Sophie Sergie: Never Forget

sophie sergieIncidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault at University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) have to be viewed within our particular context. Alaska has the highest per capita rate of domestic violence in America. Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault per capita in the nation. Fairbanks is ranked as the third most dangerous city for women in America. Our university has just spent what must be an exorbitant fee to defend sexual harassment as free speech. The university attempted to completely shut down the Women’s Center two years ago, and although community resistance stopped a complete shut-down, now the university is quietly planning again to downsize staff and space. Last week, a young woman sponsored a Consent is Sexy table at several venues on campus. She reports that when she set up the table at one of the residence halls, several men made rape jokes.

As upsetting as these incidents and facts are, another event at UAF provides a horrifying lens through which sexual harassment and other incidents of sexual violence at our university must be understood. In 1993, a young woman was raped and murdered at UAF, and her killer is still at large. Her name was Sophie Sergie. Her body was discovered in a shower in the same dorm where the men made rape jokes last week.

The crime is still unsolved. Read about Sophie’s murder case here: http://www.uafjournalism.com/extreme/index.php/sophie-sergie-murder/46-investigatorrevisitssophie-sergiemurderrder-of-sophiesophie-sergiemurder

Never forget Sophie Sergie. Never stop the work of dismantling patriarchy. Don’t turn your heads away from the horror, but instead, speak up and speak out.

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Minions of Patriarchy

Minions of Patriarchy

adapted from Suzy Exposito, aka Suzy X. See more of her rad fem cartoons, including the original version of the one above, here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/25051229@N03/5692509520/in/photostream/

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Patriarchy Wins at UAF

Keep-Calm-and-Subvert-PatriarchyThe Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), claimed victory today in the patriarchal war against women being waged at the local level at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Read the press release here:

http://www.thefire.org/victory-free-press-vindicated-at-university-of-alaska-fairbanks/

I am intrigued by FIRE’s claim that they helped to bring about the victory. I had suspected for several weeks that they had become involved in the complaint and appeal process, and wonder how much influence they had over the university’s decision.

On the bright side, many people have expressed their outrage against the university’s decision to support sexism. Several women students have courageously stepped forward to discuss possible resistance strategies. They are the real freedom fighters.

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Misogynist haters

fightagainstrapecultureAfter the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Title IX coordinator released confidential documents related to my Title IX complaint to the student newspaper, “someone” leaked them to the local newspaper and two national news outlets. The result was a barrage of anonymous and non-anonymous blog comments, tweets, and emails. One of the emails was copied to my department. Nearly all of the comments were extremely negative, and are the usual stuff that misogynists say to discredit feminist activists: she’s ugly; she’s a lesbian; she’s fat; she can’t get a man; she’s a feminazi; she’s crazy; she smells bad; she’s not even female. These sexist pronouncements are emotionally powerful because they stab at the heart of what it means to be female in contemporary American society.

Amanda Hess writes that women bloggers are disproportionately targeted for online hate. Critical power conflict theorists, which is the sociological paradigm in which I find the most value, would analyze the haters who post sexist and heterosexist comments online as doing the dirty work of patriarchy. Similarly, poor and working class people do the dirty work of militarism and nationalism by fighting America’s wars.

Several courageous women who have been trolled online have posted the comments they received. As an antidote to the online hate, and as a way to contribute to the data about online misogyny, below are some of the choice comments that were posted about me in November and December, 2013. But first, an acknowledgement and a big thank you to the people behind the Fight Rape Culture blog who published the photograph above. http://endrapeculture.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/fightagainstrapeculture.jpg

Blog comments:

“There sure isn’t any shortage of batshit liberal pukes. Look at this moonbat’s picture. If she didn’t stink like a tuna sandwich in the sun no one would ever figure out that she’s a woman.”

“She’s so ugly I wouldn’t rape her with a dead man’s penis.”

“She would never, even if she was the only woman on an island with thousands of men, have to worry about being raped.”

“if THAT is a picture of her, i think she “doth protest to much” as a reaction to her inner desire to partake in the sex she doesn’t stand a chance of ever getting.”

“What that femiNazi needs to do is go in search of a sense of humor. That is not sexual harassment; true sexual harassment is something she need never worry about, judging from her mouth and her photo.”

“Dear Feminists, Please get a Life . Perhaps get laid, get over yourselves we are tired of hearing from your twisted little selves”

“We have been giving these idiots “enough rope” for long enough…now the knot is growing ever tighter on their foolishness. Let these morons keep talking, fewer and fewer people are listening, and every stupid word that comes out of their mouths is rushing the end of any type of credibility they might have once had.”

“Feminism is full of hypocrites, left wing whack jobs, man-haters and transphobes. Not to mention how laughable it is that feminists will scream about ‘rape culture’ in the 1st world but almost totally ignore how much more rampant rape is in the 3rd world. And then there’s all the mental gymnastics the so called pro choicers will get into over abortion. Especially when it involves people getting them when they realize their baby is a girl.”

“First off…I want proof that thing is even human let alone female.”

“Most Feminists are angry because they can’t get laid ….seems a lot of them turn Lesbian”

“rape culture? I don’t think she needs to worry about a stiff penis being near her ever.”

 

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FIRE and the Ravages of Patriarchy

patriarchyUniversity of Alaska Fairbanks has determined that sexual harassment of women in the student newspaper and online is constitutionally protected. The university’s general counsel’s office, the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity (D&EO), and an outside attorney hired by the university to review my Title IX complaint all agreed that the Sun-Star exercised its right to free speech when it published two articles that sexually harass women. Read details about this issue here: http://wp.me/p3HWTd-1w

The decision by the outside attorney that the Sun-Star articles are protected by free speech arrived in my in-box just days after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) published “The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses: Spotlight on Speech Codes 2014.” FIRE is rightfully celebrated as a watchdog for free speech on campuses, but there are times when it veers sharply rightward and publishes propaganda that strengthens institutionalized systems of oppression such as racism, sexism, and heterosexism. Such is the case with the FIRE report’s targeting of the University of Montana. UM was recently investigated by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for its failure to uphold Title IX protections for women. As a response, the UM instituted many changes in its policies and practices related to sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence. FIRE criticizes the changes as interfering with free speech.

FIRE is to be commended for its work to uphold free speech rights on campus. However, the organization must recognize that sexually harassing speech is, at times, impermissible speech. But FIRE is not the only entity who must recognize this. University general counsels, university administrators, professors, staff, students, and yes, student newspapers, must recognize that sexually harassing speech is impermissible.

When FIRE and general counsels offices insist that sexually predatory speech and actions are constitutionally protected, they are doing nothing less than supporting some of the most oppressive principles of patriarchy. Protection of sexually predatory speech thus protects the patriarchal social order that reduces women to objects and sexual prey. The patriarchy is allowed to continue to ravage our society.

Cartoon from http://omnipotentpoobah.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/patriarchy.png

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), “The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses: Spotlight on Speech Codes 2014.” http://issuu.com/thefireorg/docs/2014_speech_code_report_final?e=6851166/6373933

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Is Slut-Shaming Constitutionally Protected?

slut shamingIs slut-shaming constitutionally protected? Some university general counsels seem to think so. The controversy at my university, the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), centers on an article that appeared in the campus newspaper in April 2013. The article contained screenshots of student comments on one of those “confessions” Facebook sites that have been floating to the surface from the underbellies of student life. One of the published screenshots that caused consternation for me, many of my students, and most of my colleagues, contained a reference to a sexual act in relationship to a named student: “Like if you fucked [actual name of a UAF student]. Comment if it was a three-some.”

Yes, you read that right. Actual name of a student, targeted in the campus newspaper, published in print and online, with an inquiry about who had had sexual intercourse with her. Using the f-word. Published in the newspaper. Print and online. I keep repeating the fact that the student was named in the newspaper, and continues to be named in the online version to ensure that you understand the full import of what is occurring.

The screen shots published in the paper contain other quite offensive posts, all of them by students identified by name. The posts are offensive due to their advocacy of violence against women, fag-bashing, racial slurs, and sexually harassing nature. All of the kind of stuff that you might expect young people just out of high school to post on Facebook once the adults aren’t watching. If the newspaper had obscured the names of the students who had posted and the names of the students targeted for sexual harassment, the student-journalists would have made a valuable contribution to the discussion of campus climate. But they didn’t. The name of one student whose post advocated violence against a pregnant woman was highlighted by bold lines. You can’t miss that one. Imagine sitting next to him in class, knowing that he had posted this: “Hit her in the stomach. She’ll thank you later.” The woman whose sex life was discussed was interviewed for the article, and she emphasized how much she did not want her sex life to be discussed in a public forum, although she did give her permission to have her real name used in the article. Turns out she was also a graduate teaching assistant. This means that her students had the opportunity to further giggle and gossip about her sexual activities while she was teaching. Or to be horrified and upset and unable to focus in class. Do you think the students’ attention was on the subject material after reading about their instructor’s sex life in the newspaper? Were the learning objectives of the course achieved? Can you say “hostile environment?”

Okay, so young people posted offensive things on the UAF Confessions Facebook site and the campus newspaper reprinted them without redacting names. Opportunities for continued cyberbullying and online harassment of women, homosexuals, pregnant women, and Alaska Natives abound. Just what you would expect from young people fresh out of high school. No big deal, right? Wrong. Consider the recent case of Amanda Todd, the Canadian girl who committed suicide after being bullied online and at her school. She was slut-shamed online and could not bear to live afterwards. Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault and domestic violence in America. Fairbanks was listed in a Forbes article in 2012 as being one of the three most dangerous cities for women to live. So yes, sexual harassment in Fairbanks that target named women, and harassment committed by named students does matter. It contributes to the production and reproduction of rape culture. It harms women and men. But our university general counsel believes that such speech is constitutionally protected. He’s wrong–the constitution does not protect illegal speech, and sexual harassing speech is illegal through both employment law and Title IX. Which brings me to my next question: What Alaska parent in her or his right mind would encourage a son or daughter to attend a university that condones illegal sexual harassment in its campus newspaper?

Sociologists note how peer groups, in this case other students, and the mass media, such as Facebook and the internet, have emerged in recent years as the most important agents of socialization and social control. What young people’s peers do, and what kind of media they consume (or that consumes them) shape youth existence on this planet in ways that are still not clearly understood by those who matter the most: adults who are supposed to be guiding, mentoring, protecting, teaching, and nurturing them.

In the case of the online and print articles that slut-shamed a student at UAF, the university’s general counsel determined that freedom of speech trumped women students’ rights to a safe and welcoming school environment. General counsel determined that fag-bashing in the newspaper is protected speech. The advocacy of violence against a pregnant student is just fine and dandy at UAF, according to our general counsel. Racist remarks against Alaska Natives are okay-dokey. (January 31, 2014 update: the racist remarks have been removed from the digital version of the article. Presumably, racism is not okay, but sexism and heterosexism are fine.)

The fact is, the constitution does not protect illegal speech–such as unwanted sexual jokes, unwelcome sexual comments, sexually violent comments, and sexually hostile speech. UA General Counsel made an incorrect decision. Our university general counsel apparently believes that slut-shaming is constitutionally protected. Not only are they condoning sexual harassment and the hostile environment that it creates for women and men who witness sexual harassment, they are actively supporting it. Feeding the beast.

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The University’s Sex Problem

The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) has a sex problem. Gender inequality permeates the university, negatively affecting the entire university community. Women faculty are paid less than men; the Women’s Center was threatened with closure; the campus newspaper gets away with sexual harassment; and women’s athletic teams get only a pittance compared to men’s teams.

UAF pays its women faculty less than men, so that female faculty earn, on average, 85-90% of what male faculty make. The pay gap persists across schools and colleges, although the gap is smaller in some colleges. There are lots of justifications for the gender gap: women don’t know how to negotiate; women aren’t as capable as men; women choose lower-paying disciplines; women interrupt their careers to have babies; women aren’t mentored sufficiently. But none of these justifications hold up to sociological scrutiny.

One of the vocal proponents of systemic change to decrease the pay gap is the UAF Women’s Center. Founded in the 1980s, the Women’s Center has always been poorly funded. For years, the Women’s Center was staffed by a part time staff and part time student workers, with a minimal budget for programming and office supplies. Last year,  the university attempted to shutter the Women’s Center in the same way that it effectively eliminated the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Diversity. There was, however,  significant community backlash, and the university instead decided to continue operating the Women’s Center, but reduced its non-salary operating budget to zero. Keep in mind that 60% of UAF students are female; Alaska has the highest rate of domestic violence and sexual assault in the nation; and women across the state earn just 77% of what men earn. The Women’s Center is an important voice for women through its blog, Facebook site, high-traffic bulletin board, and programming. Perhaps the voice was considered too shrill, too pointed, too embarrassingly accurate for it to be allowed to continue without being muzzled.

UAF has additional sex problems. Recently, the Sun-Star, which is the campus newspaper, published two articles that demean and oppress women. The April 2, 2013 edition announced a fictional new building being built on campus that is in the shape of a vagina. A photograph of a building fronted by a woman’s legs spread as if for a gynecological exam accompanied the article. The title of the article mocked women’s genitals by using one of the more offensive examples of sexual slang for women’s genitals: camel toe. A fake quote slandered the very real manager of the Women’s Center. The article was intended to be a spoof, said the newspaper’s faculty advisor. The satire of the women’s center manager was deliberate she said, in response to the community resistance to the university’s attempt to shut down the women’s center a few months earlier. The students who produced the story were claiming their own feminist power, the advisor stated.

Right. Slandering and satirizing a woman staff member in the newspaper is so personally empowering, don’t you think? And the reproduction of patriarchal disgust for women’s genitals through the camel toe reference in the title–clever, very clever way to gain feminist power.

But it gets worse. Just two weeks later, on April 23, the campus newspaper published an article about sexist and racist hate speech on a university Facebook site, UAF Confessions. The story was well-written and would have made a valuable contribution to student journalism except that the real names of actual students were not redacted in the story: “Like if you fucked [actual name of woman student].” “The admin is a fag,” commented another named student. Another named student suggested that a student, who suspected a roommate was pregnant, “punch her in the stomach. She’ll thank you later.” The woman whose sex life was so obscenely discussed was not only named in the article, but interviewed. Commenters on the story noted that the woman was a victim of slut-shaming.

As with the previous newspaper incident, the university administration did not know how to respond. The office on campus which supposedly deals with matters of sex discrimination, Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity (D&EO) first declined to process a complaint, then maintained that the articles were constitutionally protected, then decided to investigate, then decided not to investigate, then passed the hot potato to Statewide Labor Relations. The administrator responsible for student affairs listened politely–twice–when I explained how the Sun-Star was guilty of sexual harassment, but took no visible action until two weeks later when the matter was referred to D&EO. Which had previously decided not to investigate. Finally, when the matter was brought to the Faculty Senate, something happened. The Faculty Senate Admin Committee wrote a strongly-worded letter to the Sun-Star asking that the names of the students be redacted in the second article, and the first article be removed entirely from the online version. As of today, no response from the Sun-Star has been received.

UAF also treats its female student-athletes inequitably. In 2008, the last year for which athletic budget figures are readily available, 71% of the travel funding for athletics was funneled to benefit men’s teams, with only 29% of the total $1.2M travel money for segregated teams going to benefit women’s teams. Travel expenses include funds for coach development and meeting, inbound team travel, outbound team travel, recruiting, and visiting officials and professionals. In all categories, men benefited more than women.

Is there good news on the horizon? Well, yes and no. One really bright spot is the recent reinvigoration of Title IX compliance on the federal level. Title IX is a federal law that mandates gender equity in all programs at all universities and schools that receive federal funding. Title IX makes it illegal for a campus newspaper to sexually harass women students. Title IX makes it illegal to pay women faculty less than men. Title IX makes it illegal to fund women’s teams less than it funds men’s teams. The particular power of Title IX is in the law’s focus on women as a group, as well as women as individuals. Title IX looks at disparate impact–the differential effect of a university policy or practice on one gender–instead of focusing only on individual victims. So, for example, a plaintiff can file a Title IX complaint to allege that a hostile environment exists for women at a particular school and does not have to prove that she was individually victimized.

In the case of the Sun-Star, for example, Title IX could be applied to claim that the newspaper has created a hostile environment for women through its publishing of a sexually graphic photograph, sexual slang mocking women’s genitals, slandering of a female staff member, slut-shaming of a named woman student, and reprinting, without redacting the name, a statement by a male student advocating violence against a pregnant woman. Additionally, the university’s failure to act effectively and immediately to stop the hostile environment and to mitigate its effects are also actionable under Title IX. The university seems stuck in old, pre-Title IX ways of thinking about sexual harassment, the gendered pay gap, differential funding of athletics teams, and related cases of sex discrimination. Instead of examining the problems from a structural standpoint facilitated by Title IX, the university instead continues to search for what I call screaming victims–individual women who can prove that they have been victimized by individual men.

There is more good news. Just weeks ago, one of UAF’s peer institutions, the University of Montana, settled an important Title IX case with the Department of Justice and Department of Education. The U of Montana was forced to make a series of changes to address a range of sex discrimination problems, including requiring staff and administrators who deal with Title IX complaints to be educated about the issues. UAF would do well to study the University of Montana situation and to proactively learn how to avoid the errors our Montana peers committed. Educating ourselves and our administrators about Title IX and sex discrimination would be a good start.

Sources

see “Gender Inequality in Athletics at UAF” https://sites.google.com/a/alaska.edu/towards-equity/reports for analysis of inequality in athletics spending at UAF

see “Snapshot 2012” at https://sites.google.com/a/alaska.edu/towards-equity/reports for data about faculty salaries

“Federal probe of sexual assault case at University of Montana yields ‘blueprint’ for colleges,” Chronicle of Higher Education, http://chronicle.com/article/Federal-Investigation-of/139177/

get info on Title IX http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/tix_dis.html

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