Examining institutional responses to campus sexual violence

This week in North Philly Notes, the co-editors of Addressing Violence Against Women on College Campuses address the state of rape accusations on college campuses under the current administration, and why we need to redouble our efforts to eliminate sexual violence.

As the editors of Addressing Violence Against Women on College Campuses, we thought we were prepared for what a new White House and Federal administration would mean for institutional responses to sexual violence against college students. The progress over the last several years has been palpable, especially given the confluence of student and survivor activism, policy enactments, expanding assessment and etiology research, as well as institutions of higher education’s significant efforts to improve their responses to victims and innovative prevention efforts. Given indicators that the new administration would not maintain the course of the previous one, in the months after the election we discussed with each other what the possible impact could be. Perhaps reduced funding for the Department of Education, a contraction of the number of investigations by the Office for Civil Rights, and/or a redefinition of the current interpretation of Title IX. All of these situations would remove the burden and promise of institutional Title IX responses to campus violence. These concerns led us to wonder in the Preface of our book, that if Title IX was redefined via a new “Dear Colleague” letter, what could be the future of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the Clery Act, and the Campus SaVE Act—repeal, strip funding, or fail to enforce? If any of these changes occurred, we posited, the corresponding effects on institutions of higher education, and more importantly their students, would be substantial.

Addressing Violence on College Campuses_smWe are now on the brink of the changes we feared, when the progress anti-violence scholars, activists and legislators have made might begin to crumble under the weight of the new, shifting narrative created by the Department of Education. As the stage is set for sweeping policy dismantling, there emerges a narrative of women as falsely accusing men, rape as “drunken sex,” and the reporting of sexual violence as women changing their minds about “our last sleeping together was not quite right.” This rhetoric, along with the narrative that presumes that only women are raped, is disheartening as it negates all of the work survivors, activists, and academics have done to address violence against all genders. We are dismayed—nay, angered—that those responsible for enforcing regulations on violence on college campuses, such as Candice Jackson, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education, would assert, publicly, a victim-blaming discourse. She not only discounts victims’ voices but also endorses an understanding of offenders as victims too, making survivors and the schools that try to hold the offenders accountable the “real” perpetrators. Bringing “claims” of rape or adjudicating such claims is to discriminate, the logic goes.

This shift in defining who our government must protect in cases of sexual assault is possible because rape itself—at least according to Ms. Jackson—is no longer the rape that activists defined and legislators later codified in sexual assault legislation, but rather the mere imaginings of a college woman recovering from drunken sex. Though Ms. Jackson later apologized for what she termed a “flippant” remark, the problem is that this remark reifies the victim-blaming culture within which survivors already must try to seek justice. Now, though, they must do so under official federal endorsement of a narrative in which women have regrettable sex and then men are falsely accused. The data, as presented in Addressing Violence Against Women on College Campuses, does not support this narrative. But of course there has long been rape deniers and widespread endorsement of rape myths (including the oft-repeated belief that rape victims lie) in our society. We did not imagine, however, that our government officials appointed to address sexual violence would publicly endorse such beliefs in this day and age.

We therefore join the call of the 50 organizations who recently demanded that Ms. Jackson reject her own comments publicly and consistently, as Fernanda Zamudio-Suaréz wrote about in The Chronicle of Higher Education, on July 20, 2017. And, in the face of Ms. Jackson’s comments, we need college administrators to continue to push their campuses to “do the right thing.” They must do everything that have been striving to do to prevent, respond to, and adjudicate violence, which may involve rejecting a call from the administration for reduced enforcement in the future. We also call upon college students to accelerate their incredible efforts to change the social climate on college campuses and directly confront and reject victim-blaming narratives.

Our concern for what will happen under this current administration—as researchers and women—is growing.  But we also believe in the power of many to eliminate violence against women. Historically, legislation about violence against women has followed from the tireless efforts of activists. We encourage students, faculty, and officials of institutions of higher education to be those activists that refuse to see harm done to college students on college campuses.

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Commonwealth: A Journal of Pennsylvania Politics and Policy

This week in North Philly Notes, we promote our new online-only journal, Commonwealth.

Commonwealth_sm.jpgA peer-reviewed, online-only journal that publishes original research across a broad range of topics related to the politics, policy, and political history of Pennsylvania, Commonwealth is interdisciplinary in nature and appeals to scholars and practitioners across political science, public administration, public policy, and history fields.

Issues will cover general interest pieces, applied research, practitioners’ or experts’ analyses, research notes, essays, and book reviews. The first annual “special policy issue” of Commonwealth highlighted educational policies in Pennsylvania. The next special policy issue, which will focus on the environment, will be assembled by a guest editor selected in consultation with the journal’s editor and editorial board. The print “Year in Review” issue will be a compendium of the best articles of the year.

Commonwealth collaborates with the Pennsylvania Policy Forum to plan special issues… The Forum is a consortium of faculty members and academic and policy institute leaders… who share an interest in generating ideas, analyses, and symposiums that might prove useful… in addressing major issues confronting the Commonwealth and its government.

Highlights from  the journal’s Special Issue on Education Policy include:

Commonwealth invited Senator Argall… and Jon Hopcraft… to summarize the argument that the (property) tax is an antiquated and unfair levy and should be abolished. We invited Dartmouth College economist William A. Fischel… to summarize his argument that, compared to statewide taxes, the local levy provides voters – even in households without school children – with stronger incentives to support high quality public schools.

A paper that outlines the rationale behind Student-Based Allocations for Pennsylvania School Districts, and investigates the extent to which the (Basic Education Funding Commission) proposal would allocate funds on the basis of students.

An evaluation of Pennsylvania’s Keystone exams that finds that race, socioeconomic status, and a schools English Language Learner and special education populations drive performance.

Subscribe at: https://tupjournals.temple.edu/index.php/commonwealth/index

Students’ views on Obama, Basketball, and Alexander Wolff’s book

This week in North Philly Notes,  six students from  Rebecca Alpert’s Honors Sports and Leisure in American Society class at Temple University write about meeting with The Audacity of Hoop author Alexander Wolff. 

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Marcus Forst, Physics major

President Obama has been in office for nearly half my life. Although I only see Obama as he is presented by the media, I feel that I know a little bit about the person that is Barack Obama. Basketball connects me with Barack Obama; I see him as a person instead of a figure because I identify with his interests.

The Audacity of Hoop, written by Alexander Wolff, is a window into Obama’s relationship with basketball—a close up look at the person that I had previously imagined. I had the opportunity to speak with Wolff about his experience writing the book as well as about the content itself. I asked if basketball would still have been an effective means for Obama to connect with common people—and distance himself from a purely intellectual image—had he been extremely good at basketball. My thinking was that Obama’s normalcy in basketball contributes to making him seem human and relatable. Mr. Wolff responded by saying that if Obama had been an incredible basketball player, he likely would not have been a politician. He stressed the crossroad in Obama’s life in which he decided to move away from dreams of basketball stardom and turned towards college and a future in politics, albeit while carrying with him “the love of the game.” Wolff added that Obama has used this story of a crossroads throughout his presidency in order to encourage young black males to strive for success in more traditional careers, while still bringing a love of basketball with them.

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Catherine Devlin, Biology major

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Alexander Wolff, the author of The Audacity of Hoop, before his promotional presentation about the book. He talked, of course, about the important role that basketball played throughout Obama’s campaign and presidency (the basis of his book). One of the most fascinating discussion points, for me, was his description of the campaign and the racial divide Americans experienced. The historic 2008 election of the first African American president will forever be remembered as a turning point in our history. The road to Obama’s election, though, was anything but easy.  According to Wolff, basketball was a deliberate and imperative part of the campaign that cannot be ignored. In 2008, Americans were looking for reassurances. The early questions into Obama’s citizenship, however, were not the main concern for the campaign. Surprisingly, the population of Americans who needed the most reassuring consisted largely of African Americans.

As Wolff put it, “How do you win African Americans just because you’re an African American?” We often have this intrinsic distrust of politicians that can end up either making or breaking a campaign. Images of Obama playing games of pickup basketball eventually gave the African American community the confidence to believe that Barack Obama was just a regular guy looking to make a difference. Wolff also discussed the intricate balance between portraying Obama as an “Average Joe” and avoiding playing into the stereotypes associated with being an African American male who plays basketball. The ingenious strategy was to introduce the candidate as a politician first and then slowly introduce his love of basketball in small groups of voters who had come to know him quite well. Obviously, the Obama campaign was able to find just the right middle ground.  Winning over enough Americans to be elected the leader of the nation is certainly not an easy feat. Being an African American candidate presented extra challenges for his campaign, but Barack Obama managed to make history.  The groundbreaking strategies on the road to the White House were, according to Wolff, only aided by Obama’s genuine love of America’s favorite game. It seems only fitting, then, to document as Alexander Wolff has done so beautifully, the unique and successful relationship between basketball and America’s first African American president.

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Bridgette Devlin, Biology major

Recently, I interviewed Alexander Wolff, Sports Illustrated writer and author of The Audacity of Hoop: Basketball and the Age of Obama. In the book, Wolff tracks basketball’s involvement throughout Barack Obama’s campaign and Presidency so far. One section, specifically, focuses on “Baracketology” – Obama’s annual NCAA March Madness bracket. So, what makes these brackets so important? Alexander Wolff thinks it’s all about Obama’s political strategy, relatability, and legacy.

The author easily listed examples of how the President’s March Madness picks can seem politically charged. Obama received criticism over his brackets’ large proportion of swing states and frivolity. Despite pushback from across many spectrums, Wolff says the yearly bracket simply conveys Obama’ sincere love of the game. Wolff described the tradition of inviting the champions to the White House to meet with the Obamas. He easily bantered with the teams. He jokes with the players and the coaches, proving that he keeps up-to-date with both the game and the latest league news. Regardless of his motivations, Obama’s NCAA bracket has provided him an opportunity to connect with the American people, showing them he is an average, relatable, and trustworthy person. Wolff notes that Obama’s connection to basketball and the tournament comes across as incredibly genuine, not as though we are being “spun” by an expert politician/manipulator. Wolff even goes so far as to speculate basketball’s influence on Obama’s Presidential legacy: “Will Obama be remembered as the President who shared his brackets with us?” Perhaps “Baracketology” will become a tradition, carried on by the next Commander-in-Chief as a way to reach the American people. The once-criticized practice has now become commonplace political strategy.

The author conveys in his book as well as in his interviews that Obama is very much an agent of change. During his Presidency, he has created a coalition to bring a much-divided nation together, often using basketball as his starting point and common thread. The sport has even given the public a glimpse into Barack Obama’s personal life, providing the entry point into his youth, career, and marriage. Obama’s connection to basketball has become intertwined with his legacy in many senses. I would venture to say that the same is true for Alexander Wolff, whose own legacy will surely include not only basketball, but also the Age of Obama.

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Austin Zwolenik, Biology major

Wolff’s writing, filled with comparisons and analysis is somewhat atypical in informative books, as they usually only lay out facts with no real opinion written by the author. The Audacity of Hoop caters to the people that subscribe to the acronym “tl:dr,” meaning: too long; didn’t read. Wolff even addressed this type of thinking in his talk as he referenced the style in which The Audacity of Hoop was written. It is a coffee table book filled with many pictures to tag along with the writing. This writing medium is excellent for the purpose of creating a dynamic where the pictures explain what words sometimes cannot.

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Long Duc Nguyen, Management Information Systems major

I had a great chance to meet the author of The Audacity of Hoop, Alexander Wolff. The author gave us some insights on President Obama, his campaign, and how the President’s use of sports affects American society. When President Obama fills out the March Madness bracket, it shows that he is just another person with the love for sports and creates a sense of trust among the African-American community. The most interesting story that the author told us is how Barack Obama, through his qualities on the basketball court, won the heart of the demanding Michelle Robinson.

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Isabella Menzies, Early Childhood Education major

While interviewing Alexander Wolff, the author of The Audacity of Hoop, I asked what brought his attention to the fact that Barack Obama had used basketball as a campaign strategy. Wolff stated that the influence of basketball on Obama’s campaign first grabbed his attention in 2008. He noted that he had always been interested in politics and basketball, so the potential intersection of those two entities allowed him to investigate a story that brought together both of his interests. Wolff acknowledged that he initially questioned if he had just strained to make connections between basketball and Obama’s campaign. Nonetheless, evidence of the influence that the former had on the latter (and vice versa) grew, and Wolff ultimately concluded that Obama had used basketball to connect with voters. Such a conclusion enabled me to realize the intentional (rather than coincidental) nature of the relationship between politics and sports.

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