But the story is incredibly complicated due to the disability issues involved. [UPDATE for clarification: The case is very controversial within the disability community, which is the source of the complexity.]
What someone did to help a sexual assault survivor April 16, 2014
Read the story at What We’re Doing About What it’s Like.
On Apology March 31, 2014
From William Carlos Williams, “Apology,” 1916:
Why do I write today?
The beauty of
The terrible faces
Of our nonentities
Stirs me to it:
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are currently approximately 13 million women enrolled at degree-granting higher education institutions in the U.S. And according to the White House Council on Women and Girls’ January 2014 report, 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while pursuing a higher degree. These two facts together mean that approximately 2.6 million women at college this year either have been or will be the victim of a sexual assault.
Most college victims are assaulted by someone they know, and campus perpetrators are often serial offenders. One study found that 7% of college men admitted to committing or attempting rape; 63% of these men admitted to committing an average of 5-6 offenses.
Although there are no hard statistics on the number of serial predators who are faculty members, anecdotal evidence suggests that this, too, is a significant problem. I have yet to work or study at a university where there was not a serial harasser or even a serial rapist on the faculty.
Conversations with colleagues in philosophy, in the wake of the revelation of sexual misconduct problems in the CU Boulder philosophy department, the case against a Northwestern philosophy faculty member, the recent dismissal of an Oxford philosopher in the wake of concerns about the university’s handling of an investigation, and other allegations of sexual misconduct in the Yale philosophy department—less than a year after a prominent philosopher at UMiami resigned in a much-publicized sexual misconduct case—have convinced me that the problem of faculty sexual misconduct in the hallowed halls of academia is far more widespread than even I imagined. In philosophy alone, I can name 33 faculty members who (still) hold tenured positions and who have been, at some point in their career, accused of sexual misconduct. I have also become convinced that in many cases both the offended and the offender are harmed, and often others in the university community, too—which means that the number of persons who are hurting is even greater than the number of instances of misconduct. We need to figure out how to collectively move beyond known conflicts and harms.
One of the steps in moving beyond is certainly to starting talking about the policy question, about how to best prevent and respond to instances of sexual misconduct. But to merely engage in policy debates without acknowledging the individual humans who have been harmed by the problem would be to do more harm. In order to reduce the pain of those who have suffered, we need to break the silence; reach out to those who have been harmed; stop the practice of covering up faculty offenses with non-disclosure agreements (unless explicitly requested by the victim); worry first about the victim or survivor and second about the reputation of the university or faculty; and acknowledge that our complicity and failure to act has caused significant harm to an untold number of students.
We need, in other words, to apologize.
But what does it mean to apologize for an offense that one hasn’t committed? How could an apology from someone other than the offender reduce the pain of those offended?
I offered some thoughts last fall, in an open letter to Katie Roiphe, about how asymmetries of power in certain kinds of relationships can affect our ability to give consent. What I didn’t emphasize at the time was the importance of respect for vulnerability – and of knowing how to achieve vulnerability. Apologies are important because they provide an opportunity for the relatively powerful to experience vulnerability, to comprehend one feature of the offense, and, through that comprehension, empower the offended. In other words, apologies can act as a channel for the redistribution of power, which is often a precondition for moving forward. As Aaron Lazare, former Dean and Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, explains in On Apology:
“what makes an apology work is the exchange of shame and power between the offender and the offended. By apologizing, you take the shame of your offense and redirect it to yourself… In acknowledging your shame you give the offended the power to forgive.” (Lazare 2004, 42)
Now, clearly, not all apologies will effectively redistribute power. And ineffective apologies have, for some reason, become a sort of phenomenon in the U.S. over the past few months.
What makes an apology effective? Here’s a first pass at a few criteria:
1. A performance of vulnerability:
An effective apology is often a performative speech act — an attempt to transform a social reality, rather than simply describe or ruefully acknowledge that reality. In the case of apologies for offenses that reflect an existing power asymmetry, to apologize in a way that reasserts that power is not transformative. In order for an apology to be effective, it must be a performance of vulnerability, not an extended expression of power.
So, for example, Madonna’s botched attempts to issue an apology for using a hashtag with a racial slur were unsuccessful because, even after dropping her attempts to defend the indefensible, the “apology” she offered was an expression of power, an assertion of her imagined role as an inspiration and bearer of messages of tolerance:
“MY job is to inspire and bring people together. My message has always been about tolerance and non-judgment. The last thing I want to do is bring chaos or cause separation in anyway. #revolutionoflove”
An effective apology in this case would have been a process of: acknowledging that a racial slur is an expression of intolerance; attempting to genuinely comprehend why outrage is an appropriate reaction, perhaps via dialogue with the offended or an effort to empathetically imagine the experience of those offended; and publicly admitting ignorance and explaining why the slur is offensive, with credit to those who helped her with the process of understanding. Given the complexities of the often intersectional nature of discrimination, harassment, and violence, dialogue and performative imagination is a particularly important aspect of our attempts to comprehend.
In the case of institutional, official apologies, a performance of vulnerability – as in, say, publicly admitting culpability despite concerns about the possible legal ramifications – is particularly important, given that the relationship is almost always asymmetrical. (And, for what it’s worth, our legal aversion to apology is probably worth questioning. Case law is rife with examples in which apology and remorse have resulted in the mitigation of damages and even punishment.)
2. Both public and private:
Apologies should be both public, provided that the apology is couched in a way that does not violate the privacy of the offended if the offended does not want the facts known, and private.
To issue an apology that is only public is like referring to someone who is in the room using the third person; it is to fail to understand that an apology, as a transaction of power and shame, must occur between the offender and offended. So, for example, in the case of Madonna’s apology above, a “real” apology would have been not just a public broadcast on her Instagram page, but also a personal apology addressed to each individual who expressed disgust in response to her use of a racial slur, and/or a letter of apology to associations representing the offended group.
To issue an apology that is only private, on the other hand, is like issuing a promissory note without any intent to pay. Transactions should have a public or verifiable element in order be a legitimate, enduring, and trustworthy exchange.
3. Affirmation of a shared norm:
An apology should be an affirmation of a norm that the apologizer believes to be appropriate and binding. In order to serve as a basis for reconciliation, it cannot be a mere acknowledgement of a difference in belief or values, with a request for forgiveness based on a provisional acceptance of the difference. To respond to an offense by saying, “I think the restrictions that are being imposed on me are Puritanical, but I understand that my actions have been perceived as offensive and therefore apologize,” is to acknowledge that a transgression has taken place—but in a manner that places the onus for the judgment of unacceptability on an unshared belief or value endorsed by the offended, rather than on a shared belief or value. It therefore blocks reconciliation by calling attention to differences, rather than by recalling and reaffirming the legitimacy of communal codes of behavior or values that have been violated in the offense.
Similarly, the language of the apology must name and describe the offense in the way that the offended understands it—in terms that acknowledge that it is in fact an offense and demonstrate that the offender has acquired some level of comprehension of the underlying issues. Attempting to apologize for “non-consensual sex” with a “freshman” is unlikely to be effective, when what happened was the rape of a first-year student.
Restitution is the act of restoring to the rightful owner something that has been taken, lost, or surrendered. Reparation is the act of repairing or making amends for a wrong.
If we use case law as a model, then it is reasonable to think that whether restitution and/or reparation are a required in order for an apology to serve as grounds for reconciliation depends on the degree of the harm experienced by the offended. (Note that I said the degree of the harm experienced, not the degree of the harm inflicted. This is a subjective measure, not an objective measure of the harm, as substantiated by evidence such as the testimony of counselors and other experts, the victim’s narrative as relayed via correspondence at the time of the offense, etc.)
It may also depend on whether the offense takes place in an environment of systemic inequity or power imbalance. When an offense results in the loss of a job, opportunity, or other tangible benefit, an apology, arguably, must be more than words. As Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu remarks in God Has a Dream:
“If someone steals my pen and then asks me to forgive him, unless he returns my pen the sincerity of his contrition and confession will be considered nil. Confession, forgiveness, and reparation, wherever feasible, form part of a continuum.” (Tutu 2004, 57)
Many believe that when an offense is an example of the kinds of actions that perpetuate a deeply entrenched or systemic form of injustice, an apology that aims to reconcile must include both a commitment to both restitution in the form of working to try to restore the particular loss(es) of the offended, and reparation in the form of a commitment to trying to address the broader problem of the systemic injustice(s).
5. Empathy and affect:
Some victims point to an affective element that must be present for an apology to be a “real” or effective. The offer must be a non-binding and genuine offer to reconcile; the offender must genuinely mean to make an offer, both in the sense that s/he is visibly affected in a personal but non-self-indulgent sense, and in the sense that the offer should be made in a way that permits the offended to gracefully decline. As Elizabeth Spelman explains in Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World, for a victim who does not want reconciliation, an apology can be problematic if it is not presented in a manner that provides the offended an opportunity to reject it without further harm:
“My apology is a kind of subpoena, pressing you for an appearance, a response. Given what I have declared, and declared openly, about my deeds and my attitude toward them, shouldn’t you be pleased? Shouldn’t you give up any anger and resentment you have? Don’t you at least owe me some kind of response?… You have lost the moral high ground your anger might have afforded you. But more, it shifts the burden now to you.” (Spelman 2002, 99)
(Thanks to Alice MacLachlan for this insight.)
The affective component of the offer, in order to be sincere, also should not be excessively beseeching—as was the case, for example, with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s early January 2014 press conference, in which he apologized more than two dozen times for the George Washington Bridge incident.
Perhaps even more important than the affect is empathy. As one survivor of an instance of sexual misconduct in philosophy said to me last fall, “I don’t want him [the offender] to suffer; there’s already been enough of that. I just wish I could somehow make him see what I’ve been through.” To see or feel what a victim has been through requires an empathetic and vivid re-imagining of both the offense and the context of offense from the point of view of the offended.
Sounds like a pretty complex set of criteria, no?
Complex, but not impossible. Perhaps the best example of a strong apology, one that meets many of these criteria, is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which contains explicit and appropriate apologies, avoids any attempt to defend or explain the offense, focuses on healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors, provides a means of accountability for the future, acknowledges the need for restitution, and offers explicit direction in disciplining offenders.
We are at a watershed moment, with the recent passage of the Campus SaVE Act, which was slated to go into effect on March 7, a lawsuit filed on March 2 by a University of Virginia rape victim to try to block the implementation of Campus SaVE, the January 22 U.S. Presidential Memorandum to create the new White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, and the January 29 letter from 39 members of the U.S. House of Representatives to the Office of Civil Rights, calling for, among other things, the creation of a public database of complaint resolutions.
While Washington continues to debate the policies, I challenge the faculty and leaders of higher education follow the model of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter. Specifically:
I challenge the leaders of higher education to organize a Higher Education Leadership Council to draw up a specific apology and a set of commitments that go beyond the bare minimum required by laws such as Title IX and VAWA/Campus SaVE.
I challenge members of the Council and individual campus administrators and faculty leaders to agree not to enter into settlements which bind the parties to confidentiality unless the victim/survivor requests confidentiality and this request is noted in the text of the agreement.
I challenge members of the Council and individual universities to promote reconciliation for alumni and former students by permitting victims from the past to step forward to report previously unreported problems, particularly problems caused by faculty members who may still be teaching.
I challenge members of the Council and individual universities to agree to adopt policies which provide that for even a single act of sexual assault which is admitted or established after an appropriate process in accordance with university policies or relevant law, the member of the community is to be permanently removed from any position in which s/he is in contact with the victim and other potential victims, and, if warranted, dismissed from the university.
I challenge members the Council to commit to improving inter-university transparency and communication, so that a known perpetrator with a problem that has not been resolved through therapeutic professional assistance is not able to simply move from one university to another.
I challenge individual faculty to learn about—and question—individual campus policies and procedures, to seek knowledge about how best to respond if a victim or survivor does come forward, and to make ourselves available to students in a way that
I challenge the members of the Council—and all members of the community of higher education—to make our own the words of Vice President Biden when he drafted the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act: “…violence against women reflects as much a failure of our nation’s collective moral imagination as it does the failure of our nation’s laws and regulations. We are helpless to change the course of this violence unless, and until, we achieve a national consensus that it deserves our profound public outrage.”
The Extreme Badness of Silence March 25, 2014
Note: One of the survivors quoted in what follows requested that I remove the “trigger warning” that was originally at the beginning of this article, arguing that it contradicts the message that we shouldn’t be afraid of sharing trauma narratives. Her point that there is a certain tension is a perceptive one. We’re not ashamed, and part of the purpose of this piece is to encourage transparency — but we also feel, given the intensity of the responses to sexual misconduct in philosophy over the past couple of months, that readers should know that what follows could be triggering.
This is a difficult post to write – and probably an even more difficult one to read.
I’m writing it because I have had a number of conversations in the past month that have led me to believe that there are more than a few philosophers who have no clue just how damaging even mild forms of sexual misconduct can be – or, for that matter, how the extreme badness of silence and silencing techniques can compound the problem, for both the survivor and for others in the community.
And, after talking to some 15-20 survivors of faculty-student sexual misconduct – mostly in philosophy – I am beginning to think that the problematic nature of faculty-student relationships is not “merely” that the power asymmetry (or perception of a power asymmetry) precludes bona fide consent. Although consent is important, the issues go far beyond consent.
The role of a faculty mentor or adviser, particularly at the graduate school level, is not just that of an authority figure. Dissertation students are often described as the progeny of their Doktorvater or Doktormutter, and there are academic genealogies in philosophy and mathematics and many other fields which track the relationships between academic “parents” and their “children.”
In other words, it is reasonable to think that, regardless of whether or not the full doctrine of in loco parentis applies, faculty have fiduciary duties to their students.
Obviously the experience of every student is different – and I don’t want to presume that all students perceive faculty as academic parents (indeed, I’d encourage students not to harbor this perception) – but I want to give a rough sense of how the perception of a fiduciary relationship, and the corresponding silence of the “family,” can make the impact of sexual misconduct more severe.
I’ll start with my own first-hand account. As a grad student at MIT oh-so-many-years-ago, I thought of my adviser as a sort of academic father figure, a mentor who viewed me as his academic offspring and cared about my intellectual growth and development in much the same way a father would. And so when he suddenly started touching me and behaving in a non-fatherly manner, it was both unthinkable and profoundly disturbing. I felt betrayed, disillusioned, afraid, isolated, damaged, guilty, defiled, and, above all else, angry at the “family” who protected him by turning a silent back to me, confirming my belief that to report the problem would be to commit academic suicide. “Being accepted into a graduate program is like being born into a family,” a senior member of the department told me when I asked for his support in transferring to another program, “you don’t just transfer out.”
I am not alone in this response. Many of the emotions that I muddled my way through in my decade-long hiatus from philosophy have been echoed in the reports of all the courageous women I’ve talked to this year. Here are just a few of the responses they have described:
“I was walking across campus yesterday, and I saw someone who looked like him from the back, and, even though I knew it *couldn’t* be him – he’s not at this university – I couldn’t overcome my anxiety, and turned around and walked in the opposite direction.”
“I don’t go to APA meetings, because I’m afraid that I might run into him and have to deal with the mind games that he plays. I don’t want to be manipulated and mind-f*ed again.”
“I’m afraid of going to graduate school because I’m afraid of taking classes with men. I’m afraid that they’ll become someone else. I’m afraid of being alone in a classroom with a professor. I’m afraid that I’ll never be able to overcome these fears.”
“It took me three years to be able to go back to the closet where he cornered me, and when I did, I felt nauseous.”
“He told me not to say anything to anyone else, because they’d be ‘jealous’ of the ‘special privilege’ of being his girlfriend. He told me I was lucky. I didn’t feel lucky – I just felt alone, and confused, like an alien who didn’t belong. I couldn’t talk then, and I can’t talk now because I’m afraid of retaliation.”
“I signed a non-disclosure agreement with the university which means I’m not supposed to say anything to anyone. It was stupid, I know, but I thought signing it would put the whole thing behind me. It didn’t. I still wake up in the middle of the night, screaming. And now I can’t talk to anyone about it.
“I want to talk about it, but I can’t. I feel like there’s something wrong with me, and I don’t want anyone to know. I don’t want everyone to read one of my papers and think, ‘oh, this is the woman who was f*ed by that guy.’”
“I tried to tell my adviser, and he told me that it would be best not to report, because there are too many powerful philosophers who are known harassers. Obviously he’s right; there’s [that philosopher] at [that top university] and [another philosopher] at [another top university] and [another philosopher] at [another top university]. They’ve all done things to women who won’t report, because they’re too scared to report too. I understand this – but why can’t I at least talk about what happened? I feel like I’m dirty, and everyone looks away when I try to mention it.”
“He was a mentor, like a father – he is old enough to be my father – and then he got drunk and tried to kiss me. I went to the bathroom and vomited. I felt betrayal, then loss – I had lost an adviser and a mentor and couldn’t ever trust him again – and later immense sadness and grief.”
“I always thought of professors as the pinnacle of integrity and respectability. Mine were the opposite of this. I’m not sure whether to be angry at them, or angry at the culture that misled me.”
“The fact that he is a creepy — a blatant misogynist who touches every woman he can get his hands on — makes me angry. But the thing that really makes me see red is the fact that no one else in the department cares enough to say something. They’re too busy covering their own sorry asses to speak up. I went back for a colloquium and it was like Thanksgiving with a dysfunctional family. Everybody knows that Uncle Harry is a pervert, but, hey, cheers to him, he’s a good philosopher and we’ve known each other for fucking decades and that’s the only thing that counts.”
“He exploited the fact that I was vulnerable. He would help, and then coerce me into doing something I didn’t want to do, calling it ‘love’ and reminding me of how much he cared for me and had helped me. But I never felt like I had control. I couldn’t say ‘no’ because he would have responded with rage and revenge. He would have ruined my career.”
“I began to hate myself for not telling anyone, for projecting a sunny image when everything was not okay. I would have loved to tell him how much I hated it when he touched me, hated his laugh, hated his disgusting ratty beard, but I was too scared about what he would do to my reputation if I tried to report.”
“I told my adviser what happened. He told me it would be best to keep it a secret, to just forget it and not tell anyone until I am 60 years old and writing a retrospective on my career. But I feel like I’m living a lie. How can I ignore and stay silent on something that changed my very conception of self?”
“I figured it must have been my fault. I must have done something – or failed to do something, I don’t know. I just didn’t see it coming. I felt like everyone must have been guessing what had happened, even though I refused his advances, and that they must just be assuming I’m another one of his conquests. I can’t even look other philosophers in the eye.”
“I still feel cut off and detached from sexuality sometimes, like I don’t want to be touched—or at least don’t want to be touched unless it is absolutely under my control. For a long time it was the opposite, and the only pleasure I could feel was if I didn’t have any control, if I just lay absolutely still with my arms at my sides.”
“I feel on the outside of philosophy, like I don’t fit in or belong. I guess that’s my fault, because I’m just too angry, still. I have trust issues – sometimes I trust people I shouldn’t, and sometimes I don’t trust people I should. But mostly I just feel different.”
“I should have submitted pieces of my dissertation to journals years ago, but I can’t seem to bring myself to do it. I might submit some of my pieces related to feminist philosophy and activism, but I don’t want to share the work I really care about with other philosophers because it’s none of their business and I don’t owe philosophy anything.”
“I’m not sure who I am any more. Before he assaulted me, my world was predictable, sane, regular. Now I just feel shattered, fragmented, completely at the mercy of things I can’t control. I have no idea what tomorrow is going to bring.”
Confusion and hatred:
“I told him I never wanted to see him again, and he agreed not to contact me. Everything was okay for a year. But then I started having flashbacks and anxiety and got really angry that he was completely ignoring me, as if he didn’t care. I emailed him and then hated myself for being so insecure as soon as I sent the message.”
“He was so angry when I refused to take his classes after it happened. I was afraid, and I think I even felt, you know, guilty. So I tried to placate him by telling him what he wanted to hear, which was that I had feelings for him, which I didn’t. I hate myself for doing that.”
“I know this is irrational, but somehow I can’t shake the feeling that if I’m not sexually attractive, I’m not a good philosopher. And, you’re going to think this is weird, but I flirt with other philosophers, and at the same time I hate them and still don’t trust men in general. I sort of feel like they won’t ever be interested in my philosophy, just my body, so if I can keep them interested but also keep them at bay, I might be able to get them to listen to my philosophy. I know that’s wrong, but I can’t make myself believe otherwise.”
“It was consensual, but I didn’t have any choice – he has too much power in the discipline – and at points I have hated him so much for taking advantage of the power asymmetry that I have plotted revenge against him.”
“I feel so alone. I tried to commit suicide last fall. I can send you photos, but they’re sort of gross. The scar on one wrist is in the shape of a IX.”
“I can’t read the blogs or Facebook any more. Most days I just cry.”
“I have a really hard time concentrating on anything right now. I can’t believe a friend wrote that on her Facebook page – I thought she understood.”
“My world is closing in.”
One of the most alarming things about these responses is that they come from women who were, almost without exception, mentally well-adjusted prior to the incident(s), and have no history of sexual abuse or sexual assault.
So, how do we support survivors who are experiencing one or more of these feelings?
One thing I’ve learned is that it’s important to give a survivor permission to talk, to think and feel at the same time, to explore the meanings and connections between thoughts and feelings, to regain a sense of control.
While professional support is important, it is also equally important that the proverbial “family” – other faculty and grad students – not shun or silence the survivor by discouraging sharing. Yes, it is important to support the survivor by acknowledging his or her philosophical thoughts and contributions, to help achieve a sense of normalcy by discussing philosophy instead of the issue – but it is also equally important to repeatedly indicate that you care and are available. There is nothing wrong with being a survivor, and survivors need to know that. Many survivors also need to be able to share their trauma narratives with members of the philosophy “family” – which in turn means we need to overcome either an inability to empathize, or, worse yet, a fear of empathizing with that which forces us to acknowledge how very precarious our own fate is. As Susan Brison points out:
“As a society, we live with the unbearable by pressuring those who have been traumatized to forget and by rejecting the testimonies of those who are forced by fate to remember. As individuals and as cultures, we impose arbitrary term limits on memory and on recovery from trauma: a century, say, for slavery, fifty years, perhaps, for the Holocaust, a decade or two for Vietnam, several months for mass rape or serial murder… In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera writes that ‘The struggle against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.’ Whether the power is a fascist state or an internalized trauma, surviving the present requires the courage to confront the past, reexamine it, retell it, and thereby remaster its traumatic aspects… to the extent that bearing witness reestablishes the survivor’s identity, the empathetic other is essential to the continuation of a self.” (Aftermath, 57-9)
Another equally important thing we all need to do is to stop ostriching, to pull our heads out of the proverbial mud, and act. I’m no psychologist, but it’s pretty clear to me that the survivors I’ve spoken to are suffering. It’s also pretty clear to me that many of them blame university administrators for failing to impose appropriate sanctions, and the colleagues of their perpetrators for failure to recognize and respond to the problem. And, if I’m correct in thinking that the effect of a faculty member violating his or her fiduciary duties by making sexual advances is tantamount to that of, say, a parent making sexual advances on an adult child, then to maintain silence about a “known problem” is to be complicit in a behavior whose effects are similar (though of course not identical) to those of sexual abuse. The survivors need our collective support and counseling – as do the perpetrators.
Yet another thing I’ve learned in the past year is that higher education is a very large “family,” and that, although there are some dysfunctional members, there are also many of us who understand the extreme badness of silence – who are committed to ending the cycle of sexual abuse, to getting treatment for those members of the family who commit incomprehensible acts and preventing them from having contact with students and other vulnerable members of the community, in order to prevent further damage.
Please, if you are aware of a problem, don’t ignore it.
We need to make room for breaking the silence March 10, 2014
These last few weeks have been difficult for us as a community—and rightly so—but despite all that’s come to light, still, so much remains hidden. Here, at Feminist Philosophers, we have been talking a bit about the pain of silence recently. I think if we are to come out of this stronger as a community, if we’re going to be able to move forward at all, we need to make room for people to not be silent. Sometimes it seems as though we are caught in a web of interlocking prisoners’ dilemmas: Conversations about harassment, discrimination, and assault are difficult and they are often politically risky. In the short run, if we have the luxury, it can seem easier to simply avoid them. But collectively we have the power to make them less risky. We can create a culture in which victims are supported well enough to come forward and active bystanders are cultivated. We can do this by offering our solidarity with those who are marginalized, vulnerable, and would otherwise be ignored; by treating our colleagues with respect even when we disagree with them; by acting with compassion and understanding; by speaking and acting ourselves where possible.
To that end, I must acknowledge what happened here last week, and say that I am thankful for the courageous and peaceful activism of the Northwestern students, for the intervention of Rachel McKinnon (and others) in a comment thread here, and to all of those who are working to make our discipline more inclusive and welcoming.
UPDATE: I also want to acknowledge that our comments policy was violated in a number of ways–and that I am not thankful for. Our ‘Be Nice’ rule is not here simply for the sake of our friends; rather, it’s here so that everyone can participate in healthy and fruitful discussion. It’s important to note these violations even in cases where I’m very glad that something was said. I have also removed the links above.
Violence against women in the EU March 5, 2014
Violence against women is “an extensive human rights abuse” across Europe with one in three women reporting some form of physical or sexual abuse since the age of 15 and 8% suffering abuse in the last 12 months, according to the largest survey of its kind on the issue, published on Wednesday.
Read more, here.
Suit filed to stop Campus SaVE Act March 3, 2014
According to a March 2 press release, a University of Virginia rape victim has filed a landmark civil rights action in an effort to halt the Campus SaVE Act – a new U.S. federal law which is scheduled to take effect this week, on March 7.
The suit alleges that SaVE undermines women’s civil rights in various ways, including that it permits colleges and universities to mandate that victims prove their credibility under an exceedingly rigorous “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. In contrast, the April 2011 Dear Colleague Letter issued by the Department of Education as a clarification/guidance for Title IX requires only that victims meet a much lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard.
Under SaVE, the higher burden of proof will only be allowed in cases involving violence against women, and will not be applied to cases involving violence against students based on other protected class categories such as race, disabilities and ethnicity. The victim alleges in her suit that it is unconstitutional to subject violence against women to weaker legal standards compared to violence based on these other categories.
Another objectionable provision in SaVE requires schools to apply state criminal law standards to violence against women cases on campus. Current law requires schools to apply more generous federal civil rights standards so that, for example, a sexual assault is proved as long as the conduct was “unwelcome.” Under SaVE, “unwelcomeness” will not be enough. The victim will have to prove that the conduct violated state criminal law, which in most states means the victim will have to prove both non-consent and that the assault involved the use of force.
Because the more generous standard of “unwelcomeness” will continue to apply to cases involving violence that occurs on the basis of race, disabilities and ethnicity, the victim alleges SaVE violates women’s equal protection and due process rights.
UVA is under investigation by the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for allegedly mishandling a sexual assault case on campus where a female student was drugged and raped by a male student. Allegations include that a UVA nurse falsified medical records and reported there were no injuries consistent with sexual assault despite multiple findings of significant injuries; and that UVA lost or destroyed photographs of the victim’s injuries.
According to the press release, UVA has not expelled a single student charged with sexual assault in more than 10 years. In the case currently under federal investigation, UVA’s own Sexual Misconduct Board ruled that the victim was “compelling” and “credible,” yet the Board cleared the accused of all charges, ruling the evidence was insufficient. UVA later granted the accused a teaching assistant position on campus.
Many advocacy groups have expressed support for the funding provisions in SaVE that will go toward anti-violence training and education programs. Those provisions are not being challenged in the lawsuit.
So you want to help February 17, 2014
The messages that have been flowing in over the past few days, in the wake of Brian Leiter’s unexpected link to the Yale Daily News article about my involvement in a protest at President Salovey’s inauguration last fall, are not what I expected.
Sure, there are some of the expected: the “me too” from survivors who have been re-traumatized by the recent news of yet more problems in the discipline; the “are there any safe programs?” from advisers of graduate students; and the “am I walking into a nest of badness?” from junior colleagues with likely job offers who don’t want to be complicit in permitting a bad climate. (I can’t answer either of these last two questions, by the way.)
But the single most common message – and one I didn’t expect – has been this: “Philosopher X routinely engages in sexual misconduct. I want to stop it but I don’t know what to do about it.”
I’m beginning to feel like a cut ‘n paste machine responding to these messages, so I thought I’d pause and put together a quick post with suggestions directed at those who are teaching or studying at universities in the U.S.
First, before I get to the suggestions for action: dear reader, if you know a philosopher who was the victim of sexual misconduct and have not yet reached out to him or her with a simple message to say “hi, I’m thinking about you in the wake of the craziness,” stop reading this right now. Send a message. There are a lot of survivors out there who are feeling more alone and isolated than ever, and wondering whether anyone cares about the individuals who have been hurt, as opposed to esoteric debates about abstract issues and policies. Silence can do significant harm.
So, what can be done about a known case of sexual misconduct?
The immediate, first-step answer to this is of course going to depend on both the nature of the problem and the nature of your knowledge of the problem. The best resource I know of for general information about reporting a problem is the guide to reporting on Know Your IX.
Some of the colleagues I’ve spoken with this week, however, have already tried the reporting route, with no result. For those of you who have specific knowledge of a problem, either at your own university or another university, and who have reported without any resolution to the problem, here’s some good news: we are currently at a unique juncture in the history of responding to campus sexual misconduct in the U.S. You can make a difference. Here’s why and how:
March 7, 2014: Campus SaVE Act goes into effect
The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE), included in Sec. 304 in the Senate version of the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, is the most significant reform of policy on how college sexual assaults are handled since the Jeanne Clery Act of 1990 and the Campus Sexual Assault Victim’s Bill of Rights of 1992.
The SaVE Act takes effect on March 7, 2014, and requires, among other things, that: (1) universities include reports of dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in their annual crime statistics (the first SaVE-Act-compliant reports are due in October 2014); (2) universities provide prevention and awareness programs, including bystander training, for all new students, faculty, and employees; (3) universities offer students or employees who are victims of misconduct a change in housing or work environment, including the option of a restraining order; and (4) universities permit both the accused and accuser to have an advocate of their choice – including, if desired, legal counsel – at institutional hearings.
Many universities are going beyond the Campus SaVE Act minimum requirement that all faculty be provided with prevention, awareness, and bystander training, and providing all faculty members with “mandated reporter” training.
If you work or study at a university in the U.S. and have not yet heard anything about the Campus SaVE Act, it’s time to contact your university administrators to request training and find out what the plans are to bring your university into compliance.
January 22, 2014: White House’s Presidential Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault
On January 22, 2014, President Obama met with cabinet members and senior advisers on his White House Council on Women and Girls , and then signed a Memorandum to establish a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.
Section 3 of the Memorandum reads as follows:
(a) Within 90 days of the date of this memorandum, the Task Force shall develop and submit proposals and recommendations to the President for:
(i) providing examples of instructions, policies, and protocols for institutions, including: rape and sexual assault policies; prevention programs; crisis intervention and advocacy services; complaint and grievance procedures; investigation protocols; adjudicatory procedures; disciplinary sanctions; and training and orientation modules for students, staff, and faculty;
(ii) measuring the success of prevention and response efforts at institutions, whether through compliance with individual policies or through broader assessments of campus climate, attitudes and safety, and providing the public with this information;
(iii) maximizing the Federal Government’s effectiveness in combatting campus rape and sexual assault by, among other measures, making its enforcement activities transparent and accessible to students and prospective students nationwide; and
(iv) promoting greater coordination and consistency among the agencies and offices that enforce the Federal laws addressing campus rape and sexual assault and support improved campus responses to sexual violence.
(b) Within 1 year of the date of this memorandum, and then on an annual basis, the Task Force shall provide a report to the President on implementation efforts with respect to this memorandum.
Members of the Task Force are listed in the President’s Memorandum. All of the members of the Task Force are actively seeking recommendations. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s Office in the Department of Justice is particularly receptive to concerns and suggestions. Recommendations are due back to the President in 90 days.
Much of the Task Force’s focus is currently on student-on-student sexual assault. If you are concerned about faculty-on-student sexual misconduct, please take a moment to let a member of the task force know that it is also important to provide the White House with recommendations for preventing and responding to faculty misconduct.
January 29, 2014: House of Representatives Letter to the Office of Civil Rights
On January 29, 2014, 39 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), with content advice from members of ED Act Now, urging the OCR to issue a new Dear Colleague Letter of guidance (see, e.g., the April 2011 and April 2013 Dear Colleague Letters) to improve transparency of campus data, investigations, and enforcement data by, among other things, creating a centralized database, and also to provide additional guidance for responding to same-sex violence and gender identity discrimination.
You can help create the momentum required to keep Congress focused on this issue by contacting the representatives and/or senators for your state. Again, please let them know that your concerns are related to how best to prevent and respond to faculty sexual misconduct.
Because many offices receive 500 or more emails per day, it is often best to call first, and then send a follow-up email to a specific staff member.
Here’s the site with links to the list of contact information for the House of Representatives and the Senate: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml Clicking on a name in the list will bring you out to individual web sites, which often have more complete contact information.
(Many Senators and Representatives, by the way, have already been touring universities in their districts, looking for input. If you happen to live in Connecticut, please contact both Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Senator Richard Blumenthal.)
Know your Title IX (reposted) February 16, 2014
Interesting information in the comments makes this material worth reposting:
Here’s a resource that looks useful for understanding Title IX issues. It’s geared primarily to students who may have needs and need assistance, but don’t know where to turn or what to do. http://knowyourix.org
Some thoughts on epistemic responsibility February 15, 2014
[Trigger warning for discussion of assault]
Throughout my time as a philosopher, I’ve heard quite a bit of talk regarding ‘epistemic responsibility’ when it comes to discrimination, harassment, and assault. I’ve heard it much more frequently over the last few weeks, and so I feel compelled to say a few words about it. As it happens, I think I have a very different view of the nature of epistemic justification and the conditions under which agents can be said to have it than those who bring up epistemic responsibility in these sorts of conversations, but I want to address a slightly different question: What does moral responsibility require of us when allegations of discrimination, harassment, or assault are made? To be clear, what follows is not an endorsement of a presumption of guilt—rather, it’s an endorsement of action, sympathy, and compassion in the absence of certainty. It seems to me that too often appeals to ‘epistemic responsibility’ justify inaction, undermine progress, and enable serious wrongs.
When discrimination, inequity, and violence are carried out by intentional agents and effectively enabled by the communities in which they occur, withholding all judgment for the sake of epistemic responsibility and withholding all action on account of epistemic reasons will very often quite rightly lead to feelings of further alienation in the victim. If, for example, upon becoming familiar with a report of sexual assault, racial discrimination, or a violent hate-crime, you are not passionately moved, that unaffected reaction cannot help but communicate that there is real sense in which you either do not understand the plight before you, or you do not care. In some circumstances (note: I do mean some), this can be more harmful to a victim than the original offense. A certain amount of stupidity and evil in the world are to be expected. What is generally not expected is for good people to stand witness to severe injury and fail to be demonstrably aggrieved by it (note, here, the aptness of ‘injury’ need not entail that the content of any particular allegation is certainly true, or even true). The unexpected nature of this response often makes the hurt which follows more difficult to deal with. It can communicate indifference, it can normalize suffering, and it can steal away hope.
I do not deny that epistemic responsibility is a great good; but when our epistemic practices prevent us from responding to injury altogether, we are in the neighborhood of vice rather than virtue.
I have experienced attempted rape. Surely I would feel differently had my attacker been successful, but for me, what was most traumatizing was not the assault but rather what happened next. It was in a public park. I was able to get away. I ran to a man reading on a bench and told him what happened. He saw I was being followed. He offered to sit with me until it looked like it would be safe to walk home. But that was all he did (and I do mean that was all: he did not offer to take me to the police, to call any one, etc., and it didn’t occur to me to ask for those things). I sat with him for two hours on that bench in silence. In retrospect, I’m sure he just didn’t know what to do and didn’t know what to say—but in those two hours, and in some months that followed, I felt like what happened must not really matter because it didn’t seem to matter much to him. I thought that I was being silly for feeling angry, violated, and scared. In those later moments where I didn’t doubt myself, I doubted the world at large—the capacity of my fellow humans to do right, to be even minimally decent.
I don’t ever want to be the man on that bench to someone else, whether I think I know what happened or not.