We’re kicking off what we hope will be an extremely useful series of guest posts today from amanforsomeseasons. I’ll let him introduce himself.
As a regular reader and a friend of the Feminist Philosophers blog, as a former philosopher and current lawyer (yes, I know), and as a feminist and an interested observer of events that affect women’s issues, I am pleased to be given an opportunity to provide some legal commentary around many of the subjects discussed on this blog.
I have recently enjoyed a number of lively and stimulating discussions with a regular Feminist Philosophers blogger, particularly about how universities are handling – and, in some cases, failing to handle – allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination. One of the major themes of our discussions has been why some universities opt to deal with these issues publicly, often to their detriment, while others decide instead to whitewash the problem quietly.
I enjoyed hearing the perspective of someone who sees frequent and startling examples of the latter solution; she was very interested to hear my legal perspective on both. She said that the Feminist Philosophers’ readership, too, might be interested to get a lawyer’s take on these things, and so she has invited me to post a few entries. Depending upon the reception, I may do more than a few (but hopefully not less).
I welcome comments and have asked that commenting for my posts remains open; I will do my best to engage with the commenters. And now the fine print:
- Please understand that in blogging here, or in responding to comments, I am writing for educational purposes only, to give general information and a general understanding of the law. I do not intend to provide specific legal advice about your individual circumstances or legal questions. You acknowledge that neither your reading of, nor posting on, this blog establishes an attorney-client relationship between you and me. My posts should not be used as a substitute for seeking competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Readers of this information should not act upon any information contained on this website without seeking professional counsel. The transmission of confidential information via Internet email is highly discouraged.
Thank you. I am looking forward to our discussions.
Faculty deal with sexist abuse on Yik Yak January 31, 2015
The three Eastern Michigan University professors had no idea that they were under attack by the Honors College students seated before them.
The three women knew that many of the nearly 230 freshmen in the auditorium resented having to show up at 9 a.m. every Friday for a mandatory interdisciplinary-studies class. But whatever unhappy students previously had said directly to them seemed mild in comparison to the verbal abuse being hurled at them silently as they taught one Friday morning last fall.
Students typed the words into their smartphones, and the messages appeared on their classmates’ screens via Yik Yak, a smartphone application that lets people anonymously post brief remarks on virtual bulletin boards. Since its release, in November 2013, the Yik Yak app has been causing havoc on campuses as a result of students’ posting threats of harm, racial slurs, and slanderous gossip.
After the class ended, one of its 13 fellows—junior and senior honors students who were helping teach—pulled a professor aside and showed her a screen-captured record of what she and her colleagues had just gone through. Students had written more than 100 demeaning Yik Yak posts about them, including sexual remarks, references to them using “bitch” and a vulgar term for female anatomy, and insults about their appearance and teaching. Even some of the fellows appeared to have joined the attack.
In an email to administrators later that day, one of the three, Margaret A. Crouch, a professor of philosophy, said, “I will quit before I put up with this again.”
Eastern Michigan is hardly alone in grappling with how to tame abusive behavior on Yik Yak, which has designated bulletin boards for more than 100 campuses. But the episode at Eastern Michigan is significant because it highlights the potential for anonymous online comments to sour relationships among students, faculty members, and administrators. Instructors who once felt in charge of their classrooms can suddenly find themselves at students’ mercy.
Sites such as Yik Yak and other forums for anonymous online comments give speech “scope and amplification” it did not have before, which “changes the quality of the community,” says Tracy Mitrano, director of Internet culture, policy, and law at Cornell University. Although offensive speech posted to Yik Yak generally disappears from the site within a few hours, on other sites, Ms. Mitrano says, often “it remains there, and the individuals don’t have any power to remove it, and it hurts.” . . .
Susan Moeller, president of Eastern Michigan’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, this month urged faculty members in an email “to get the EMU administration to take this issue seriously.” She called cyberbullying “an issue of classroom safety” and said it “can pose a serious threat to faculty members’ work environment and ability to conduct their classes.”
Ms. Crouch and another target of the online attack, Elisabeth Däumer, a professor of English, say they see the Yik Yak incident as part of a broader deterioration of students’ discipline and respect for female instructors. Their students’ hostility appeared fueled, they say, by unhappiness over being required to devote nearly three hours every Friday morning to an experimental honors course, “Interdisciplinary Exploration of Global Issues: The Environment: Space/Place, Purity/Danger, Hope/Activism.”
The professors characterized the online abuse as part of a hostile work environment. In a confidential report on the Yik Yak incident issued last month, Sharon L. Abraham, the university’s director of diversity and affirmative action, said the professors had “described a classroom environment where students talked during lecture, responded aggressively to requests to stop inappropriate behavior, and were generally disrespectful.” It said the professors had “felt threatened when dealing with students in the class who were physically large and male.”
Some Yik Yak posts about the professors suggested racial and cultural divides.
After one of the professors described a topic as too complicated to get into, one student wrote, “Are you calling me stupid? I’m an honors student bitch!”
Another Yik Yak post said, “She keeps talking about Detroit. Bitch, yo white ass probably ain’t never been in Detroit.”
Ms. Däumer recalls reading the Yik Yak posts directed at her and asking herself, “Just who the hell did they think they are?”
Ms. Crouch says the Yik Yak posts “wrecked the class” and “made it impossible for us to appear in front of the 220 students again.” The instructors did not confront their students about the remarks, she says, because “we did not really feel we had any authority anymore.”
The Hunting Ground January 26, 2015
The makers of The Invisible War have come out with a new documentary about sexual assault on American campuses. From Variety:
“I want to thank to the hundreds of survivors who interacted with us,” Dick told the packed crowd at the Marc Theatre before the screening. Appearing with four of the victims featured in the film at a Q&A after the screening, which received a standing ovation, he added: “This is a problem at schools all across the country,” Dick said.
The film, which will be released by Radius/TWC in theaters on March 20 and on CNN later this year, persuasively argues that college campuses don’t respond to reports of sexual assault because they don’t want to scare off prospective students and alumni, particularly when it comes to fraternity and student athletes. The film not only talks to students, but administrators, parents and even a former police officer at Notre Dame who offered accounts of how the school turned its back on rape cases.
No More Page 3 January 25, 2015
Page 3 – a fine British institution! Inciting harassment of girls and women since 1970!
“Working in a small restaurant staffed mainly by 16 year old girls, the manager tells everyone to gather in the back room, he holds up page three and declares that this is our new uniform.”
“Sitting on a bus – middle-aged chap sitting next to me is looking at page 3. I notice that he saw me notice, and blush. He says “What do you think of that?” I mumble “I don’t think I’m the target audience.” He openly looks at my chest. “I wouldn’t worry – with tits like yours, they’re not going to ask you to pose.” I was 14, and wearing my school uniform.”
“I once worked in a company where I was the only female on a floor of men. They would look me up and down, laughing. They would bring in The Sun, put it on my desk open at Page 3 and ask if I looked like the topless woman pictured.”
“Currently studying architecture at uni. Went on a site visit as part of my course. Got asked why I was there by one of the construction workers, when the rest of the group were guys. I simply said that I was there because I, like the rest of the group, were training to be architects. The response I got was “with tits like yours?! Nobody will pay any attention to what you’re saying they’ll be looking down your top. Give up now, you’d be more successful as a page 3 model love”.”
From Dear David… An Open Letter to the Editor of the Sun. The No More Page 3 Campaign continues to put pressure on the Sun.
Sexual mores 1 January 16, 2015
What kind of sexual conduct is appropriate for philosophers within the academy?
Anyone with even half an ear tuned to the outside world will know that there have been some high profile cases of sexual misbehaviour of late. These have been accompanied by a sense from many folks within the discipline that it’s time to get our house in order. This is a good thing. For a long time, all sorts of egregious sexual behaviour has gone unchecked, and people have been harmed as a result. Given this sorry state of affairs (no pun intended), it’s good to see a new resolve to sort things out. However, we’re now faced with this question: how should philosophers behave towards their students and other members of the profession, when it comes to matters of sex and romance?
This is a question that we, as a profession, need to address, and I’m going to start attempting to do that in a series of forthcoming posts. These don’t represent my finished thoughts on the matter, but are, instead, an attempt to come to a view.
Today I’m going to think about consent and sexual relations* with students.
*(I’ve chosen to use this maybe – for those of us who remember a scandal involving a certain US president – slightly comical phrase, because it seems sufficiently broad to encompass both fleeting sexual encounters and much longer-term relationships, as well as sex acts of all sorts.)
Following its investigation, OCR determined that the Law School’s current and prior sexual harassment policies and procedures failed to comply with Title IX’s requirements for prompt and equitable response to complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The Law School also did not appropriately respond to two student complaints of sexual assault. In one instance, the Law School took over a year to make its final determination and the complainant was not allowed to participate in this extended appeal process, which ultimately resulted in the reversal of the initial decision to dismiss the accused student and dismissal of the complainant’s complaint.
During the course of OCR’s investigation, the Law School adopted revised procedures that use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard for its sexual harassment investigations and afford appeal rights to both parties, in compliance with Title IX. The Law School also complied with the Title IX requirements relating to the designation of a Title IX Coordinator and publication of its non-discrimination notice.
Post from Former Colorado Chair December 21, 2014
David Boonin, former Colorado Philosophy chair, writes:
there were indeed a number of complaints about certain members of the Department of the sort their statement identifies, the Department on its own was in fact unable to satisfactorily address them, and while the process by which the Department came to have an external chair and to be on the receiving end of some quite harsh treatment by the administration has most certainly been painful, the Department has just as certainly benefited from some of the strong and decisive actions to which my colleagues refer.
For the full text of his comment, go here.
Statement on CU-Boulder December 20, 2014
We are the tenured women professors, and a professor emerita, in the philosophy department at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Over the years, students and faculty in our department, mostly but not only women, have made numerous complaints about unprofessional behavior by certain members of the department.
Many of the complaints focused on sexual misconduct, but others included violations of harassment policy, including its anti-retaliation clause, and violations of the amorous relations policy. On its own, the department was unable to deal with these complaints — many of which were not formally reported because of fears of retaliation; in any case, by university and state regulations, professors are prohibited from undertaking investigations and sanctions on their own.
For this reason, we, and many of our colleagues, are grateful both to Andy Cowell, our external chair, as well as to the CU-Boulder administration, for taking strong and decisive action to investigate wrongdoing, for committing significant resources to punish those found in violation of university regulations, and for investing in the future of our department. Although the process has been and continues to be painful, we believe that the outcome will be positive.
We are in the process of stopping behavior that was harmful, especially to the women students and faculty in our department, and we are taking steps to make sure that in the future, such problems either will be prevented or, if they occur, will be addressed quickly and effectively. Although these measures may have temporarily damaged the reputation of our department in some quarters, we are confident that we can rebuild on stronger foundations.
We intend to repudiate a secret culture of misbehavior and to win back the confidence of prospective students and faculty on the basis of hard-won achievements with respect to the climate as well as the commitment of a solid core of faculty members to an inclusive and welcoming work environment for all.
Northwestern suspends plans to mediate, and a statement November 24, 2014
And a statement from the student who is being sued:
“There has been so much in the news lately about the many and horrifying failings of university administrations’ dealing with Title IX issues. We are all familiar with these catastrophic miscarriages of justice, and frankly, we are all worn weary with worry and heartache. Today however, the Northwestern community has taken a real step in the direction of modeling what it’s like for a university to be an ally in the fight against sexual harassment and sexual assault. Today, in response to criticism from the student population, who were in turn vocalizing my objections as the graduate student named in Peter Ludlow’s lawsuit, Northwestern’s administration has agreed to halt all mediation proceedings with Ludlow’s attorneys. To be clear: I voiced my concerns, the broader Northwestern community mobilized on my behalf (in only 24 hours), and the administration heard our cry, in turn responding appropriately by suspending all mediation proceedings — this, while ordering hot chocolate for the student protestors, and helping them to put up their protest signs outside the president’s office. The administration and I are now engaged in further discussions about my wishes and needs throughout this process.
Putting the victim first should not be such an uncommonly outstanding occasion. Yet in this moment, I feel compelled to sing loudly the praises of Northwestern’s administration. Let this be a message to all universities: Stand by your students, stand by your victims. Protect their voices. Together, let’s make Northwestern a model.”