Proactive Reaction #metoo

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.

 

 

 

References:
Krebs, C. P., Lindquist, C., Warner, T., Fisher, B., & Martin, S. (2007). The campus sexual assault (CSA) study: Final report. Retrieved from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service: http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/221153.pdf

http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications_nsvrc_factsheet_media-packet_statistics-about-sexual-violence_0.pdf

2https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/qa-201404-title-ix.pdf
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This was the last one, I think, for the course. 

Each step in life is a goal or should be. While financial means have always been the brick wall blocking my potential for greater things, I had to make a decision to not only incur debt but to find the will to succeed past my current state. That, in itself, is scary. The weight of wondering if you’ll be able to pay not just the household expenses, but huge student loans causes insurmountable tension. I’ve dealt with it before under a two income umbrella. Now I’m one person below what has been suggested as the income level to live in Pennsylvania. I get by yet if one thing goes wrong—unexpected house or car repair for example—my financial state can plummet dramatically.

How do I solve this? Sacrifices come to mind. My writing, while an income in itself, isn’t enough to contribute to anything but a new pair of Birkenstock sandals once every two years. I’ve also chosen a difficult field that requires studying and understanding each chapter or lesson in a limited time. Since my current situation has made online courses my best option, I could potentially miss out in classroom discussions. I’m certainly not a fan of homework and enjoy learning by doing in a controlled environment. Unfortunately, I’m not a young person in the comfort of my parent’s house without major bills and such to worry about. My full-time job can be, at times, mentally and physically exhausting yet I must find the energy to crack the books and test my limits. Perhaps if I treated like a job more than anything, my brain will understand its importance more.

So how can I possibly succeed? I must remind myself of how I got out of a mentally abusive relationship. In a moment of weakness where I almost traded my freedom for chains again, I found the strength to say no and severe the cord strangling my soul. That debt, while a scary subject, is a necessary evil to gain the coveted college degree which employers of skilled and specialized fields demand. I have resources like a potential scholarship and employee assistance at work to lessen the burden No longer am I under the impression that I’m not good enough or worth bettering myself. That cancer has been burned away. My fear will rise and doubt will fester. The trick is to beat it back. My friends, family, and co-workers encourage me without hollow praise. When you come from nothing, your create anything you dream so long as you take the first step and never look back.

 

Personality Quirks in the Mirror

Background: We had to take one of those tests most of your have seen on a Facebook feed to determine your personality. I know these haven’t been nail-biting essays. Just an insight on some of the subject matter. Or an exercise in bullshitting.

Out of the three—Intrapersonal, interpersonal, and social skills—the latter had the highest marks. Being an introvert at heart this surprised me. Conversations aren’t something I look forward to engaging in. Perhaps the twenty plus years in retail sales have honed my skills. For excellent customer service, you have to learn that giving of yourself without regard to the reward at the end will help you deal with other aspects of your life. This is especially true when interacting with complaints. In my youth, shifting gears caused my anxiety to skyrocket. I ran from situations that I charge into now. Reaching out for help just wasn’t an option in my younger years though I had teachers that recognized my struggles. They guided me and shaped who I am today in some way. I believe in growing up I’ve found a balance between maturity and acceptance in the diversity of the world around me.

Then technology changed the way we converse. In the world of the internet, all perspectives are open to our own interpretation. All opinions expose themselves in an unsightly manner. Unlike face to face confrontations, we have the ability to walk away before we hit the send button. To formulate our thoughts or reflect on what our words will accomplish. If only our passionate emotions allowed for such pause. With real life speed, that extra thought process can be lost. I constantly assess how my body language or tone could be perceived to the people I’m interacting with. Unlike the internet where emotions can be misinterpreted, a person’s stance or their vocalizations can send a clear message. I reserve myself more in social circles because of this though that might lend to the introvert side. Body language will also clue me in whether my fellow conversationalists are receptive to another line of thinking.

While people have helped me tremendously in my life, they have always approached me. My greatest weakness is asking for help. I want to figure it out on my own on one hand, and on the other—depending on the situation—embarrassment is the cause. Who wants to admit that their marriage of over twenty years has crumbled to dust or that the person you’ve given your life to has slowly stripped away your dignity and self-worth? Yet without help, how do we break free? I believe the constant feeling of having to prove myself during my lifespan has engrained that I can only count on myself. This isn’t the way to live. I struggle each day with the simple act of asking for help. Disappointment is a delicious candy that rots away your molars.

All in all, if I remember that there is always room for improvement and new ways to push boundaries of the mind and body I can continue to step forward. Without weaknesses, we never will find our strengths.