In recent weeks we’ve seen a stir created, specifically in Hollywood, pertaining to sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual violence. Whether it was #MeToo, Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey, we’ve seen a backlash against institutionalized misogyny, but what will really change? This article will delve into these topics. It is not safe; it is meant to trigger you.
I am currently a graduate student at Hofstra University in the Zarb School of Business. As an e-board member in a graduate organization I was required to attend Title IX training. The “training” was more a 30-minute lecture on how Hofstra deals with sexual harassment or sexual assault. I learned that there are a number of support systems in place. I also learned that you are not allowed to retaliate against the assailant whether you’re the victim, a leader in the organization where the victim or assailant is a member or in a classroom setting.
Title IX is a portion of the United States Education Amendments of 1972 signed into law under then-President Richard Nixon. The law reads simply:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Upon a first glance that seems pretty all-encompassing, but let’s look at that as a defense attorney. This is vague and where the law is vague it can be skirted or interpreted at will. I spoke to a member of the Student Government Association (SGA) about the training session I attended and about Title IX in general and it appears to be little more than a deterrent. The SGA representative told me they personally know someone who was sexually assaulted more than a year ago by a member of the Hofstra community and they still have class with this individual; the investigation is pending.
This is Hofstra protecting itself. Title IX is something they can trumpet to say, “look, we don’t tolerate any form of sexual harassment or assault.” There are counseling services in place and lucky you, most are even anonymous. I’ve never been a victim of anything like this. I’m a white male; I’ve never had to decide whether or not to come forward and make myself the subject of an investigation. But the Title IX statutes at Hofstra and the law at large are an uphill battle for the victim. If you want to report a case of sexual assault you have to call Public Safety who recently received public chastisement in The Chronicle for their inefficiency, decide to involve the Nassau County Police, or go to Nassau University Medical Center for treatment so evidence can be collected and then proceed with the legal process. All of this while your assailant, might be in your dorm, in your club, in your class.
Why does Hofstra not crack down on this? Why are rules not stricter? In a word: lawsuits. If you’re the victim of an assault, you can’t blame the university because they have measures in place. But if you’re the assailant and you’re innocent, but you’ve been punished by the university, you can sue. Or worse, if you’re the assailant and you’re guilty but you’re found innocent or charges are never brought you can sue the university. In order to protect itself, Hofstra would rather counsel you on the torment you’ve endured, blow a lot of smoke about how it is a problem they take very seriously and ultimately do nothing.
In terms of misogyny and sexual harassment I can only speak to what I know and what I know is the Zarb School of Business. I’ve spoken to students in the undergraduate and graduate programs who have admitted to being insulted, harassed or stalked by faculty members. A classmate of mine revealed that before they had even begun taking classes they met a professor from the Department of Accounting, Taxation and Legal Studies in Business and knowing they would have class with him introduced themselves. When the professor was questioned by someone else who he was speaking to he replied in no uncertain terms they were a consort of his. This is appalling. Having not been present, I couldn’t speak up to let him know what a creep he was being. Speaking with another classmate they revealed a professor kept their friend after class and would follow her out of the classroom to continue talking with her even going so far as to invite himself to an event they were hosting. When the professor realized the student had a boyfriend he changed his behavior toward the student and began requesting to see them after class.
How do we change this? Well, it won’t be easy. As we learned in another recent issue of The Chronicle, President Stuart Rabinowitz isn’t keen on offering solutions to simple problems like the shuttle service. So it is unlikely he’d be willing to sit down and discuss rampant misogyny in one of the jewels in Hofstra’s crown. The president wasn’t hired for his people skills. He was hired for his business acumen and legal skill. People with money elected him to make them more money – sorry to burst your bubble.
You can go through the Title IX office and hope that if you complain they’ll do something about it. I tend to think this is a fruitless attempt. My sister at another university said a number of her classmates filed complaints about their professor and the woman in the office told them when they get those they throw them out once the student leaves.
We as students can make a change. One of the things that drew me to Hofstra for my graduate studies was the sense of community there is on campus. The student body can cause a scene and draw attention. You can call out someone you see harassing or even abusing someone. But I think this community can take it further: stage walkouts, hold a rally. Our community, our university should be one where we all feel safe regardless of gender, race, religion or gender identity. Simon Wiesenthal said, “For evil to flourish, it only requires for good men to do nothing.” So do something, Hofstra.
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