Monday, November 29, 2010

Rape is a crime. Turn it over to real police.

I should not be writing this blog post. I planned to get up and work on a journal article and prepare for a conference call I have this afternoon. But after reading the news, I am appalled once again at the behavior of two higher education institutions related to a student's accusation of rape.

The situation is as follows: Elizabeth "Lizzy" Seeberg, a new student at St. Mary's, reported being raped by a member of the Notre Dame football team. (St. Mary's is the "sister school" of Notre Dame, which used to be exclusively male.) The allegation was reported to the Notre Dame campus police, who took Seeberg to the local hospital for treatment and a rape kit. She provided two written statements and pointed out a player from his picture on a Notre Dame roster. She also received assistance from the St. Mary's campus program for victims of rape and sexual assault.

What did the university do next? Let's talk about what didn't happen:
  1. Ms. Seeberg was never taken to local police to give them a statement and report the felony crime to them.
  2. Neither St. Mary's nor Notre Dame reported the alleged rape to the police.
  3. The football player was not suspended from the team or the university pending investigation; he played in the next game, a few days after the alleged assault.
  4. The football player has not been charged with a crime.
 How do we understand this? Well, here is Notre Dame's statement:
"Any time we are made aware of a student potentially violating university policies, we implement a process that is careful and thorough so that facts can be gathered, rumors and misinformation can be sorted out, and an informed decision can be made about what action to take — if action is warranted. We take our obligation seriously, we involve law enforcement officials as appropriate, and we act in accordance with the facts."
I must say that it is horrifying to me to see rape talked about as a violation of university rules. That approach equates rape with cheating on a test, disrupting class, or smoking pot in the dorm. Um, no. Just no. Rape is a felony, a violation of state law.

Why don't universities reach out to involve the local police when a student reports a rape, even though they involve them in the case of other crimes? Universities call in the police when there is a murder or suicide. In fact, we know this because St. Mary's called the local police when Ms. Seeberg took an overdose of medication and killed herself in her dorm room, just a couple weeks after the alleged rape.

The (lack of) response of the institutions (Notre Dame and St. Mary's) to the rape allegation makes a difference, as was recognized by Ms. Seeberg herself.
One source said that [Ms. Seeberg] suddenly felt self-conscious on St. Mary's campus, where the 1,600-member student body is about three-quarters the size of her old high school, Glenbrook North. She feared people would dislike her for accusing a Notre Dame athlete of a sex crime and that she would wear the incident "like a scarlet letter" throughout her college career, the source said.
That she would wear the incident like a scarlet letter, not the football player who was accused of the crime.

To add insult to injury, even after Ms. Seeberg committed suicide, the police handling the investigation were never told about the alleged rape by either St. Mary's or Notre Dame administrators or campus police. St. Mary's, for its part, wrote a letter to students and their parents about the student's death, deleting any mention of suicide, and clarifying, "Although we do not know the cause of her death, we want to stop any potential rumors by stating that no crime occurred on our campus related to her death." No, as the newspaper reported snarkily, the Notre Dame campus, where the crime of rape was alleged to have occurred, is across the street

I have several reflections on this mess. First, it is sad when a small school like St. Mary's, with only 1,664 students enrolled, needs its own rape crisis program. It is a grant-funded program, heavily focused on rape and dating violence prevention and support for survivors of assault. But just imagine what kinds of statistics they have to have to get that grant. As I know from friends who do this work on campuses across the US, more rapes happen on and off campus to college students than you would ever want to imagine. Seriously.

I am also saddened that no one seems to have explained to the student the limitations of not reporting the crime to police. Students are often unfamiliar with the criminal justice system, and many express comfort staying within a campus system that seems more familiar. Yet, the campus system simply is not designed for these kinds of crimes. For example, the rape kit (a very invasive procedure) relates to the criminal justice system, not a campus justice system; it is useless to campus investigators. Why did Ms. Seeberg have a rape kit done, if she was not connected to the police? And in most jurisdictions, if the victim chooses not to testify about the assault, the criminal case does not go forward, even if police have gathered evidence and taken statements. Most rape crisis advocates encourage victims to provide such evidence and records even if they don't want to prosecute, just in case the perpetrator is involved in another such case in the future and the evidence from the first case can show a pattern of behavior. The Notre Dame website regarding what to do if sexually assaulted is a little less than clear about this, but generally states the same information. Of course, it also offers three on-campus places to go if you have been sexually assaulted, along with an off-campus mental health center. They do not offer contact information for the local police.

I understand why universities want to keep such matters in house--less media coverage, more control over outcomes and information flow, forestalling lawsuits, etc. But colleges and universities should no longer have this kind of response available to them, to the exclusion of involving the proper legal authorities. Reports of rape and sexual assault should be passed along immediately to city or county law enforcement. That is what St. Mary's supposedly does for rapes that happen on its campus; that should also be the policy for any rapes reported by their students, no matter where they take place. The student can then decide if she would want to press charges / testify in a rape case.

Campus judicial systems are not appropriate places for responding to allegations of rape and sexual assault. Those cases belong in the legal system. Committing violence against another student, staff, or faculty member should have ramifications on campus (i.e., suspension or expulsion, exclusion from campus, being fired, losing a scholarship, being kicked out of a dorm, etc.), but that response should be secondary to a criminal justice response.

Perhaps we need a law that requires campuses to report all violent crimes to law enforcement as soon as a complaint is alleged. I am starting to think this is the only answer.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The academic's plea on Thanksgiving

A loving note from academics everywhere to our extended families:

The Thanksgiving "holiday" is officially a very busy time of year for us. We are grading like crazy, trying to finish our course preps for next semester, working on pubs and grant proposals, and we only have a limited amount of time to do everything we need to do. So, please, lower your expectations!

Some of us will not come home for the holidays, because we find it insane to try to travel far away in such a short window of time. By the time I get there, I will have to choke down dinner and return, during one of the worst travel periods in the U.S. And if I miss the connection, I will wind up alone for the holiday, and that would suck. And the last thing I need right now is to be felt up by TSA employees. We will see you in December, okay?

For those of you who are lucky to live nearby, we will certainly stop by and visit for Thanksgiving. We might even watch some football. But no, we won't host at our house. We haven't even cleaned in weeks, let alone prepped for cooking. There are papers and exams strewn around the living room, and the kitchen has only cereal and sandwich meat. That's why I am coming to YOUR house. I will stop and pick up a pie or two, if you need me to bring something. Then I have to go home and grade. And no, you can't help grade, but thanks for offering.

**This has been a friendly announcement from your favorite family academic, who you are sure only works 3 hours a week and gets summers off. **

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sabbatical regrets

 Regrets, I've had a few. 

Looking back on my sabbatical so far, there are a few things I wish I had done differently.

Didn't go after a big grant. If I had gotten a big grant, I would have the whole fucking year for the sabbatical. Instead, I only had a semester. **Sigh.**

Didn't go away for an extended working/resting trip. I wish I had rented a beach place for 2-3 weeks in the Fall to work, relax, and sit by the fire. Staying in my regular setting has meant too much contact with work people, and too much awareness of what was happening in my program. On the other hand, I have gotten to be with the gf, who has a job that would not have allowed her to be away for several weeks at a time. I am glad not to be separated from her, though we have had to work out both of us working at home. It has been nice to be with her. That said, I still daydream about weeks at the beach.

Taught a summer class. Yeah, I needed the money, so I taught the summer class. That sucked. It was a wonderful experience, though, because it was a small, specialized class and I got to actually use my own book. I came away thinking the book was actually pretty good. But the weeks of prepping, teaching, and grading were a drag that delayed the start of sabbatical time.

Let summer slip by too quickly. I sort of ignored the summer, and pretended that my sabbatical started in August, but that was a real waste. I have no one to blame but myself, but it took far too long for me to start doing my real research/writing work. I dinked around too much in the summer--reading the Kindle, attending a training, and visiting family and friends--and I didn't set to work in the way I had hoped.

Didn't start the writing group until mid-fall semester. The writing group has been a blessing, and I think I would have been more productive if I had actually had a group to help me set goals and be accountable early on. Of the five articles I wanted to write, I have only submitted one so far, and I am still wrestling with data on the second. I am maintaining a hope that I can finish and submit four before school starts in January.

Agreed to take on a new course prep for spring. Seriously, I am an idiot. Some of my sabbatical time will be taken up prepping this new course, especially because I have NEVER taught anything like this class. Worse yet, this new prep will be my 9th new course in 7 years. Of course, at my last job, I taught 8 different course preps in 2 years...where we had a 2-2 teaching load. I think I have some kind of illness--my behavior is probably diagnosable. Just shoot me.

Planned to start two new research projects when I have too much data already. I have found it difficult to split my focus on getting new research projects started and writing up data from projects I have already conducted. I came into the sabbatical with data for at least 5 articles... I really didn't need two more projects mucking up the works. I am excited about one of the two projects, which is simply an extension of what I have already done, but the second project is just languishing. I hope the latter project will move forward in spring.

Didn't get on a better eating/working out plan. I have been jealous of Dr. Crazy's attentiveness to the healthy living component of sabbatical. I went the other way: indulgence and restfulness. While it has been a lot of fun, I am going to have to pull it together if I would like to fit into all of my winter clothes!

Didn't get the printer networked. It is a little thing, but I kept meaning to call someone to make it so the gf and I could have a wireless connection to our printer, but it still hasn't happened. As a result, I have to send anything I need printed (directions, drafts, code lists, etc.) to our house computer for printing, located in the gf's office. That is a total drag, and it drives me nuts not to be able to print things off easily. I didn't realize how much I do that when I work, but it is clear now.

Well, those are all the regrets I can identify right now. I am sure there will be more before spring semester classes start.

Update:  Wow, reading this post again in the daytime, the tone is much more negative than I actually feel about the sabbatical experience. To put it into perspective, I am not that upset about any of these issues. They are more annoyances than anything else. Now, back to work!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Another Catholic college, another anti-gay action

The newspaper in Springfield, Illinois, describes yet another anti-gay action at a Catholic institution. This time, the employee in question, Laine Tadlock, was the openly lesbian Director of the Education program at Benedictine University. After publishing an announcement in the local newspaper that she had married her partner in Iowa in July, she was "let go." (As always in these kinds of personnel situations, the firing is actually a complicated series of maneuvers. They first tried to push Tadlock into early retirement. When she refused, they offered her a new position for which she was unqualified; when she declined the new position, they decided that meant she was resigning.)

The university points to the problematic inclusion of her employer in the announcement, as is typical for such announcements. (Tadlock is employed at Benedictine University, etc.) The newspaper article explains:
In a Sept. 30 letter to Tadlock’s attorney, Benedictine President William Carroll wrote, “… By publicizing the marriage ceremony in which she participated in Iowa she has significantly disregarded and flouted core religious beliefs which, as a Catholic institution, it is our mission to uphold.”
Um, the paper also points out that they were less interested in upholding their own nondiscrimination policy, which states:
“It is the university’s policy to provide equal employment opportunity to all persons without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, handicap, veteran status, marital status, sexual orientation or any basis protected by law.”
Are there any other heterosexual employees who would be fired for posting a wedding announcement in the paper? I think not.

What is most amazing is that this whole kerfuffle may have been kicked off by one lone "Catholic activist" who got his panties in a bunch about the announcement. "Steve Brady of Petersburg, said he complained to [newly installed Bishop] Paprocki. He also wrote and sent e-mails to other church officials condemning Tadlock and Benedictine following the announcement’s publication." The school administrators have spoken to three bishops about the issue and must have determined that the answer was to dismiss Tadlock, despite their institutional nondiscrimination policy.

She and her lawyer are considering legal options. I hope they sue. I believe they will win.

Friday, November 05, 2010

It's just service, dude

 This story in the Chronicle just cracked me up.

Apparently, the faculty at University of Missouri in Kansas City (UMKC) is so reluctant to serve that they have created a computer-based system relying on faculty to "opt out" of serving on the senate. As anyone who has ever seen an "opt out" system in place (think about parent notification for sex ed), it works because it relies on people forgetting to follow up. Is that how you want to pick your representatives? The woman who forgot to check her email, or the guy who couldn't get the computer system to work? Because the latter is how the members of UMKC picked the Chair of their Faculty Senate--an assistant professor, no less. He is a smart man, so he immediately resigned his new post and the Vice-Chair took over.

Okay, I know I am an academic nerd, but does no one else want to serve on faculty senate? I have served as a faculty representative at three different universities, and I think it is not a bad avenue for service. I learned about how the university functions. I met interesting, smart people from across the university. I helped shape university policies.Yes, some of it is mundane and breaks into wordsmithing that makes me want to kill someone, but that only happens once in a while. Senate gets you out of your office, out of your department, and engaged in the larger university. What university service could be better than that?

I am once again reminded of how few faculty members understand the importance of their role in shared governance. If we (and staff and students) don't take a role in determining the policies and practices that shape our lives as employees and the education of our students, we leave it in the hands of upper administrators and members of advisory boards who have their own pressures and agendas and have limited insight into the lived experiences of faculty, staff, and students on campus. Shared governance only works if everyone shows up--willingly, not by accident.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Second shift as a lesbian academic

As I sat on my sofa and received the Facebook instant message from a high school acquaintance (let's call him "Tom"), I pondered about what it means to be an out, lesbian academic. I didn't talk to Tom much in high school, probably because when we were in junior high, he used to come by and slam my locker shut to see if he could catch my fingers in it. It wasn't an anti-gay thing; he was just a 13 year old boy who didn't know how to act right. But they grouped us by last name, and as our names start with the same letter, we shared a homeroom from grades 8-12.

Now Tom is an adult, and his younger sibling has revealed recently that he is gay. He saw on my Facebook site that I am openly lesbian and in a long-term relationship. He did the sort of random chitchat, and then moved towards the topic of his sibling. I gave him some advice on how to be a supportive brother, and we chatted about ways to communicate his love and acceptance.

Lest anyone think this is a rare occurrence, I have to say that I have these kinds of "out of the blue" conversations a lot. I can easily recall dozens of conversations with colleagues, supervisors, students, and others who were dealing with their own sexual orientation issues or the disclosure of family and close friends. Once I was approached by a woman and her husband at an LGBT reception at a national conference who were upset because their adult gay son had not invited them to his wedding. They were struggling with his sexual orientation and his anger at their lack of support and understanding, and they needed guidance and help.

At school, I have had LGBT undergraduate students cry in my office as they worried about how they could tell their parents about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. I have spoken to numerous LGBT grad students about managing their identities on the job market and how they might assess the culture of potential employers. I have had many heterosexual students come to my office to discuss aspects of gay and lesbian life that bothered them, such as gay parenthood or gay Christianity, trying to understand new perspectives and grow on these issues.

All of this is in addition to serving as the "Go To Girl" for all of my fellow instructors when they need a guest speaker on LGBT issues in class. I have presented at colloquia on campus and participated in LGBT panels. (I have declined the honor of advising the LGBT student group on campus, leaving that to some of the other queer faculty and staff. Thankfully, there are many other folks who can fill that role.)

Being an LGBT scholar-activist in the local community brings it own unique experiences. After appearing in the local newspaper talking about LGBT issues, I received a phone call one night from a lesbian who had just moved into town. She explained that she had looked up my phone number in the phone book, and she asked me about the LGBT resources in our area and how she might get to know new LGBT people.We chatted for a while and I connected her to as many resources as I could identify. I came away very impressed at the courage to make such a cold call, and I hope it was helpful, though we have never spoken again.

Tom apologized for taking up so much of my time at the end of our chat. And of course, his apology raised the issue that none of this outreach "work" counts in the eyes of my university. (They certainly wouldn't be impressed with that bit of trivia in the report on my sabbatical.) Yet, this extra work I do--the second shift work that most members of racial and ethnic minority groups do, as well--isn't recognized or compensated. I don't resent that (too much), because I have chosen this work, this kind of service to my students, my colleagues, and my community. While I sometimes get worried about the time and emotional energy I am spending on these issues, I know that each conversation can help make a small difference in the world for LGBT people and our families and friends. And that is what my scholarship and my teaching is really about--making students think a little better, a little more deeply, and hopefully help in the movement towards a more just society for all people, especially LGBT people.