So you want to help

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:

Action Plan.

(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: 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.)

9 thoughts on “So you want to help

  1. Thank you, Heidi. I’ve heard nothing from my university administration about SaVE, so I have just contacted our General Counsel office.

  2. Would be nice to also have a more general reply about what people in all the other countries of the world can do to help…?

  3. Entirely too broad a question, and feel free to ignore, but: what can guys who are trying to be allies do about things that fall short of outright sexual assault?

    I ask because I don’t think I’ve really thought enough about climate issues, and I’m sort of looking for resources to figure out how to address these issues (or, at the very least, not make them worse.) It’s not your job to educate me, but if you have any links to resources, I’d be grateful.

  4. Michael, one thing you can do is “don’t just stand there, say something”.

    At a public event not too long ago, a very prominent philosopher said a couple of really misogynistic things during a talk — he may not have realized that’s what he was doing, but believe me, all the women in the audience did. It was really uncomfortable. When the talk was over, a male philosopher stood up and called him on it. This made me and I would say all the women present feel a lot better — like (at least some of) the guys recognized that this kind of crap just isn’t acceptable.

    It’s tricky, because I know on other occasions a man stepping in and ‘defending’ a woman can be completely unhelpful, or worse. Knight in shining armor syndrome. And I couldn’t spell out criteria for which kind of calling-out makes things better, even though I definitely know the difference when I see it.

  5. Thank you for this post.
    Since it was posted, I’ve received several emails and messages of support over something that happened several years ago…the continued support is very appreciated.

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