Lady Gaga and Vice President Joe Biden, you gave me hope at the Oscars. Thank you.
Biden's introduction of Lady Gaga's performance of "Til It Happens to You" brought full-circle a lot of tireless work by activists, advocates and reform-minded educators.
When I turned off the television, I felt real hope that we really can reduce sexual assault and violence on campuses and in our communities.
It feels like the right actions are popping up in all the right places. Last week, I was at a meeting hosted by the Office of Women's Health in Washington, D.C. I was invited to join a panel at a professional development event for Health and Human Services employees. These staffers are not directly involved in any programs designed to reduce sexual violence against students, but the highest ranking leaders at HHS and OWH have adopted the premise that every citizen needs basic information about sexual assault and prevention. They are making sure the ones under their watch get that education.
United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy introduced the OWH panel. Dr. Nancy C. Lee, the Deputy Assistant Director of the OWH, organized the event as part of her responsibility for education about violence against women.
The fact that these officials attended this meeting of staffers gave me hope. Nothing changes in organizations or in society unless championed by respected leaders.
Next, Biden came to the Oscars and my hope ratcheted up even more. He asked us all to make a pledge to stop sexual violence and assault.
To paraphrase, Biden said:
Tonight, I am asking you, millions of Americans, to join me and take the pledge that says, I will intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given. We must change the culture. So no abused woman or man ever has to ask themselves again what did I do wrong.
Biden nailed reality for all of us -- campus leaders, students, government officials, parents and neighbors. Sexual violence is ultimately prevented by individual, institutional and social change. It is on all of us.
Students should never be placed in harm's way. It has been easy to cast blame on college campuses. They are highly visible and vulnerable due to systemic failures to assess campus climate, infuse prevention strategies and operate with transparency and accountability.
And, Biden made it clear that we have a much larger cultural and, indeed, familial dilemma to address.
Research indicates that students arrive on college campuses with little or no prior education on consent, sexual ethics and how to engage in healthy sexual and non-sexual relationships.
It is time for serious talks at home and in our churches about the prevailing cultural and social attitudes and practices that objectify women, sexual and gender minorities. Look up the words misogyny and patriarchy and unpack them with your family at the dinner table.
Consider which television shows and movies your family regularly watches. If the television shows and movies that you like to watch are those that demean women, sexual and gender minorities, your child will not leave these interests at the entry gate to the campus.
Watch The Hunting Ground with your family. Check into the social media sites and downloads that your children are frequenting. What do they teach about sexual assault and violence?
If the only talk about healthy relationships that students have with parents is about preventing pregnancy or STDs, they don't have bench strength when they encounter the first campus situation fueled with peer pressure to demonstrate sexual prowess and the disorienting effects of alcohol.
When you are sifting through the college applications your teenager is considering, look for the detail about sexual assault and prevention policies and procedures. Talk about them with your child.
When you take them to orientation and check into a dorm, find out when the first information about these policies and procedures is shared. And, check the OCR list of investigations of campuses and ask questions about them before you sign on the dotted line.
As the Executive Director of ACPA (College Student Educators International), I work within a community of professionals who believe it is fair and necessary to require any person who lives on, works on or learns on a campus, to participate in the minimum education necessary to understand informed consent and the policies and resources on campus, healthy relationships and sexuality, the roots of sexual violence and empowering actions (including bystander intervention). We need your help as citizens and parents to reinforce this message.
For students it is essential that this training is integrated throughout the entire student experience (pre-arrival, orientation, residence halls, student leader training, returning students, Greek Life). It must be presented in varying formats with understanding of adult learning styles, messaged consistently and tailored for specific communities (athletes, Greek life, study away, men, LGBTQ+, communities of color, international students). And, it must be inclusive of multiple and intersecting identities. You can ask your campus leaders if this is happening and, if not, why not?
All of us -- government, families, non-profits and higher education...
are at a critical political, legislative, social and cultural crossroad. We must actively contribute to the discourse about sexual violence, question taken-for-granted assumptions about the problems and solutions and turn our gaze inward to develop critical consciousness of our intentional and unintentional complicity with a culture that enables and encourages sexual violence.