Sunday, December 03, 2017

Is #metoo for colleges and sports?

The recent, daily, and ongoing revelations about sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood, the media, and government may be disheartening, heartbreaking, maddening but likely not surprising.

If there was ever any question that sexual assault and harassment is an epidemic, that question should now be answered. The past several years, however, in which we saw more and more activism around and attention given to campus sexual assault should have been an indication--in the form of a giant, blinking neon sign--that this is a problem.

I have been thinking a lot about the recent accusations, confessions, and the general discourse and how it relates to what we already know, steps already taken, and what comes next. The rest of this post includes my initial thoughts about how what has happened on college campuses is related to the current moment.

As someone who has written and spoken about campus sexual assault for a very long time now, I am somewhat dismayed at the cultural shock over the idea that some men behave very badly. College women have been telling us for decades about sexual violence in higher education. To think that incidences of rape, assault, and harassment decrease after college is naive--at best; as if men grow out of the behavior or women become less susceptible. So I find it curious that no one (that I have seen) has made any connection between the movement to hold colleges and universities (and K-12 as well) accountable for investigating and ultimately decreasing sexual violence and the recent news about the assaults committed by powerful men in influential industries.

Perhaps it is because the recently accused men are famous and most of the college males accused are not. (The exceptions, of course, are the athletes in big-time athletics programs--more on this in a moment.) All these famous men were once anonymous young men, too. Power is certainly a factor--but is it a factor in who commits these crimes or in how it enables some to get away with them for so long?

One reason for the campus sexual assault epidemic being ignored in the current discourse about sexual violence is because it happens in the context of college. It has been very difficult to overcome the popular image of college men and women drinking too much and making "bad choices." The siloing of sexual violence committed by college students continues to perpetuate these stereotypes about how college men and women act and thus normalize sexual violence on college campuses. This is evident in how both the accused and the accusers in the recent stories are being treated.

I see far fewer people supporting the accused. In cases of college sexual assault there is still a very active backlash movement in which accused men are suing their schools--sometimes using Title IX--accusing administrations of gender discrimination during the student judicial process. There is not a lot of complaining about the actions (firings, suspensions) being taken against the recently accused famous men of Hollywood and mainstream media. And only a few--Roy Moore, most notably--have fought the accusations against them. Just like the student conduct processes many accused go through, the actions against these famous men are occurring outside the criminal justice system; again with very little questioning of this version of "justice."

Related to the above: far fewer people are questioning the accusers. While I am pleased to see this, I am shocked given what I have seen and read about in cases of campus sexual assault. How much did she drink? What was she wearing? Did she not know about that fraternity's reputation? Maybe she just changed her mind. How many other people did she kiss that night? Did she have a boyfriend? Most people seem to be believing the women who have come forward with accusations--even the ones who have done so anonymously. Campaigns to #believewomen are great, but I do not see them being extended, with the same force, to college women.

I do not know if we will begin to connect the dots--that sexual assault and harassment is product of (mostly) capitalist institutions imbued with patriarchy and misogyny whether that is a college or Congress. But we need to if we want college women's accusations against their male peers to be taken as seriously as actresses' charges against studio bosses.

Maybe we will. I have seen more and more accusations by current or former students--especially graduate students--against professors. There is a similar power dynamic in these relationships: someone controls another's future, success, career. How will these accusations be treated in light of those against the growing list of powerful men? While I will not guess at that, I do predict these accusations will grow. More former students, emboldened by those who have come forward, will speak out about the harassment and assault by men in academia.

What I remain uncertain about is whether the cultural moment will create a space for the women who have experienced sexual violence within sports cultures. If Jameis Winston had been accused last week of rape would Florida State have reacted differently than it did three years ago when it did nothing (except protect Winston and let his accuser be run out of Tallahassee)? Is the so-called tipping point we have allegedly found in regards to sexual violence going to spill all over the hallowed football fields of American universities and colleges?

We must also look at professional sports culture and sports media. Regarding the latter, the women of the Burn it all Down podcast addressed the lack of accusations in sports media where misogyny and harassment of women are well known and sometimes even documented (see the case of Erin Andrews).  As for the former, I wonder what will happen when the next woman comes forward to accuse a famous professional male athlete of rape. Will we believe her like we believed those who have spoken of the abuse by Louis C.K.? Or will we accuse her of being a gold digger or someone looking for 15 minutes of fame?

We have not "tipped" as a culture toward addressing and taking seriously sexual violence and harassment unless we take college women's accusations seriously and our concern for these issues extends into the behaviors of the powerful men in collegiate and professional sports and sports media.