With women, including myself, sharing their sexual harassment stories on social media, I remembered a paper I did a few semesters ago on the subject. This is something where the dialogue must remain open as the disease of sexual harassment hasn’t decreased in occurrence.
College prepares us for the scary world beyond the classroom, especially directly after high school. While high school gives us social interaction, deadlines, and knowledge, the difference between college and adolescent learning is jarring. We go from one teenaged dream building for all of our classes to running through a vast campus with buildings for metaphorical miles. I remember when I made the leap thirty years ago to further my education in the “oh my god I have no idea what I want to do with my life” major of Liberal Arts. Suffice to say I’ve figuratively grown up as immaturity still waltzes through my living room buck naked. As I start my new venture in schooling with a degree in mind to sustain my humble life, I was amused by the very first course thrust into my hands. No pun intended nor do I mean to take this subject lightly. Sexual harassment or assault is a real threat on campuses around the globe. Even with my conviction on that last statement, I found the Title IX Training a little mild compared to the POSH training I’m required to take for my job. That’s Prevention of Sexual Harassment for those unfamiliar with the government’s love of all things acronym. Are we preparing students for the dangers of sexual harassment by understating its impact by being more concerned with the onset of negative emotions the information might cause?
Title IX has many layers to peel back and digest. The training itself is brief and not overly involved but concise and to the point. We want a safe environment to learn and grow. That’s not the question here. Are we doing enough to prevent sexual harassment? According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted while in college. That number does not drop for women outside of the campus. More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the incident. Sexual assault is the most unreported crime. With the video used for Central Penn, the content only concentrates on women being the victim. While that’s the higher of the two percentages, shouldn’t the focus be on all potential scenarios? Yes, violence against women is a statistic that needs to be lower but it is disingenuous to dismiss men can also be on the receiving end of unwanted advances? On a personal level I have never suffered more than inappropriate language or breach of personal space. This does not give me the right to dismiss the seriousness of this training. I must be vigilant not only for myself but for my fellow humans. I’d throw the buzzword of the decade “privilege” around if it wasn’t overused and too simple of a choice to articulate one’s argument. Perhaps Newton’s Third Law can be loosely applied in this instance—for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The water receding might not affect you but the tsunami that follows has devastating effects. Can we really be firm in our conviction that we’ve never had anyone cross our paths that hasn’t suffered from something Title IX covers whether male or female?
Providing information to students is imperative to not only prevent an altercation but what to do should they witness it. Empowerment is in the bystanders. For example, in my aforementioned POSH training, all of the situations highlighted have the witness variable. Each sample had the beautiful analogy of hindsight and scored a perfect 20/20. As the Central Penn College brochure for Title IX states “If you see it or hear it, please report it”. On the potential victim side, saying “no” is a word that has power and should be utilized as such. Situations can escalate quickly if we use the mute button on our voice box. However when alcohol is involved, a person becomes impaired in having anything remotely resembling a coherent thought. For them to articulate any type of consent to anything is a perception that a predator will bend to their misconceived will. Likewise, an unconscious person cannot communicate therefore “yes” is never an option. The training has the potential to go more in depth but stops short.
One of the principle elements of the Title IX training is triggers. Any parts of the video that might be a little beyond someone’s comfort zone was highly encouraged to be reported. Triggers, defined by the distinguished Merriam-Webster dictionary as a verb, is “cause (an event or situation) to happen or exist”. Think about how something random brings back some recessed memory. On the more pleasant side, the smell of English boxwoods brings back childhood visions of my time living in Virginia. As a more sinister example, the rank odor of any Axe body spray causes a gag reflex of near vomit-inducing proportions because of the emotional trauma I endured during my now-dissolved marriage. I respect the need to not allow anyone to suffer negative emotions during an already draining experience that college tends to be. On the other hand, references such as only citing definitions do a disservice to the severity of the issue of sexual harassment or assault not only in a college environment but the potential in a work place as well. Training needs to go beyond the definition of what harassment or sexual assault is. We have to consciously be aware that something that might be a brush off the shoulder incident in our world has near catastrophic consequences for another. It is a delicate balance of chaos and uniformity. I’m reminded of the old cartoon showing a caterpillar doing something monstrous to an innocent french fry while the edible delight exclaims “Hey! Get off me! I’m a french fry!” Amusing as that might be to some, if one person is uncomfortable by that hanging in their vicinity, it must be removed. Harmless quips aren’t always without offensive meanings. What is more straightforward is we need to make sure the environment in which we learn or work in harmonious. Unfortunately, there is no clear line which not to cross but anything with a sexual connotation will cause an imbalance and has no place within a workplace or college campus.
Perhaps in the long run this little sample video for the Title IX training sets a firm guideline to follow. We are here, first and foremost, to learn. The information age allows not only students but the general public to access almost anything through our pocket computers also known as smart phones. We are in an ever-evolving world. Title IX was birthed in 1972 and the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of education clarified its position on the matter in 2011 in their Dear Colleague letter. POSH training for government employees didn’t commence until 2006. Human emotions are a powerful force. The impact of harassment or sexual assault needs to be studied and fully understood. Emotions are not spared when a person becomes a victim. However, we need to harness that knowledge in a more constructive, or proactive, manner because this issue is far from going away. As we move forward, I suspect that information on safeguarding oneself against potential threats—beyond the victim shaming lists of what not to wear—will grow exponentially. New scenarios will drive the need to do this. It is my hope that the human element rises to the occasion and that sucker punch word “no” is taken with the validity that it deserves, whether vocalized or not.