‘F’ailing Our Women

High-level individuals must be held accountable

By Marjorie Clark, EVC Counselor/Psychology and Service-Learning and Public Service Coordinator

#MeTooRecently many courageous women have gone public with allegations of workplace harassment, assault and rape, against very powerful men in Hollywood, media, businesses and even politics. As a result of these high profile accusations, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted for a show of numbers, by those impacted by asking them to tweet #MeToo on social media platforms. Overnight, social activist Tarana Burke’s decade old “MeToo” movement gave voice to hundreds of women and some men, including members of our District community, the opportunity to tell their stories of harassment and abuse, or simply to say #MeToo.

Spotlight on Workplace Harassment

While gender-based violence is nothing new, what is new is the current red-hot spotlight on workplace harassment and assault. As women and social and political analysts try to make sense of the current public outcry and speculate whether the revelations will persist, and bring about change, some hypothesize that it all started in 1991 when Professor Anita Hill testified before the all-white male Senate Judiciary Committee, during the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Clarence Thomas, accusing him of sexual harassment.

Others speculate that it is the bravery shown by women in the U.S. military and on college campuses across the nation who went public after being sexually assaulted that has paved the way for the daily public allegations we are witnessing. Still others believe that women’s courage was unleashed when a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women by “grabbing them in the pussy” went on to be elected the 45th president of the United States. Whatever the reasons, millions of women organized and took to the streets during the 2017 Women’s March with signs expressing their collective disgust “Same Shit, Different Century!”

As women speak out in our District, we need to remember that many more will not and cannot talk about their experiences. Some have chosen to send private emails, while others have remained silent. We must not judge their choice, for public disclosure comes at a very high price.

The retelling of painful stories of bullying, mistreatment, discrimination, harassment and abuse conjures up many complex and conflicting emotions, such as fear of not being believed; of being criticized, blamed and judged. Dread of being told, “get over it,” “you should have known better,” and fears of retaliation keep women from disclosing their painful experiences.

It Is About Power and Privilege

We must not forget that harassment, assault and violence against women occur because of power, privilege and leadership problems. Decades of sweeping many harassment and assault complaints under the rug, often turning a blind eye, not taking women seriously, excusing bullying and professional advancement of known abuser, create a hostile work environment for many women. Many talented women have felt silenced and have consequently retreated to the safety of their desk and classrooms.

If we are truly serious about addressing workplace harassment, discrimination and assault in this District, we have to look at the problem holistically, by examining the root cause of misogyny, sexism, power and privilege in our District. We need to ensure that women in power in our District do more to protect those with less power. Until we start to address these critical questions; workshops and trainings will not do enough to change the culture of power that exists here.

A couple of my colleagues recently asked their students to identify what they needed to feel safe on campus. The overwhelming responses were; more campus police, more signage about security, better lighting, escort services for evening classes, self-defense classes and arming women with pepper spray, Tasers or whistles. One student wrote “At least twice a month meetings when we can discuss any problems or events that happened on campus.” How tragic that we as a society are still focused on what women should do to protect themselves, rather than on how to ensure that men not abuse women.

Systemic change will not come easily. There is no one fix. We need to start holding those high-level individuals entrusted with our safety and students’ dreams accountable. Everyone must be at the table.

We need bystander programs, full-time mental health professions, robust women and gender studies programs for our students and allies to provide essential resources, services and leadership opportunities for our students, classified and faculty sisters. We have to change the culture of privilege by decreasing the multiple layers of high-level administrators and replacing them with more classes, counselors, services and programs for students and better communication.

These are just a few suggestions. Let us begin by coming together in districtwide gatherings to engage in courageous conversations, begin the healing process and identify solutions. Only then can we begin in earnest to create a safe and exciting teaching and learning environment for our students.