a student there, and seeing the big round of dismissals as a hollow gesture. Given how long this abuse is supposed to have gone on, given how many years people continued to work with and support Sandusky after they learned about the now infamous shower incident, who doesn't bear responsibility to the alleged victims here? Ushering these guys off the stage with the directive "don't talk about anything" doesn't feel satisfactory. But what would? Something is rotten in the system. 
But what system? How is it rotten?
As I wrote in an op-ed piece for The Guardian this week, it's more, and more complicated, than football and big-time sports.
I remember the sex scandal that rocked Princeton in the late 1980s, when a distinguished male professor in the English Department was accused of rape by a male graduate student. (See the NYT Magazine article, "Arms and the Man: A Sex Scandal Rocks Princeton.")
The story was awful - the professor's behavior before and after the incident was disturbing. Those who came forward were treated badly by the university. They were feminist, anti-racist and anti-homophobic scholars tired of the climate cultivated by the Princeton administration's passivity vis a vis discrimination and harassment. Confronted with a university that dealt with a credible rape accusation by offering the accused professor a golden parachute, four left - including Emory Elliott, a distinguished American Literature scholar who was my senior colleague at U.C. Riverside.
At my own campus, three women came forward in the 1990s and filed a complaint about systemic harassment and discrimination in the History Department. The pattern of behavior was jaw-dropping - ranging from overt discrimination against women faculty with children to a rape charge filed by a female student against a male professor. It was bad enough to become a scandal within the academy. (The story was reported in a May 1999 story for The Chronicle of Higher Education: "A History Department Implodes Over Sex-Bias Charges and a Suicide.")
The women who came forward on my campus paid a heavy price for doing the right thing. If that department is now a good place to work, we can thank those scholars. But even now, I see little sympathy from senior colleagues about the crap they went through and how that might have impacted not only their scholarship, but their relationship to the institution.
I recall these stories to point out something easily forgotten: academic administration contains more than a few atavistic holdovers from the days when universities were run by and for white men.
An English Department, a History Department will (hopefully) have been forced to work through this stuff by virtue of the integration of women and feminist scholars into their ranks - the Humanities are ahead of the ball on this point.
Athletic Departments like Penn State's are nursing fantasies of the gold old days when men were men and women knew their place, and nobody rocked to boat or talked about anything.  
The bizarre thing about this is that athletic departments are actually forced to confront the matter of gender equity much more directly than academic departments. It is (apparently) hard to force a Physics department to hire as many women as it does men - but it isn't hard to force a campus to at least try to offer equal opportunity to women athletes.
That should mean that there is a greater awareness in athletic departments about all the issues that come with sex/gender equity - but instead we see a national pattern of football programs especially endorsing rape culture, women's sports programs engaging in shitty forms of gender policing (Penn State was sued by a female basketball player who was harassed by her coach over her 'unfeminine' appearance), a total passivity about homophobic behavior towards male and female athletes, and a resistance to owning up to the responsibilities that campus administrations bear in letting this stuff go on, and on, and on.
As we bear witness to this national wave of sympathy for the victims and at the massive, totally justified outrage at the cover-up, let's entertain the following possibility:
If people felt half this sympathy for the women who've been raped by football players in the past forty years, or half the outrage regarding the systemic cover-up of those assaults - perhaps we wouldn't be in quite this situation. Perhaps the guys at Penn State would have been raised to do the right thing, even if that thing was really hard.
To circle back to my opening paragraph - If I'm uneasy about comparisons of the Penn State student riot with the Berkeley student protest, even as a study of contrasts, it's because campus administrators don't see a difference. They see both as crowds to be controlled, and send them both the same memo.

What we want on our campuses is an environment in which people can speak hard truths - truths with consequences. We want students to be able to express themselves when they are angry and confused. We want an environment in which people will at least be heard. Whether they utter their truth as a shout, or a whisper.

Penn State's manual for receiving reports of harassment (more notes on a scandal)

College campuses are obliged to have policies regarding sexual harassment/sex discrimination. These very broad overlapping categories include sexual assault and the systemic cover-up of abusive behavior within a department. These kinds of a matters are handled by Penn State's Affirmative Action Office. Each area of the university is also expected to have staff members trained in handling harassment complaints - including the Athletic Department. They are the college's front line - the people to whom staff and students are directed when they need help. The people who are supposed to tell you what to do, for example, if you see a guy raping someone in the showers.

As far as I can tell, Penn State's athletic department has two such staff members - a man and a woman whose names have not come up in reporting on the scandal (neither are part of the football program).  [That said, it's possible this particular system wasn't in place in 2002, when witnesses at Penn State reported Sandusky's behavior to their superiors - the Affirmative Action office was certainly in place, however, and identified as the office to which one reports such things.] No one in the football program followed the rule book on this one.

There is a reason institutions have offices for handling allegations of sex/gender harassment. Prejudice, shame and fear can be overwhelming in these cases. Victims find their experiences minimized, people who come forward expect retaliation. Charging a senior staff member with something like this is frightening. For many, coming forward feels like you are putting your personal and professional lives on the line. So - to acknowledge the specific difficulty of this whole category of experience, campuses have offices which specifically handle sex/gender harassment in all its forms.

Unfortunately, lots of university employees sneer at that office - at my own campus, I've heard it described as "a joke" and worse by a senior male colleague, in a university meeting (not in my department). Such attitudes abound - and the more masculnist and patriarchal the organization, the worse these attitudes will be.

People working in such spaces - sexist, homophobic and more - are ill equipped to handle their own feelings about child abuse - never mind child abuse enacted by a straight man (with whom they've worked closely) on young boys.

Penn State's football program has cult-like status - clearly no one wanted to acknowledge to themselves that such a man might actually fit right into the fold. What does that mean? What does that say? I can imagine everyone in that community feels shamed by this.

There is a community of people at Penn State to whom they might turn: feminist and LGBIT scholars and staff members who work regularly with subjects like sexual abuse - with the architectures of shame that make coming forward as a victim feel, for many, life-threatening. But it's naive to think the Penn State football program would be interested in turning to its feminist colleagues for help.

I'm really interested in knowing why the Penn State staff trained in handling these matters were kept so far from it all. (Am I right on this?) The only reason I can imagine for not going to the affirmative action office is that even those reporting what they saw and heard didn't want it to get out - they wanted to "keep it in the family." As is the case with many abusive scenarios.

It's probable that the university administration tried to use the non-student status of the victims to rationalize its decisions. Though all administrators have the training (and common sense) to know better, in this case, they may have wanted to believe it wasn't their responsibility - their sole responsibility in their minds may have been to students and staff - or, more nearly, to the institution itself (by which I mean Penn State football). Again, this is conjecture.

SO, here it is - an excerpt from Penn State's manual for "Recognizing and Responding to Sexual Harassment" - an overview of the things that didn't happen.

A. Concerns of Complainants
• Many complainants may show hesitation or even fear about coming forward with concerns or complaints of sexual harassment.
• A complainant may need to be assured that she/he will be treated fairly and protected from retaliation.
• Complainants are often concerned about who will learn about the details of their experience.
• Assure the person that only those people that “need to know” to resolve the issues will be informed.
• In cases of sexual assault, stalking or other forms of criminal sexual conduct, inform the
person of their option to file a report with the police, then contact AAO (the Affirmative Action Office).

B. The Initial Interview
• Have a copy of the policy, brochure, and other appropriate information available. Provide copies to the complainant.
• Listen and take the complaint seriously.
• Avoid making judgment and remain neutral and supportive.
• Determine if the harassment has stopped.
• Help the person regain a sense of control by explaining the process and what happens next.
• Determine if the complainant and others are at immediate risk.
• Take factual notes during the conversation for accuracy of recall.

C. What to Say When Receiving a Complaint
• Explain briefly the University’s Policy AD41.
• Indicate that the University takes complaints of sexual harassment very seriously.
• Advise that the University will take prompt action.
• Communicate that although complete confidentiality cannot be guaranteed, the facts will be protected as much as possible including, when possible, the identity of the complainant.
• Explain that the University will protect a complainant in every possible way, including protection against retaliation for filing a complaint or participating in a complaint.
• Explain that your role is to make sure the complainant knows and understands all available options and to help explore these options.
• Stress that the complainant may also go directly to the Affirmative Action Office for consultation and advice.
• Ask what happened.

D. Information to Secure from Complainant
Ask the person reporting the behavior or making a complaint the following:
• What was (or is) the offensive behavior?
• Where did the behavior occur?
• Who is the person doing the offensive behavior? Obtain name, employment status, phone number and description of the person complained about.
• When and where did the behavior occur? Obtain this information for each instance of offensive behavior.
• Who else was present that witnessed the behavior? Obtain name and phone numbers.
• Were there any others who have had the same or similar offensive behavior directed at them?
• Did the complainant tell anyone else about what happened?
• How long has this been going on? Did the complainant keep a journal or notes about what happened?
• Did the complainant indicate that the behavior was unwelcome? If yes, what was that person’s reaction to what the complainant said or did?
• What was the effect of the behavior on the complainant?
• What does the complainant want as the outcome?

E. During the Initial Interview
• Ask only open ended questions - “why” questions put people on the defensive.
• Remain neutral - voicing opinions or reaching conclusions prematurely is inappropriate.
• Don’t make promises or guarantee any particular results.
• Don’t ask leading questions or multiple-choice questions.
• Avoid making assumptions.
• Complete confidentiality can not be promised (you can not resolve the complaint if you can not talk to anyone about it); indicate that only people with a “need to know” will be consulted.
• Don’t reveal information which would violate the privacy of the person accused (i.e. “this is not the first time I’ve heard a complaint about this person.”)
• Summarize what the person has told you.
• Make sure that the person knows she or he will be kept informed.
• Explain the next step. Ask for complainant’s contact information.
• Indicate that she/he can call you to provide additional information or for an update.
• If the issue does not appear to be sexual harassment, refer the person to the appropriate resources.
• Complete your notes, keeping them factual.


A. Review the Information Received

Call the Affirmative Action Office for advice and assistance after gathering the preliminary information and before conducting further interviews, if possible. Consider the following:

• Do you need to take immediate action?
• Is the person potentially in physical danger?
- Has the complainant expressed fear or concern about ongoing behavior?
- Do the parties need to be separated while an investigation is conducted?
• Is the person’s employment or education status in jeopardy due to the situation?
• Who needs to be involved to resolve the situation?

B. Follow-up with Complainant - Explain/Discuss Appropriate Options

Discuss strategies the complainant might want to use in responding to a sexual harassment situation.
It may be helpful for the victim to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. However, this is not required and in some circumstances it is not the appropriate approach.

• Describe direct action the person can take:
- Let the offender know that their behavior is unwelcome and it must stop
- Verbally
- In writing - by sending an email or a letter by certified mail to the harasser.
(See more information and sample letters at the end of this booklet)

• Describe informal actions the institution can take:
- Have conversation with the alleged harasser to discuss the behavior and review the Policy.
- Send administrative letter addressing adherence to the Policy to unit/office.
- Provide an educational program on sexual harassment prevention to the unit.
- Place a copy of the University policy in offender’s mailbox.
- Suggest other types of assistance.

• Describe formal actions the institution can take:
- Administrator or supervisor speak with alleged harasser about the behavior and
require that behavior stop.
- Refer to the Affirmative Action Office.
- Conduct a formal investigation that could possibly result in appropriate disciplinary action.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Reflections on Penn State: A Brief Look Back, to Colorado

As we read one editorial after another expressing outrage at Penn State's failure to respond to complaints regarding Sandusky, and try to wrap our minds around the consequences of this "scandal," we should step back and remember that U.S. universities have a long history of failing victims of sexual assault. That was the general point of an editorial I wrote for The Guardian yesterday. I thought I'd follow that editorial up with some more focused "unpacking" of the issues that this story raises.

My first impulse regarding the Penn State story is to look back at that long-problematic football program - The University of Colorado, Boulder - and the legal precedents it created via its "deliberate indifference" to the behavior of its players.

The University of Colorado football program has spent the past two decades up to its neck in trouble - so many women have accused its football players of rape that it became hard not to think of the program as the living embodiment of a "rape culture."

In 2007, the university settled a complaint filed by two students who were raped by football players. The students had been encouraged to invite four players over one evening. 20 players and recruits turned up - they raped both women, and a third later that evening. Other women also reported being harassed at the same party.

The students chose not to file a complaint within the university. Instead, they filed a federal lawsuit against the campus. (Given how poorly such complaints are handled, one can hardly blame them.)

The complaint argued that the players had been told to expect sex; that the football program knew that sending the players to their apartment might put those women at risk. They accused the university of deliberate indifference to the environment of harassment and sexual abuse they created through their football program.

That case was initially dismissed because the students did not use the university's procedures for filing Title IX complaints. The students appealed the district court's decision. The court of appeals reinstated the case.

In its decision reinstating the lawsuit, the court found that there was evidence that the football program had a policy of showing recruits a 'good time,' that the sexual assaults happened because the campus failed to supervise its players and the recruits they were entertaining, and that it was reasonable to expect that such misconduct would result from these conditions - in failing to supervise its players, the administration showed "deliberate indifference" to the problem. For that reason, the women could press their case. The National Council of Higher Education Risk Management describes the results economically:
By the time of the assaults on Ms. Simpson, Ms. Gilmore, and others, the CU football coach had general knowledge of the serious risk of sexual assault during college football recruiting efforts and that the need for more or different training of players and hosts was so obvious that the failure to respond was clearly “deliberate indifference” to the need. The court found:
1. The head football coach had general knowledge of the serious risk of sexual harassment and assault during college football recruiting visits;
2. The coach knew that sexual assaults had occurred during prior recruiting visits;
3. Even with this knowledge, the coach continued to maintain an unsupervised player‐host recruiting program designed to show recruits “a good time”; and
4. The head football coach was aware of prior incidents of sexual assault both because of incidents reported to him as well as the fact that he refused to work toward changing the culture regarding recruiting visits. 
Thanks to these bravery of these two students - who made their case not only about the individuals who raped them, but the institution which basically facilitated the assaults - we have this legal standard of "deliberate indifference" by which a campus can be held responsible for its passivity.

Next: The Problem of the Compliant
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...