Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sexual Assault: as a research topic and as a practical discussion

I usually stick to a few key topics around here: academia, mental health, and bikes.

But today, things are going to be a bit different because I can't avoid talking about the inherent need to discuss rape and sexual assault a it's implications in our society.

Why?  Well, most importantly, I study the way that bureaucracies deal with sexual assault.  Secondly, I've actually had to help a student make a referral about a sexual assault my first year here.  Third, it's a huge problem in society and one that has affected me personally.

A recent discussion started on a blog I frequent.Jezebel ran a story about Whoopi Goldberg and Serena Williams's misguided comments about the Stubbenville case.  It just shows how crazy rape culture because women are parroting this dialogue.  Rape effects women unfortunately all too often.  Vassar College has some important statistics about the prevalence of rape among college-aged women.  By college, 1 in 4 women has been sexually assaulted.  I was one of them so, yes, I have a horse in this fight.

Let me define what this means. Rape and sexual assault are basically ALL situations where consent was not had and sexual advances were made.  Assault is a wider definition than rape and covers more bases but, essentially, it's advances without consent either way.  There is no "rape rape", there is no "legitimate rape".  There is just rape.  No consent = rape.  Why does this seem to be so hard for people to understand?

There are two main problems that I have with Goldberg and Williams's reasoning.

1. The normative "should have". The "women should protect themselves by no dressing provocatively and drinking too much" idea of covering your drink and altering your behavior to stay safe!  These women alleged that the victim in question should have better protected herself.  It's something that is said generally, but especially of college-aged women who are "date raped".  This means drinking, roofies, and being assaulted by a person you know, generally.  There are two big problems with this line of reasoning.  The first is that when you trust people, you tend to let them in and you don't expect them to, I don't know, rape you?  And if that person wants to hurt you, they will likely do it - regardless of "precautions".

There is another problem with the "protection" aspect.  Victims tend to blame themselves.  They don't need victim blaming.  Do you NOT think that this victims has played the decisions in her mind over and over and over again regarding that night?  She likely has.  And, despite taking any other precautions, these guys would have either found a way to hurt her in a different manner or would have hurt someone else.  The thing is, if someone wants to hurt you they will.  The self-blaming feelings after rape are awful to deal with.  The student in question that came to me was feeling all of the same.  A friend took advantage of her at a party and she wasn't sure where to go.  Two weeks after the fact, she broke down and told me this was why her last paper was awful.  I directed her to the very well-equipped sexual violence response center on campus but I knew how she felt.  The evidence was gone by then.  People would ask her why she had waited, why she had drank so much, and criticized even what she was wearing.  All I could do was hand her resources and be as supportive as I could without crossing that instructor-student line.  I tried to be compassionate above all.

What happened to me was far less-intense but similar.  A friend hurt me.  I was younger than my student and younger than the person in question.  It was reported to school officials but they did nothing.  I never told my parents the whole story out of shame.  I blamed myself for not "doing more" but it happened at school in a situation where I was sure I would get detention if I left.  I didn't want to talk to anyone about it for a long time and didn't even have the words to describe it because I was too young to really have that vocabulary.  The Stubbenville victim is a child.  She faces similar problems.  Blaming her for "not doing enough" only makes the situation worse.

2. Putting the onus on women excuses men from their own guilt.  Going back to those Vassar numbers, 84% of men that actually committed rape (most of it was actually date rape, remember) claimed it wasn't.  What does this tell us?  Well a couple of things.  The first is that people, in general, don't understand what constitutes rape or sexual assault.  We tell women how to avoid rape but we never tell men how to avoid RAPING women.

I will never forget talking to a man from RWAMREC, the Rwandan Men's Resource Center, a non-profit that educates men AND women in Rwanda about the roles involved in sexual violence and encourages men to step up and be masculine in positive ways.  Basically, they have a campaign that says men need to recognize what rape is and to stop when consent isn't there.  I oversaw a number of meetings and talked to a number of Rwandan bureaucrats at the center charged with policing sexual and domestic violence reports.  The number one misconception found among average people and bureaucrats was simply their lack of knowledge about what WAS rape.  These people were well-meaning but facing the exact same problems we do here in the U.S.   Was it "rape-rape" or what?  My conclusion was that these issues were leading to bureaucratic discretion being unintentionally used to thwart the intended way of implementation and enforcement of the Gender-Based Violence Law passed by the Parliament years before.  Rwanda is making great strides in this aspect but it faces the global problems of stigma.

A similar organization in the United States also deals with this problem.  Men Can Stop Rape also gives tools to educate people on what constitutes rape and teaches men about consent.  Rape culture hurts men AND women.  The problem won't be solved until we educate everyone.

So, how does this affect what I do on a daily basis?

Well, it affects my students - male and female - as I said before.  It doesn't help women because they end up getting assaulted on a regular basis on college campuses.  It doesn't help men because it doesn't inform them of what constitutes rape.  Don't take this to mean that I think all men are prone to raping or hurting women.  Absolutely not.  But when you live in a culture where it's considered okay to have sex with a totally incapacitated person despite that meaning that consent no longer exists, it means we aren't doing enough to educate people about what rape is.  And college, based on culture, parties, etc, seems like a place ripe for this sort of misconception to cause problems.  Sexual assault has serious consequences far beyond the immediate.  PTSD, depression, and panic attacks are common with survivors.  Reliving that experience is common.  That can lead to students dropping out, doing poorly, or suffering unnecessarily.  We need to improve mental health resources on all campuses.  My undergrad did a pretty poor job of coping with sexual assaults.  I can gladly say that my current place of study has made HUGE strides to deal with the problem.  It's nowhere near perfect but the administration has been very adamant about dedicating resources and personnel to address the problem.

So, think about how this matters and what you can do to help?
1. Be educated about what constitutes rape.
2. Don't perpetrate myths and when you see them - speak out.  Especially you guys out there.  When men get involved, it makes the message of what rape is clearer to men in your social circle and sets a good example for future generations of guys.  Be a trend setter and get your hands dirty, ladies and gents.  Don't let people think this is okay.
3. If a student or friend comes to you, know about the resources available.  Be supportive but don't make demands about what they should do.  I.E. if they don't want to go to the authorities, the best thing you can do is give them their options and support whatever choice.  Legal recourse is a really scary matter and isn't the right choice for everyone at that moment.  Remember, you aren't the one who was assaulted so you can't know how you would feel in that instance.  Things are not simple.
4. Press for more resources and education on campus. 
5. Get involved with feminist organizations that pursue similar goals.  Volunteer at the rape crisis center, a women's shelter, or participate in the Vagina Monologues to raise awareness.
6. Be mindful of how your words affect others in both positive and negative ways.  Don't make rape jokes.  Don't assume things about victims or blame them.  Realize that if you are surrounded by 4 women, one of them has probably been the victim of an assault.  Your words carry weight.
7.  Small things make a big difference.  One defense of a Stubbenville victim or someone similar may make my day and make me feel like I can go on to share my story with others.  It has only been through the kindness and acceptance of others that I have been able to find some peace and confidence in relating my experience to others.  Sharing experiences helps others.  Not everyone can do it and it's not something everyone will necessarily want to do but small statements of support, even indirectly, give me a lot of hope for the future.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

On Junior Faculty

Ah, junior faculty members.  They are the awkwards of departments in some ways.  It's got to be tough.  You have a "real" job now.  You have grad students to manage.  Some of the grad students are older than you.  You're just trying to become a swan but it's really hard to do because you are on an insane number of random committees that no one cares about.

I have heard some great stories and some horror stories from friends now employed (yay!  hope!) at various institutions.  The first year is the worst I've been told.  It's especially awful if you have a TA and now have to figure out what to do with them.  I have two friends that are at teaching schools who have been teaching a wide variety of courses but at least they are on their own.  They don't have to delegate to us lackeys.

And I know, cry me a river, you have a TA, right?

I'm not so sure.  I guess I will some day know (hopefully if someone gives me a job at the end of this) but for now, I actually feel sympathy for junior faculty.  Especially when it comes to dealing with TA's.  Why?  Well, let me explain.

Today I received my teaching assignment for the fall semester.  I have comprehensives so I asked for the least time-consuming option - an intro to American politics course.  I've TA'ed this before but it was an all essay section.  I had an excellent prof who I asked to work for again, mind you, but a hell of a lot more work than everyone else had to do my first semester - 4 sets of exams with 110 students under my charge.  I asked for a multiple choice section since never since starting here have I had that luxury.  Well, now I do, kinda.  I've been assigned to a visiting prof who got his BA at our school with our department.  He seems like an excellent candidate, has taught this class before, etc.  I'm excited to learn something from him but NOT so excited to have to work in tandem to make up exams as I have just been informed.  I get why the DGS is asking me.  He wants to hand me my own class possibly the following semester.  That's excellent news for me.  It's just annoying because I have a lot on my plate and not all junior faculty "get it".  It makes me nervous.  The first semester is the worst and I am not sure I want to be in the fray again.  I have been told by people who know this prof that he is an excellent guy, very personable, and will fit right in.  Still, it's so old hat to work with faculty that I already know.  I've worked for and with most of them by now.  This is a whole 'nother world and I'm an old person at heart that hates change.  I will no doubt learn a lot, though.  So, I have to just realize this is another learning experience in teaching that I will most certainly appreciate in the end.

I have TA'ed for a first year faculty member once before.  They guy was a great lecturer and he had an excellent rapport with the class.  I learned a lot about what to expect my first year because he did take me under his wing and was a great mentor.  However, he didn't understand workloads well.  I had about 2x's the amount of grading of ANY TA in my second semester of grad school.  The next semester, he knew better and asked to have his class designated writing intensive and got two TA's to do the work that I did myself.  It was hellish in that respect.  He didn't know how much to delegate to me and wasn't sure how to manage me.  I think he gave me too much freedom and let me deal with plagiarism cases in a way that I was uncomfortable having so much power over.  It was hard.  He's definitely changed a lot since then based on what he's told me and other TA's have told me.  He's learned and improved. I think he would be an excellent addition come tenure time and would gladly write a letter on his behalf.  And I am glad I got to see this whole situation over time because it gave me insight into dealing with these situations firsthand.

It HAS to be an awkward situation dealing with graduate students.  I mean, this new guy (from what I have been told by people that know him) is 3 years older than me but judging by his CV, we have a similar amount of teaching experience with similar subject matter.  I believe firmly in a strong chain of command.  I may not always agree with what a prof has a TA do or may not feel that everything is handled perfectly but I do know my place, I know how to speak in turn, and I realize there are 100 ways to skin a cat.  I can imagine that there are TA's that are not like this, though.  Some people seem to want to pull rank.  This really makes no sense to me.  You are a graduate student.  You have no PhD.  Unless you are asked to do something essentially wrong, you should listen to your superior.  This seems  particularly problematic ones that are older and feel wiser.  Even personally I can say I know of one situation that a faculty member told me about which mirrors this.  This was a senior faculty member with a first year grad student, though.  She felt very confident in pulling rank there, obviously.  It's got to be similar to the feeling you felt when you came into grad school and suddenly were teaching students that were pretty much your age.  You have to learn to deal with things as they come and assert that you are in charge.  Never admit that you feel intimidated.

Teaching grad students seems to be a similar quandary.  I am finally at the point where I can confidently think about teaching grad students - but only in stats.  I feel most confident in teaching methods.  The idea of teaching a substantive course still seems far off.  I hope after comps I will feel differently.  Regardless, it's intimidating.  That has to be the worst part.  We had one junior faculty member recently.  This was a wild card class out of my usual subdisciplines but it was relevant to some policy research I'd been doing and I had an open spot.  He is clearly still adjusting to graduate seminars.  The prof was a nice guy, he brought about interesting and new questions about gender and race which I so appreciated, but he sometimes tried to make seminar too much of a democracy.  Another faculty member in his first year of graduate teaching assigned far too much too soon for the first years and ended up frazzled and admitting it WAS too much.

It seems daunting to have all of these challenges on top of tenure woes and various bureaucratic "service" responsibilities.  I worry about this.  I've been told that it "gets better" but only after tenure.  That seems like an impossible dream to dream right now.

To all the junior faculty out there, what say you?  To senior faculty, what was it like?  Does it really just get so much better after tenure?

To all the grad students dealing with it, what have been your experiences with junior faculty?  Similar experiences to mine?  Different?  Better?  Worse?

I'm curious!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Hills from Hell

So as I said, I've been in training.

The elusive century gets closer and closer and even though I've got a lot of time, I will need to take time off for vacations.  I might need to pack some running shoes to make the best of it.  But oye, the bike is SO MUCH MORE FUN.  I'm not a runner.  I have been but I'm not anymore.  I want to be on the bike.

Well, today I finally had the ability to get out.  It had been a week since we had been Tornado Watch and Warning free.  I'm not kidding.  The weather here is that dire.

I knew there would be washout spots in the trail but I was prepared for that.  After all, I want to ride, cross, right?  I am okay with carrying a bike on my shoulders or picking it up.  The problem is that the trail was so much worse than I imagined.  Huge washouts, terrible footing, and trees were EVERYWHERE.  It was the worst I've seen it in the segment behind my apartment, which is really saying something.  I wanted to ride the trail because I wanted to check it out for a group ride that usually occurs on Sunday.  Weather should be clear on Sunday but I am not sure we will get out.  We certainly won't be on the trail.  This is stuff you'd need a 29-er with shocks to deal with, I think.  If I had the MTB already, I would have tried but my delicate road bike isn't meant for such things.

So, I had to suck it up and deal, basically.  This required a lot of walking, picking the dirt out of my shoes, etc.  I seriously wish I had an old hoof pick somewhere because that's what I felt like doing.

I decided, welp, I'm gonna do this as much as I don't want to.  I'm going to do the hill ride from hell. It's only about 15 miles RT from my house to the southern hill that I go to climb.  It was south of my house when I lived down there and it's much farther south than where we live now.  So, I put on my big girl panties and opted to ride these hills.  There is this incredible windy hill with a high grade and lots of traffic at the start of the ride which is what keeps me from doing.  It goes on for about 3/4 of a mile.  We're talking straight climbing.  And I am not a climber that gets out of my seat (thankfully in this case) so it's just a lot of grinding and spinning.  The knack is really knowing when to do it.

I got up the first hill not even believing that was a climb.  I guess the weight loss and interval training are paying off.  Then came the other hills.  They were small in comparison but a challenge again because traffic happens here and no one seems to care that they are parked in a bike lane.  You have to be very good to get in and out of traffic without a scrape.  This is why a lot of people take the trail (myself included).

But it was fine.  The wind picked up on my way back but I spun back up like a pro (there is a big hill coming back, too, just not AS big).  I flew through a green like feeling like a champ at the top of a hill.  No WAY could I have done this a year ago.

So, I conquered the hills from hell.  I sucked it up and dealt because if I wanted to ride, I didn't have a choice.  Let's hope I managed to do the same with comps.  Under pressure, no choices, I just have to deal.

Are there any luxuries in grad school?

Are there any luxuries in grad school?

The comment seems ridiculous when you think about the things that we put up with during our time here:
*low wages
*long hours (20 hours a week for teaching?  ha!  Try like 30-35 on teaching alone!)
*high stress - publications, comps, dissertations, conferences, and all this ON TOP of your course and teaching load
*low regard - your family probably doesn't understand and makes commentary about you "being in school forever", your spouse/SO doesn't understand, people think you are uppity
*some people (thankfully not me) don't have health insurance covered by their stipend or any affordable options.  Dental? As if...

And that's just to name a few things that spring to mind...

But that said, grad school does afford us some luxuries.  Or at least it has me.  I realized on a message board  I frequent that I am "lucky" in that I have the flexibility and encouragement of like-minded peers when it comes to things.  This affords me some pretty cool opportunities.  I'm going to name a few.  See if you can name any yourself or if any of these match up.

1. Travel
I am pretty lucky in that most of my adult life has allowed for travel.  My parents are rather worldly people in that they like culture and good food but I didn't grow up travelling the globe - just North America.  My parents made it possible for me to go abroad and I did so during my junior year of college.  I spent a year abroad in the UK studying and researching my senior thesis on health care.  It was amazing.  I couldn't have asked for more.  I also got to see much of Europe.  I spent two weeks in Italy lounging by the pool and taking pictures.  I spent Christmas in Bavaria - Nuremberg to be exact.  It was a Christmas unlike any I could forget.  4 and a half weeks in a picture-perfect little place with friends.

Last year at this time I was landing in Rwanda for coursework and field study that my university paid for in large part.  I moved most of my things into a storage locker here, moved the rest home, and then moved in with a close friend and a colleague when I came back from my trip.  It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot.  It also has helped me look good on a CV.  And it proves that, despite all my himming and hawwing, I can still speak French - like it or not!

I've also gotten to travel on conferences.  Most notably, I travelled to Canada and visited the U.S. embassy in Ottawa during a conference.  My week-long stay was paid for entirely by the U.S. and Canadian government.

Travel is a luxury, though.  Most people don't have the money or reason to go so they can't prioritize it.  It annoys me to see Americans being so damn uppity about what they have when they've never seen the outside world.  The world isn't America, contrary to a recent comment made by some idiot in a facebook war about why America doesn't provide proper health care to its citizens and why it should.  It isn't the world and people do just fine on their own minus our "help".  I am an American but I'm not that dense, basically.  I don't assume that our way is best.  Leaving the country made me appreciate things like a welfare state and transport (I never owned a car until I graduated school and still hate driving) that the U.S. really doesn't provide as well as any other HDC.  However, leaving the country also made me appreciate things like food.  I still stand by the fact that the U.S. has one of the best food "cultures" around and Chicago, specifically, is a food mecca that I have come to miss when not living in the metro area.  Still, it was academia and research that afforded me these experiences.  I wish everyone had these opportunities but my job is unique in allowing me such things.

2. Time
I make my own schedule.  I doubt I will ever find a job more flexible than this.  And that's why if I ever have kids I will likely be the person that is running the kids to the doctor, dentist, etc because lord knows I can.  I still work 80 hours a week but I don't see that block schedule that my Dad does.  He's a banker and works a ton of hours.  He has a hard time believing sometimes, I think, that I work as many hours as I do but I really do.  I take my work home with me.  I grade papers all of the effing time, I eat while I'm reading for courses, and I think up paper ideas or keyword searches in the shower.  Work never stops, of course, which leads to stress, but if I manage it, I can have a pretty good schedule.

This schedule allows me to travel, to have the summers off, and to set my own hours.  Few jobs allow for this but if I stay in academia, this will always be my blessing (and curse).  I want to look at it as a glass half full, though.  No need to be a total pessimist.

3. A community that "gets it".
My colleagues are also my closest friends and my committee is made up of trusted mentors.  I am able to surround myself with people that think like me, work like me, and are interested in the things that I am.  Well, not exactly the SAME things but many of the same things.  When I am stressed about comps, I have shoulders to cry on.  When I am worried about a final paper that just will not work, people get it.  When it is conference season and I am fried and need a break, I have people around me who need the same.

Now, again, this is good and bad.  If you get into a fight with someone, it's an issue.  If you date someone in your program - rule number one you shouldn't break (take it from me!) - they can choose to be an asshole and air your dirty laundry to the program staff at any minute.  Ask me how I know.  Oh wait, that's because it happened 2 days ago to me.  I also share an office with 15 people.  I love most of them some of the time.  I hate some of them some of the time.  I don't hate or love everyone all of the time.  It's bound to be like that when there are so many type A's in a room.  So, it can be good and bad.

But it's mostly good.  Your family (unless they are academics) won't get you.  Your significant others from non-academic backgrounds will NOT get you.  And they may think what you are doing is a joke because your pay is so little.  But, I can assure you, someone at the office WILL get you.  It may not be everyone all the time and sometimes things are better than others but someone will always get you all of the time.

Have any of your own thoughts?  I know graduate school is no luxurious way to live.  Paycheck-to-paycheck and all.  But it does afford us some luxuries.  It reminds me of a faculty member who compares it to playing ball.  If you do the best you can, you will end up being able to come in and play ball day after day.  It's a dream job and if you work, you can keep it, according to him.