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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, September 5, 2014

Just this year the Department of Education released guidance making Title IX protections for transgender and gender non-conforming students explicit. The move came on the heels of years of controversy surrounding the treatment of transgender students, on topics such as housing, bathroom use, and even disciplinary actions. Here are three recent stories about policy changes, federal exemptions, and the challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming students.

Women’s Colleges Open Their Doors to Transgender Women

Several traditionally all-female colleges have changed their policies to make them more officially welcoming to transgender and non-gender conforming applicants and students. Mills College, an all-female university in the San Francisco Bay Area, recently changed school policy to officially reflect the long-time practice of accepting self-identified females who are “transgender or gender fluid.” Transgender male students who transition while attending Mills will be welcome to stay on. Similarly, Mount Holyoke College announced a change to their admissions policy this week to explicitly welcome transgender applicants. Under the new policy, the school will accept any applicant who is not a cisgender male. Mount Holyoke President Lynn Pasquerella introduced the amended policy as a move to recognize “human rights at home.” The change has been met largely with enthusiasm from students and alumni.

Christian Colleges Seek Title IX Exemptions to Expel Transgender Students

Since the Education Department’s guidance explicitly expanded Title IX protections to transgender students, several Christian colleges have sought and received exemptions allowing them to discriminate against transgender students while still receiving federal funding. Citing religious beliefs, George Fox University received an exemption to deny housing to a transgender student. Exemptions granted to Spring Arbor University and Simpson University go a step further, allowing them to expel transgender students and reject transgender applicants. Such policies have existed for years on the campuses in question, but will now remain legal despite the Education Department’s guidance. Executive director of Campus Pride, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ students, has objected to the exemptions and the policies they preserve, calling these schools “dinosaurs of bigotry.” According to Windmeyer, “These policies are harmful to students.”

Transgender Challenges Transcend School Policies

Of course, not all of the challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming students can be solved (or created) by new school policies. This piece from Buzzfeed highlights difficulties that range from receiving appropriate housing to explaining preferred pronouns, repeatedly, to classmates and even professors. Transgender students talk about the awkwardness of emailing professors to request the use of a preferred name or of answering shockingly intimate questions posed by near-strangers on campus. While changing policies is an important piece of making all student welcome and comfortable on campus, changing culture is just as crucial to create a more inclusive learning environment.

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Free Workshop on Consent
Posted by On Thursday, August 14, 2014

We’re excited to release today a consent workshop developed by our friends at the University of San Francisco’s Division of Student Life.

The workshop would be a helpful addition to any orientation program or a stand-alone refresher course for later in the year. It covers the definition of consent and gives some important statistics about sexual assault and intimacy in the campus community. It also gives students the opportunity to practice communication skills related to asking, giving, and denying consent.

Here are the downloads:

Although this workshop was developed for women, it can easily be adapted for students of any gender. In fact, we hope schools will tailor these resources to fit their unique needs and we encourage you to make refinements and improvements as you see fit. We do ask, however, that you share any changes you make to a workshop and make them freely available to the whole student conduct community (that’s why we use a creative commons license).

(more…)

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On Naming Violence
Posted by On Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Earlier this month, we attended a brown bag session at the University of San Francisco, “On the Importance of Naming: Being More Aware about How We Talk about Sexual Assault.” The session was held by professors Annick Wibben and Shawn Doubiago, who head the Women and Violence Research Group at USF.

The discussion focused on the ways language can both oppress and liberate survivors of sexual violence, and thus how important it is that we speak deliberately and carefully about sexual assault.

At a high level, our language can steer conversations in certain directions and towards certain conclusions. We spoke about the problems associated with focusing exclusively on legal definitions or the push to report, which, though valuable, also exclude or potentially trivialize experiences and feelings outside those definitions or that emphasis. Similarly, conversations that focus exclusively on heterosexual, female survivors can marginalize the experiences of survivors who are male, genderqueer, or transgender.

(See Ann Jones’s chilling and, sadly, still-relevant article on how our attitudes towards sexual violence can silence survivors.)

Our language poses similar traps at a more day-to-day level as well. For example, one participant suggested that there is a difference between saying ‘someone has been victimized’ and ‘someone is a victim’. The first acknowledges the violence, but does not make it the defining experience of the person. The second creates an equivalence between “someone” and “victim,” as if the label defines that person’s entire experience.

Indeed, there was considerable discussion around the appropriateness of terms such as victim and survivor. Some participants felt that “victim” could mire a person in a position of disempowerment, while others thought that the term powerfully acknowledged the violence done to them — something “survivor” does not necessarily do. Others floated the combined term “victim/survivor” as one that would allow individuals to self-identify with the term they found most appropriate.

Participants, many of whom were also advocates, shared the language they use to acknowledge the violence without forcing a label on it:

•    “It’s okay to call it this…”
•    “It sounds like…”
•    “What you describe sounds like…”
•    “Other people have called similar experiences…”

The key takeaway was the importance of clearing time and space in our discussions for individuals to express and explore their experiences and feelings without being restricted or limited to one narrative or label. Indeed, as was pointed out, an individual may not even recognize an experience as violent or abusive until long after the attack. Giving people space to rescue their own narratives from a difficult experience empowers them, which can be a liberating experience.

to conclude the session, we talked about ways to help students create their own social scripts to bridge the emotional and physical in relationships, and the healthier narratives we can provide men and women that emphasize the healthy, appropriate, and consensual pleasures of sex.

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What Happens in College Doesn’t Always Stay in College
Posted by On Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Photograph courtesy of Amanda Berg

While a junior at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Amanda Berg noticed her female friends trying to match men drink for drink at parties. The trend bothered her and she was interested in exploring it further. So on Halloween, Berg decided to bring her camera to a party, and instead of knocking back drinks, she snapped photos.

The one-night experiment developed into a long-term project, and Berg continued to document her female friends while they partied. The fruit of this project, Berg’s photo-essay, “Keg Stand Queens: Binge Drinking among College-Aged Women,” explores “the complex relationship women undergraduates have with alcohol.”

Berg has plenty of images of binge drinking that we might expect from a photo-essay on college partying: students shotgunning beers, another chugging from a bottle of booze as she flips off the cheering crowd encircling her, and a young woman throwing up in the bathroom after partying too hard.

Other photos show the way drinking insinuates itself into the more mundane aspects of student life like one photograph of a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels on a bathroom counter, nestled among makeup, toothpaste, and combs.

In some ways, it is this last photo that is the most troubling. It suggests the way drinking becomes as routine as brushing your teeth or combing your hair. Indeed, harm-prevention programs usually educate students about the dangers of binge drinking, but rarely do they mention the dangers of daily drinking.

The Importance of Weekly Limits

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines moderate drinking by both daily and weekly limits. For men, those limits are no more than four drinks a day or 14 drinks in a week. For women, it’s three drinks a day or seven drinks in a week. Daily limits protect people from acute risks such as alcohol poisoning. Weekly limits, meanwhile, protect them from long-term risks associated with alcohol such as certain types of cancer.

While alcohol programs generally educate students about daily limits and the dangers of binge drinking, most don’t mention weekly limits, even though keeping within both limits is important to students’ health.

In a recent study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, Bettina Hoeppner and her colleagues found that 50% of college women and 45% of college men exceeded the NIAAA’s weekly limits at least once in their first year of college. The findings reveal a hole in some campuses harm-reduction efforts. By failing to educate students about weekly limits, Hoeppner argues, schools may be missing an important chance to have a long-term impact on students’ lives, especially young women.

In fact, recent data show that while young adults binge less after college graduation, they continue to drink just as frequently if not more. “[T]his raises the possibility,” Hoeppner speculates, “that the weekly limits become more relevant after leaving the college environment when weekly volume is less likely to be driven by heavy episodic drinking.”

Breaking the cycle

College students are still more likely to exceed daily than weekly limits. Indeed, according to Hoeppner’s data, almost no students exceeded weekly limits without also exceeding daily limits. Furthermore, the risks of binge drinking (blackouts, injuries, alcohol poisoning) are more acute than the potential long-term effects of regularly exceeding weekly limits. But, as Hoeppner’s research suggests, students also need to think about how their drinking fits into a bigger picture.

Just as colleges and universities educate students for professional life after graduation, schools need to consider how their harm-reduction strategies promote healthier lifestyles at college and beyond.
Telling students that alcohol abuse is just a “college” problem reinforces the perception that there aren’t long-term consequences to their behavior: “What happens at college stays at college.”

Failing to warn students about the long-term consequences of heavy drinking not only lets women down, it lets all students down. Education programs prepare students for life, not just college.

The final image in Berg’s photo-essay is a young girl practicing flip cup. She is surrounded by the detritus of a wedding celebration. Empty cups and containers are strewn across the table. In the distance, just out of focus, lies a discarded silver sandal. As Berg told Slate Magazine, “It seems like the end is the beginning, and it just goes on.”

Works Cited

Hoeppner, B.B., Paskausky, A.L., Jackson, K.M., Barnett, N.P. (2013) “Sex Differences in College Student Adherence to NIAAA Drinking Guidelines,” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 37, 1779-1786.

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Rewriting the College Hook-Up Script
Posted by On Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Popular media makes it seem like college today is more like the seamier corners of a Las Vegas club than the ivy-clad, brick-edifice institution of yore.  Students today, it seems, are more likely to hit the bottle than the books and more likely to get a booty call than a phone call.

But college life isn’t one big party as our media often portrays it. Indeed, the sensational portraits of college depravity, however well intended, might be doing more harm than good by reinforcing students’ misconceptions about college life.

Let’s take a look at some popular misconceptions about “hook up” culture, how they might be hurting our students, and how we can confront these misconceptions to enable students to rewrite the hook-up script.

Are Millennials are more sexually active than past generations?

Hook up culture is often portrayed as the crisis of the current generation of college students. The internet is full of accounts of the collapse of morality on college campuses. But scholars who study hook up culture trace its roots back forty years or more.

In her book on campus sexual culture, “Hooking Up,” Kathleen Bogle suggests that the shift to hook up culture was already underway by the mid-1970s. She believes hook up culture arose out of the turmoil of the wider cultural and demographic changes of the 60s. In that regard, it’s something that both current students and their parents experienced.

Other researchers put the origins in the early 1920s, when “with the rise of automobile use and novel entertainment venues…traditional models of courting under parental supervision began to fade” (Garcia et al.). Now we’re talking four generations of hook-up culture!

Indeed, a study presented this year at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting found little change in college students’ behaviors or attitudes regarding sex in the last 25 years.

The study compared the answers of two batches of college students, 1988-1996 and 2002-2010, on the General Social Survey. Attitudes and behaviors between the two groups were quite similar. For example, 65% of the first group reported having sex at least once a week compared to 59.3% of the second group. Attitudes regarding sex between minors, cheating on a spouse, and premarital sex also remained largely unchanged.

The researchers concluded, “[o]ur results provide no evidence that there has been a sea change in the sexual behavior of college students or that there has been a significant liberalization of attitudes towards sex.”

Is everyone is hooking up?

This summer, the New York Times published a controversial trend piece by Kate Taylor. Taylor reported that campus hookup culture was increasingly driven by young women, who were intent on “building their résumés, not finding boyfriends.” In other words, it’s not just men who are driving hook up culture: everyone’s doing it.

But while hook ups may dominate discussions about campus culture, not everyone is actually hooking up.

Indeed, according to the most recent American College Health Association Survey, over a third of college students have never had sex. And while 46% have had sex in the past month, the vast majority of sexually active students have only had one sexual partner in the past 12 months. In fact, 47% of college students reported being in a relationship.

That doesn’t sound like students intent on casual sex and one-night stands.

Why do we talk about hook up culture so much then?

Lisa Wade, a sociologist at Occidental college, suggests that it might have to do with who is hooking up: white, wealthy, heterosexual students. The status that these students’ race, class, and sexual orientation confer allows them and their habits to dominate national discussions of campus culture.

“Students feel that a hookup culture dominates their colleges not because it is actually widely embraced,” Wade writes, “but because the people with the most power to shape campus culture like it that way.”

Indeed, contrary to Taylor’s piece in the Times, Kathleen Bogle found that hook up culture was driven by men. In their interviews with Bogle, women were far less satisfied with hook up culture than their male peers.

In general, women preferred relationships, whereas men preferred casual encounters.

Bogle offered two reasons for this difference. First, the women she interviewed were interested in getting married earlier than the men. Thus many women were actively looking for a long term relationship that might result in marriage. The men simply weren’t.

Bogle also pointed to a persistent double standard in campus sexual culture. While men were praised for being promiscuous, women were stigmatized. If they behaved like men and pursued multiple partners, women risked earning derogatory labels like “slut.” Indeed, many men confessed that they wouldn’t date a woman who had had many sexual partners. Thus in order to protect their reputations, women sought out stable relationships.

So not everyone is hooking up and not everyone wants to. Instead the hook-up elites are imposing a hegemony over campus sexual culture.

What we talk about when we talk about hooking up

The problem with these misconceptions is that they make hook up culture seem inevitable. Indeed, when we press too hard on the prevalence of hook up culture, we might be sending students mixed messages.

On the one hand, we imply that students are randy and oversexed.  We insist that hook ups and no-strings-attached sex are endemic to college campuses.

On the other hand, we blandly tell students that they overestimate how much sex their peers are having.

Which message do you think students will remember?

If the vivid image of a college free-for-all is what sticks in students’ mind, then we may be doing them a disservice.

Students do tend to overestimate their peers’ sexual activity, making the behavior of a few outliers (the hook up elites) appear to be the social norm. Students then turn to these social norms to guide their own behavior, reinforcing hook up culture.

It is possible that by talking so much about hook up culture (even when condemning it) that we inadvertently reinforce the idea that the outliers are the social norm, that everyone really is hooking up.

Instead of just condemning hook up culture, we need to offer some alternatives. Or better yet, we need to elicit some alternatives from students themselves.

Rewriting the hook up script

According to Bogle, hook up culture is a social script: a set of cultural and social expectations surrounding dating that students internalize and follow. Bogle contrasts the hook up script with earlier social scripts, such as “courting” or “going steady,” which were the products of different social and demographic conditions.

Rather than just trying to correct students’ perceptions of their peers’ behavior or point to the flaws of hooking up, perhaps we might engage with students to write new social scripts, in order to get them involved in rewriting hook up culture.

What might that script look like? It’s hard to say. But it can start with conversations about dating, asking what men and women want to get out of their college experience and whether that includes meaningful intimate relationships.

In fact, research suggests that some women pursue hook ups because the risks of a causal encounter are actually less than those of a long-term relationship: “Bad hook ups are isolated events, while bad relationships wreak havoc with whole lives.”

The conversation about hook up culture can begin with freshman orientation, and it can continue in classrooms from gender studies to philosophy.

Getting students to see the fact and fiction of campus culture is a laudable goal. Getting them to understand that they aren’t simply passive subjects of culture, but active agents who can change it has the potential to make a real impact on campus life.

Students can be so intent on changing the world that they fail to see the change that needs to happen right around them.

There’s a well-known parable about two young fish swimming in the sea. An older fish swims up and asks, “How’s the water?” After the older fish swims away, one young fish turns to the other and asks, “What’s water?”

The point is, students are so immersed in the culture that surrounds them, they don’t even know it’s there. But it is. And it affects them. Unlike the two fish, however, students have the chance to find new waters.

Start a conversation with students and keep it going. Help them replace the hook-up culture myth with the script that fits their reality.

Awareness is the first step towards changing the “water” around us…some students may not even know they’re drowning in it.

Works Cited

Bogle, K.A. (2008) Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus. New York: New York UP.

Garcia, J.R., et al. (2012) “Sexual Hookup Culture: A Review.” Review of General Psychology, 16, 161-176.

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