Priorities Not in Order

Posted on January 29, 2018

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Not too long ago the University held a “Harbor Training” workshop for faculty, staff, and graduate students to “have an opportunity to develop their knowledge of resources available to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking in a Harbor training session available through the Women’s Resource Center.”

That’s good. Furthermore, the flyer said the “purpose of Harbor [presumably a “safe” harbor] is to create safe places all over campus where victims of sexual assault, dating/domestic violence and stalking can go to receive assistance.”

That’s good to know too. And, it added, “Through the training, participants will gain insight and sensitivity to the issues of interpersonal violence.”
Ok, let’s stop here. Whoa.

There is a huge gap in this large nugget of information and assistance mother University has chosen to give to its faculty, staff, and students, if I may mix metaphors a bit. While “resources” and “safe places” are being made available or created, nothing that I read addresses something that the University staff who dreamed up of this initiative missed: the causes of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking.

I realize undergraduates were omitted from those to be trained in the workshops. But, a big but, it’s among undergraduates precisely where most of these abuses and violations takes place.

It’s kind of like creating a pregnancy avoidance initiative, but somehow failing to tell potential new mothers what they need to do to avoid getting pregnant. And I don’t mean just pills here. I am addressing a much bigger issue: the morality and behavior of so many undergraduates on campuses.

What does one expect when ritual drinking is the prescription for get togethers, or hooking up. Ritual drinking to the point where intoxication incapacitates you is now common on college campuses.

Let me be clear here. I am not an oldster who thinks everything we did in the 1950s (high school years) and 1960s (college and post-college years) was better. We drank. We sometimes, believe it not, got drunk. And we sometimes did things that were foolish or wrong, or both.

But I don’t remember drinking like young people drink today, throwing down one after another as fast as you can to see how rapidly you can reach the pass out or out of control point. There is almost a desperation built into the system.
In an article in the WSJ a few weeks ago, Jennifer C. Braceras wrote that 1 in 4 college students will be sexually assaulted. The statistics Braceras says may be exaggerated, for they rate everything from an unexpected kiss to rape, but they tell us something.

Campuses are creating ways to deal with this phenomenon (see first few paragraphs above), but she notes that “workshops and training sessions will do nothing to keep students safe if those sessions ignore the elephant in the room: the hook up culture.”

She really lambasts administrators.

“Academics and college administrators today,” she writes “operate under the assumption that alcohol-infused sex between virtual strangers is a matter of ‘private choice.’ They fear that any warnings to avoid such risk-fraught encounters will be lambasted as old-fashioned or, worse, judgmental. They live in fear that if they tell the truth about alcohol and hookup culture, they will be accused of ‘blaming the victim.’ So, they refuse to give you tips that might actually keep you safe’”

I liked Banderas’s approach for she not only defines a problem but then tells the girls what to do, or not to do. This is something parents should be doing. More of that later.

I’ll summarize her rules:

• Do not get drunk and go home with someone you don’t know.

• There’s safety in numbers. If you are out for a night of revelry, stay with friends

• Reject the hookup culture. Sex without trust and commitment often ends poorly. It may sound old-fashioned, but it’s really common sense: If you don’t know someone well, and you are unsure whether you can trust him, is it really a smart idea to be alone with him in a state of partial undress?

• Be self-confident. It’s OK to meet a guy around the keg or at the pong table, but hold out for a real date.

• Buyer beware. If you do decide to participate in the “hookup” culture, go in with your eyes open. Promises made in the heat of passion are meaningless. Suitors will promise the moon to get you into bed. Many of them will want nothing to do with you the next day, which will (understandably) leave you feeling humiliated and exploited. That doesn’t make you a rape victim. It makes you naive.

• Be clear about your wishes. If you do not want to do something, say so clearly. You are an adult, and you have free will and moral agency. You have a right to say no at any stage… Only you know what makes you uncomfortable, and it is up to you to articulate it.

• If you are assaulted, seek immediate help from someone you trust who is not affiliated with the college. Remember, the college’s interests are not your own. Call your parents or another trusted adult, call 911, seek medical attention, or call a rape hotline. Do it as soon as possible.

And she adds, “although you won’t hear any of the above common-sense advice on campus, the best way to protect yourself is to follow it.”

I realize most of my readers are the parents and grandparents of college-age students.

So, perhaps clip this and send it to them. Braceras finishes with what to do if you do find yourself assaulted.

“If, God forbid, you are assaulted, remember that the best way to punish offenders is through the criminal justice system. Don’t let college administrators or ideologically motivated activists scare you into thinking otherwise.”

She really comes down hard on college administrators. Read on. It sounds very familiar to “Harbor Training.”

“So, what are campuses doing about it? Schools have built large administrative bureaucracies to investigate and respond to charges of campus assault. But while such responses may placate gender activists and insulate colleges from legal liability, they do little to keep you safe or punish criminal offenders.

“Why? To begin with, the resources colleges offer are institutionally biased. The first job of any college administrator is to protect the college. College victim advocates and Title IX coordinators may have an interest in appearing “tough on assault,” but they also have an interest in avoiding bad publicity, which means limiting your options and discouraging police involvement.”

That’s a pretty tough assessment. I don’t know if UA’s “Harbor Training” deserves it entirely. But I also know that the response of colleges and universities is to offer a band aid or patch to cover the wound, and perhaps their liability and reputation, but they—for the most part—are not addressing the problem: a moral breakdown in values in our culture and society.

Braceras’ s rules are a good start. We’ll continue to address this in another column devoted to the world of social media.

Published as “Ignoring the Elephant in the Room” Sunday December 11, 2017 by The Tuscaloosa News.