Hot Topics | Sexual Harassment on Campus by Michael Kaufman

January 19, 2015
This week we’re kicking off our first in an ongoing ‘Hot Topics’ series. We’re going to bring you topical discussions from our expert speakers on issues taking prominence in the news cycle. The public conversation around sexual assault and gender-based violence on campus elevated in the latter part of 2014. Several news-making events highlighted the importance of colleges & universities taking proactive steps to address misogyny and rape culture on campus. Michael-Kaufman-HiRes1We see efforts such as The White House Council on Women and Girls, and the Office of the Vice President’s 2014 report, “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call To Action”. The report specifically emphasizes the sexual assault crisis experienced on college campuses, which has gained public attention since several college activists have filed federal complaints against their universities for failing to protect victims in accord with Title IX, the federal law that requires colleges to properly respond to cases of sexual assault on campus. Today’s guest blog comes from GSA Speaker, Educator and co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign, Michael Kaufman. GSA-Divider We’ve got a big problem on our hands. Our universities and colleges just aren’t safe enough spaces. I’m talking about the persistence of sexist ideas and behaviors that piss off most of us, women and men alike: Sexual harassment. Demeaning texts, Facebook pages and sexual assault (that usually goes unreported). Some people used to think it was all a battle of the sexes, one of those “he said, she said” sorts of things. But as I travel to campuses and communities across Canada, the US and around the world, I’m talking to more and more men who are really angry about the things that a minority of our brothers are doing. Yes, our universities and colleges need codes of conduct. Yes, we need much better support services for those who experience harassment or abuse. Yes, we need to hold abusers accountable for their actions. Yes, we should expect administrators, faculty, and student leaders (both formal leaders and opinion-leaders) to play a leadership role in setting an example and implementing clear policies. Yes, we need a wide range of initiatives, from creative programming during frosh orientation to training of residence life staff and campus health professionals, to work with student athletes. And yes, we need to properly fund these initiatives. o-GENDER-EQUALITY-facebookBut whatever we do, we’ve got to address the big missing link. We’ve got to do a much-better job reaching campus men. The thing is, the vast majority of men will never commit these abuses. The problem is that the majority of us have remained silent about such abuse. Through our silence, we allow abusive words and behavior to continue. How can we end this silence and encourage all men to think about the impact of their words and actions? First, we’ve got to avoid some common mistakes: • One university where I was speaking had a brochure about dating violence. But it was written in such obscure and boring language I barely knew they were talking about people hooking up or about sexual assault. • On another, posters by a well-meaning student council left a lot of campus men feeling it was a blanket accusation against all men, even though that obviously wasn’t the intention. • And on yet another campus, the administration spoke in completely sex-neutral language, as if there were as much sexual harassment and assault by women against men as vice-versa. These experiences led me to write “ManTalk: What Every Guy Oughta/Gotta Do to Create Good Relationships” and to develop a talk with the same name. You see, research around the world tells us this: What works best is to use positive messages that shows that abuse angers most men. That men can not only become good men but also allies with women (And be good allies among men, straight and gay, and with trans folks as well). We must avoid finger wagging and reach out to campus men with strong messages but do so with (appropriate) humor and compassion. We need clear but nuanced messages about what constitutes consent in relationships (which is part of “ManTalk”). We must be non-judgmental about what constitutes a good, consensual relationship. Personally, I don’t care whether two people are hooking up for the night or hope to be together for the rest of their lives, but I believe that in both cases, the relationship needs to be based on respect and consent. Research also gives us strong evidence that what actually helps men speak out against abuse and think about their own attitudes is a clear, gender equality framework. Really understanding why a sexist joke is hurtful is only possible if you understand inequalities in social power that still exist between women and men. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape culture are still very much with us on our campuses. But I really believe we can bring them to an end. GSA-Divider For more information on Michael and how he can help raise the conversation for your campus or organization, visit his GSA Speaker Profile.