Sunday, August 23, 2015

That sorority video

So, a video made by a U of Alabama sorority has been criticized - and I guess, taken down - because it is "too white, too blonde, and the women are dressed to alike" as some commentator said.

Uh. That describes 85% of the sororities in the nation, so I would say the video is actually an accurate depiction of life.

I saw some of the video. It's not offensive. It's pretty young girls having fun, or at least pretending to have fun, in "wholesome" college-kid ways.

I was never part of a sorority - I was too poor, not pretty enough, didn't care enough about clothes, and not into the party scene. And the whole idea of living in a house with 20 other girls and claiming to "love" them all "so much" - which is what I heard from the girls in sororities - well, I was skeptical about that. There are very few women I would say I loved like they were my sister, and certainly not 20 of them at one time. I would have been uncomfortable with the forced togetherness and forced affection that sororities seemed to push.

 But if a young woman wants to join one, I have no problems with that. As long as she does her research and is sure of what she's getting into. Yes, I do think frats and sororities probably promote drinking more alcohol, and drinking in ways that are not beneficial for a person's health, but that's slowly being addressed. And some frats had very bad reputations for how the women who went to their parties were treated (but trust me: word gets around and I remember most of my friends in college choosing to avoid some frat parties based on the reputation). And again, that's slowly being addressed.

But to condemn these girls for being what most sororities ARE seems kind of silly. Yes, there are a lot of pretty, blonde, similar-looking women at Southern colleges, just like there are at any college around the nation.

Yes, there are historically Black sororities and maybe one of them needs to make a competing video. I bet it would be almost identical to the U of Alabama video except the young women in it would be Black instead of white.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

the new normal?

So, the news this morning: three American marines, traveling in France, wound up taking down a would-be shooter on a train. From what little news I've seen, one of the Marines was wounded (I hope it is a minor wound and he recovered fully) and the terrorist was taken down, tied up, and is now in custody, from which I hope he is not released.

Apparently the train crew went and hid. (I will refrain from making a "French" joke here).

But I wonder, is this the new normal? Is this what we have to do now: because our governments lack the will to do anything to prevent would-be wrongdoers from coming into (or through, perhaps, in this case) our countries, we simply have to be prepared to take 'em down ourselves. Because our governments seem to refuse to recognize that there are those who hate us because we are not like them, and refuse to fight them there - we will have to fight them here.

Defense of the homeland - having a standing army and using them when necessary - is one of the legitimate roles of government. Working with our allies to reduce the threat that dangerous people in the world pose is one of the legitimate roles of government. However, our government seems to feel like they're more afraid of hurting the feelings of people around the world.

So as a result, American citizens will have to get used to being vigilant. They will have to be sure to have a "this is the direction I head if stuff goes really bad" plan in their head for places. Some of the stronger ones, like me, maybe will have to have a mentality of "This is what I can quickly grab and use as a weapon to at least slow the bad guys down so the kids and moms can maybe get out of the way when the shooting starts."

I think this perhaps dates back to September 11, 2001. Remember how the plane that went down in Pennsylvania was taken down by brave people who realized the terrorists who took it over were bent on doing great harm with it, so they decided to take charge of matters - of their own deaths, in fact - and get the plane to go down in an area where there was little chance of people on the ground being hurt.

I think a related issue is the fact that increasingly, teachers and others are being told that they are the "first line of defense" in a shooter situation. This past week, I did a little (very limited, and I think I need more) training in "how to barricade someone out of a classroom" and "how to confuse, try to hurt, and generally keep out a would be shooter." The unstated thing is, "You're not permitted to have a gun yourself, so improvise weapons as you can and also be prepared to die for your students."

Yeah. The new normal: our governments are unwilling to admit there are those who have declared war on us, so we are going to have to be a Home Guard, I think. And granted, a campus shooter is far more likely to be an unstable native-born white person who has some kind of nutso campaign against the particular campus, and preventing those kinds of things is difficult (though in some cases, perhaps, enforcing the gun laws already on the books might have helped. And certainly having an armed campus police large enough to respond quickly helps)

I don't know. It does seem that the "lone wolf" attacks, where the "lone wolf" is someone who ascribes a particular set of values (that would perhaps not be out of line with ISIS) seems to be increasing. I don't know what we do about ISIS, but "nothing" or "placating" isn't helping. As is not having good border control, so potentially a terrorist could sneak into the country - or even come across, pretending to be someone "just looking for work."

I really don't want my life to end in a shopping mall or a classroom or on a train because someone has decided that it would make their concept of God happy for them to kill a bunch of Americans, or a bunch of Christians, or whatever. But that may be it. If there are a bunch of little kids or someone else who can't defend themselves, and there's a Bad Guy who is clearly being a Bad Guy, I am grabbing a shelf support or a whiteboard or pretty much any heavy thing I can lift and try to slow them down, while also yelling at the weaker people to get the heck out. And I don't like having to think that way.

Good on those Marines. They did what Marines do, but they did it in a very different setting than they normally would. Unfortunately, there aren't enough Marines that we can have them everywhere.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Fresh hells

You know how there's a lot of discussion about regulations strangling small businesses?

Well, to a lesser extent, it's happening on college campuses. We have had to do three separate different "trainings" on separate issues (dealing with violent/angry students, not sexually harassing people, and sexual assault avoidance - well, that last is still pending. We were supposed to have done it, I guess, but the link wasn't up yet).

I expect to see more of this. We've also been given increasing amounts of documentation we are mandated to include in our syllabi: information on Title IX. An affidavit on non-discrimination. Information on where students can go for help if they feel like they are in crisis. And on, and on.

And in some cases, I don't necessarily think it's a bad idea: having clearly posted, clearly available information of "This is how to get help if your roommate/friend/whoever is threatening suicide and this is how you can get help if you are seriously depressed" but the affidavits are....I don't know. I try hard to be fair and just and if I weren't I'd hope a student would call me on it, and it seems kind of, I don't know, hollow, to put a statement in there saying yst ou WON'T discriminate. (And the cynical side of me makes me wonder if it will make some people start LOOKING for things that LOOK LIKE discrimination)

But the thing is, they want 100% compliance. It's not gotten quite here yet, but I've heard that on some campuses, failing to comply means you don't get paid. Or you're not allowed to work with students. (Funny. I don't think I had to have a background check before I started working here....)

And you have to have someone to keep records on  compliance. And that doesn't come for free - you can't just tell one of the people in HR, "This is another part of your job now" because our HR is already overstretched with other stuff. So you gotta hire someone. And pay them. And pay for their benefits.

As I've said before: one of the three reasons why I think college has gotten so expensive is governmental mandates. (The other two: the fact that most people aren't actually paying with real money, so costs can be buried in it, and also the fact that parents and students expect a level of luxury that even when I was an undergrad, less than 30 years ago, was unheard of....ensuite kitchens in dorms, for example). You have a whole army of administrators who deal with this stuff (and harass departments over it).

(In fact, one of the offices lost some of the paperwork we signed in my department, and sent us all e-mails telling us we were "out of compliance" until someone complained and they relented and said, "Okay, okay, we'll trust you, even though we really shouldn't")

A lot of this stuff is what I call Someone Must Do Something syndrome: some magazines and newspapers report on an "epidemic" of rape on campus. Never mind that at least one of those stories was apparently fabricated. Never mind that when statistics are actually examined using good analysis techniques, it doesn't look nearly as bad as it originally seemed, it's a Crisis and Something Must Be Done.

So now there's a requirement that professors watch an anti-rape video. The students have to, also. But I admit, I wonder: would someone who could justify raping another person (let's, for now, leave out the various definitions and leave "rape" as "Having sex with someone who either has clearly NOT consented, or who is too impaired with alcohol or drugs to reasonably consent") going to have their minds changed by a video? I admit I'm cynical about human nature but I knew people who still said harassing things to their underlings even after the anti-harassment training. People who don't care about others or about consequences will not be made to care by a video, and people who do care, their time is just being wasted.

(And okay. Maybe there are some people naive enough not to know that, for example, pressuring a woman in your employ repeatedly to go out with you isn't sexual harassment, and in that case, a cluebat is useful - but one would think those cluebats could be applied as needed, rather than as a carpet bombing).

I don't know. I wonder what's coming down the pike. I've often said if they expect faculty to take on more of a "counselor" role, we're gonna require coursework in Psychology. I really hope it doesn't come to that.

Another thing: I've wanted for a couple years to get CPR recertified. I learned it years ago and was certified when I was in graduate school. Never had to use it but it was good to know I was certified just in case. I know the standards have changed, and also, we have the defibrillators now, which I think you need to be trained in.  When I ask about recertification, I'm put off, told, "There's not enough demand for that" and I guess if I want it, I'll have to find a YMCA or something that does it and go do it on my own.  Because I'd feel a lot better, even with our 'good samaritan' laws, knowing I had had recent training if someone in my class had heart failure and I tried to save their life while waiting on the EMTs.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

score one

Maybe this is "score one for common sense," I don't know.

So I was discussing with a colleague about syllabi. And he remarked: Given all that's going on in the country, I'm gonna put a statement in the syllabus asking students not to wear clothing with the Confederate battle flag to class, or symbols of white supremacy.

Now: the only time I ever saw anything on campus that was a white-supremacist thing was a mystery flier that was put up on the bulletin board (without approval from the campus office that approves such things for the activity bulletin board) and it was pretty quickly removed. And I don't remember students wearing the Confederate battle flag, but I tend not to pay that much attention to those things.

I don't like to come right out and say, "I believe differently from you (as in: it's freedom of speech and if someone is offended, they should start a discussion with the person wearing it, rather than my blanket-ruling everything) and so I think you're wrong" but I did think it was a problematic policy, and his hint that "maybe we all should do this" didn't go over well with me.

So I kind of arched an eyebrow and said, "Are you sure you want to do that? I'd deal with something like that on a case-by-case basis." (As in: if someone is being really in-your-face and offensive, I'd ask 'em to quit, but if they just quietly have a little patch on their coat, I'm not gonna say anything)

And I added: "I find the t-shirts some of the guys wear that have cartoons of women with big 'tops' and tight bikinis offensive, should I ask students to not wear those?" and he didn't really have a response. (And I would also find pro-pot t-shirts offensive. But again: I feel like it's not my place to police student t-shirts, unless it's (a) seriously vulgar or disgusting (as in: full frontal male nudity or extreme gore) or (b) clearly inciting problems (like, maybe, a t-shirt advocating killing people). And shoot, what about Che t-shirts? He killed lots of people. Not that I've ever seen, as far as I can remember, one of my students in a Che shirt. (Our students are a lot more likely to wear shirts with the Duck Dynasty guys on them)

I added: "Telling someone with a racist attitude that they can't wear a certain thing isn't going to change their attitude, and that's the issue here. And a certain proportion of people will see the request as a challenge, and it may create problems: you may get people wearing stuff they might not otherwise have worn, out of defiance."

I also mentioned that if you extended the policy to its extreme, you could see non-Christian students expressing offense at others wearing a cross or carrying a rosary to class (I've had a few Catholic students who either wore or carried one). And I DON'T want things to go there.

And he said: Wow, I never thought of that.

And we talked about it some more, and apparently I persuaded him not to include the policy - or at the very least, to hold off for this semester.

I also noted that we were both Northerners living in the South - and there is something that's seen as Not Cool about Northerners commenting on some aspects of Southern culture, and I could also see that causing a problem. I also find saying, "A student wearing a Confederate battle flag will offend the black students in the class and hurt them" to be kind of paternalistic - like the students can't confront the guy themselves or have such delicate feelings. Most of the students I've had down through the years, if they found another student doing something offensive, they either called them on it, or they said, "It's not worth getting upset over."

(Now I find myself wondering whether the person in question was harassed/teased much as a kid. I was, and it did make me grow a thicker skin and get better at going "meh, not worth being upset over" or "that just shows me what kind of a person THAT person is" and being better at sorting out the rare occasions when I DO need to say something to someone)

But frankly, I'm pleased I managed to persuade him, especially before the faculty meetings where he was thinking of suggesting it. And that I did it not by saying "You're wrong and here's why" but by saying, "Okay, let me suggest some of the consequences of this."

(And, honestly? If a student showed up in a vintage Dukes of Hazzard t-shirt with the General Lee on it, I'm NOT making 'em turn it inside out or something like that . This is NOT seventh grade and I tend to feel if someone wears something another person finds offensive, it needs to be discussed rather than hit with a blanket rule. And the other thing: if someone wants to pull the "I'm offensive to some people and I don't care, I won't be 'politically correct'*" card, well, other people need to understand that and they need to learn to deal with it, whether by avoiding or challenging or freezing out the person. Because there just ARE people like that in the world and you have to deal with them - I've worked with a few in my life and it sucks to have someone around you who equates being rude and unpleasant with being "real" - but you won't change them so you have to figure out a useful way to deal with it yourself.

* And I argue that there's a pretty thick line between "not being politically correct" and "being an a-hole." Not being politically correct is not excessively handwringing over "Do I call people from Mexico "Hispanic" or "Latino" or "Chicano" or what?" or not being politically correct is not pretending there is no difference between men and women. Being an a-hole is insulting someone and specifically saying stuff to them that they maybe have asked you NOT to say.