REPOSTING: Silence Is Violence at UBC, from 8 January 2016

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Today is a day of memories, commemoration, and remembrance. It is unfortunate that stillness and thought for others was interrupted by thoughts of other others. It is fortunate that humans have minds (and hearts, senses, souls, and spirits; however it is that you think of them/yourself) that are large and complex enough to accommodate more than one memory, to think of more than one person, at any one time. That is not only fortunate but a wonder, and a source of hope.

Here is another reminder. Of the many, too many, in a whole world full of sorrows (but also hope) today.

Open Letter to the UBC community by & from UBC faculty concerned about sexual assault policies (6 January 2016): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1A_ewHR2cb2_E-Zh2lEF8pF2bsiTVUz24pvSAh58_hjU/pub

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What has happened in the last eight months?

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Our students have been doing good work, via their main organisation the Alma Mater Society, news of which was reported by CBC:

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Simona Chiose in the Globe and Mail today:image

Some commentary on Twitter:

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The rest of this post is simply a copy-pasted repost of what I wrote back in January this year, as a fuller version of notes I made before an interview with Radio-Canada (having agreed to that as apparently I was the only speaker of interviewable-level French who had signed the original faculty letter; my colleagues are too modest, but one would expect no less of the most virtuous citizens of our commonwealth).

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(Updated 2016-01-10 & -19)

How did I experience this autumn’s revelations?

= an historical account (what with being a Medievalist etc.). With an emphasis on what students have done directly themselves, and that we’re here to support them and to work with them.

March 2015:

November 2015:

December 2015:

January 2016, in approximate chronological order… :

January 2016, some radio & podcasts:

 

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What did I sign?

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About that last paragraph:

We now pledge to the UBC community that we will take an active part in improving UBC’s policies and procedures regarding sexual assault and related matters of safety and equity. This action will include gathering material relevant to improving UBC policies and procedures, discussing sexual assault among faculty and with students and staff, consulting with experts both within and beyond the UBC community, and helping to ensure that UBC engages in a fully consultative process regarding new policies and procedures in order to have those new policies and procedures in place no later than the start of classes for the 2016–17 academic year in September.

(highlights are my own)

Two FYI notes for readers outside North America:

  • “Faculty” = people who teach and research; a.k.a. “academics” or (in inter alia the UK and Ireland) “staff.”
  • Academic faculty do not run this university, nor are we in charge of or responsible for or have control over policy and procedure. We have, to some extent, some say in such matters. Our say and indeed powers are limited. The “ivory tower” is a myth: we are, like the students and other intellectual workers here, units of productivity administered by bureaucrats, in a corporate organisation whose end is profit and whose means is Project Management. Fortunately, almost all of my own interactions in everyday working life are with students; with colleagues in my home department and in academically-related departments; and with (in descending order of frequency) colleagues in Academic Advising, Access and Diversity, the library, Arts ISIT, and catering and janitorial staff. Good nice smart wise kind congenial people who are a pleasure to work with. That is why I am working here and happy to do so.

(For a full description of my institution’s structure and governance and the role of faculty within it, I refer you to the UBC Faculty Association and the UBC Academic Calendar – “Establishment and Constitution.”)

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Why did I sign the 6 January Open Letter?

I signed it as a woman, as a human being, and as faculty. It’s a humane, humanitarian, humanist matter and one of solidarity. Those things seemed obvious, reasonable, and natural.

[ED. to add: I am an academic working in a department of French, Hispanic, and Italian Studies. My teaching and research are in French and in Medieval Studies. Much of my work, thinking, and life are in French and Francophone language, literature, and culture. There will therefore be French literature, history of ideas, and histoire des mentalités, culture générale, et civilisation infusing this present post. I may also be thinking bilingually or inter-lingually; for which I apologise and ask for your forbearance in advance.]

What I am already doing or ought to be, in my work as an instructor, a course co-ordinator, an adviser in my department, and a trainer of graduate student Teaching Assistants. I’ve already worked with some victims (of various kinds, and of various kinds of harassment and abuse). I see many students, every day. Sometimes too late because they were afraid to speak to anyone. Bear in mind that freezing up is a frequent reaction to trauma.

What I ought to have done and what I ought to do in the future: pay attention to others, look out for them.

It’s important that this letter / declaration should come from faculty, speaking as faculty. We are the UBC people that students see the most often, at least three times a week (or for three hours a week) in classes. We are their most immediate and primary point of contact with The University, the Big Thing In Capitals.

We should be attentive and pay attention to students: this is part of our responsibility as faculty, as much as is our duty of care to them on the intellectual, academic front. It is here that we have failed, that I have failed: with one’s own students and with any student one sees on campus who looks unhappy. Just as we have a human obligation to come to the assistance of anyone anywhere anytime in distress. I’ve probably unwittingly crossed paths with the victims of these sad and scandalous recent reports, possibly several times over the years: in my building’s elevator (the building houses the History and English departments as well as my own and several others in the Humanities), around the Humanities / Arts area of campus, in cafés, in the graduate student pub, …

Culpability: a reminder that we have recently commemorated the death of Albert Camus. His ideas on responsibility are not mere abstract ideas, the kind of dry material that we inflict on our poor students in their classes. No. This is real, live, alive. I signed—sometime around that day, the 4th of January—while Camus was very much on my mind. I signed responsibly, in solidarity, and to strengthen this bond between teaching and intellectual life, the life of the mind and real life in the real world around us, a life that is of us all and for us all.

I am ashamed, distressed, and disturbed by what my university has done, has not done, and has said. I wish to dissociate myself from those things and I wish to reassure every student that that is not UBC, or at least it’s not the only UBC.

So: community, commonality, reciprocal responsibility, mutual aid, and ethics.

I signed thinking of what was happening and had happened elsewhere: for example, I would heartily recommend reading what Sara Ahmed has written about sexual harassment at her institution, Goldsmiths (University of London). The following excerpted two points resonated as being particularly relevant to our own situation and with that of our victims:

We need to talk about sexual harassment here. And by here I mean here: at Goldsmiths, in universities, in the UK. Not there: over there; but here. Too often: sexual harassment is understood as somebody else’s problem. Or if it is recognised as a problem that problem is located in the body of a harasser, a rogue, whose removal is assumed to remove the problem. The problem remains.

We learn so much from this example. We learn: you can change policy without changing practice; changing policy can even be a way of not changing practice. We learn too: the director of human resources did not need to take the decision out of the minutes for that decision not to bring something into effect. I have called this dynamic “non-performativity,” when naming something does not bring something about or even when something can be named in order not to bring something about.

We need to act, and to do so in a practical way. We need to change our practices and practice more broadly. Not just policy… I see this practical side as being an integral part of my work, because it is part of my employment contract to do this thing called “service.”

“Service” isn’t just serving on department and university committees, sitting on them, going to meetings. These committees are, after all, intended for a practical purpose, they’re supposed to do something useful and relevant, for the good of all. They often do so; and then there’s service to the academic community, to our specialist fields.

But “service” goes beyond paying lip-service to ticking a box on annual reviews. In my case, the box-ticking exercise is to ensure reappointment next year—being on a 12-month contract, “continuing full-time faculty” but renewed annually—and for others, it’s less frequent, after two or three years, or one or two or more blocks of three years working towards tenure. And we all do the ticking of the boxes every year anyway in The Great Merit Exorcise. Note that we are The Lucky Ones with full-time continuing proper academic jobs; many-to-most faculty who are teaching are sessionals, appointed on a course by course basis, precariously. Signing public things and speaking publicly are difficult, to say the diplomatic least, for most of my colleagues (and even, as you’ll observe with Paul Krause’s case, dangerous for tenured professors).

“Service” isn’t just that. It’s also serving our community.

I’d like to emphasize something positive. The fact is, there is a UBC community and there is already much GOOD being done at UBC.

Fellow colleagues. I have colleagues who—regardless of whether or not they’ve signed The Letter, or why or why not—do the same kind of work I do with students. And (ex. my neighbours AS and MC) more, much more.

Advisers in my own department—such as the excellent MOH—and in other departments and schools around our university do extraordinary and heroic work supporting students.

Advisers in faculties, such as Arts Academic Advising: saints.

Access and Diversity.

The Green Folder.

And, again, Early Alert.

We’re already working directly, actively, in practice, to help students. And we’re already doing so together, as a cooperative community. 

“This Is The Real UBC.”

Here is what is already RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW:

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With apologies for the Blue Flag; hasty screenshot, just of the top of a long and detailed page. Here is the Green Folder, which is useful. It’s a new thing from last term, and I’ve already used it with students and indeed forwarded it to them as they, too, found it useful:

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The attitude is to be lauded, and clarity, as is the prominent use of active verbs of action, culminating in

DO SOMETHING.

The problem is what happens next. This includes legal and political matters that are beyond my competence and where we need to work with colleagues in the Law Faculty.

Here is a short clear outline written by a colleague (and fellow signatory of The Letter) this afternoon:

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What can be done to prevent and confront these cases of sexual harassment, to deal with them better?

In the future as in the present, I/we can focus on positives, community, faculty-student relations (and that we are the university, together, and a collegial collegium).

Needed: DOING. ACTION. PRACTICE:

(1) Direct action for and with students: grass-roots activism, in collective cooperation, working together including the appropriately universitarian intellectual work of thinking things through. Radical reform: to reshape a thing at its root.

(2) Bringing together the world of ideas, knowledge, and intellectual work + the university as a small world + the bigger world outside: talk, teach, work on, live, and “do” basic humanity and humanism with plenty of Renaissance Humanist references; ex. What Would Montaigne Write (and maybe even Do).

(3) University work ought to mean working with others, not in competition—OK, thus also as a cooperative anarcho-syndicalist collective, and as a plain simple COMMUNITY (irrespective of political colour) standing against the neoliberal commodified post-universitas—like Early Alert does (it brings together a disparate group of services) and like we currently do in working with Early Alert, for nipping things in the bud early.

(4) Action: just plain keeping our eyes and ears open, remembering we’re humans surrounded by other humans.

(5) What to do next and to prevent sexual harassment? policies??
Several things are already happening next.
A group of faculty are meeting with the Equity & Inclusion folks to plan next steps together.
There’s a UBC-based podcast in the works (hosted by Alejandra Bronfman and Carla Nappi). UPDATE: in conversation with Amy Metcalfe: The Table on 2016-01-20.
Several faculty are working together to pool related resources.
Faculty are working with our union, the Faculty Association.

(6) Returning to the exemplary Early Alert: many faculty already use it, it’s an excellent service, we should all use it more often and earlier, and it’s already there damn it. We should continue to do what we already are, but more and better and more consciously and in good conscience.

(7) Faculty ought to try our damnedest to fight the silo mentality, compartmentalisation, and competitiveness. We need to fight, here and everywhere, this absurd pseudo-culture of competition, part as it is of an equally absurd business macho pseudo-culture where lusty virile growth is healthy and where conflict, invasion, conquest, oppression, and colonisation are virtuous. Because phallogocentricity is at the rotten heart of “rape culture” and that’s why we need to revolt against patriarchy, here at its base.

(Self-ed.: I’ll stop there because there’s a risk of mixing body-part metaphors and ending up in an unpleasant blood-bath. And violence is not nice. And rants are rarely pretty or amusing, especially from women; more on which later. Put those elements together and there’s a very serious risk of sounding like a second-rate version of the glorious Dame Raison in Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose. Limp rather than lippy, foaming at the mouth rather than effervescent: and that would never do.)

(8) Direct action. Teach-ins (more productive, in my own experience both as a student and an instructor, than walk-outs; any decent walk-out turns into a walking-teach-out anyway…).

(9) Doing: not talking about and around talking about talking about talking, à la Northern Irish Peace Process. Yes, that should sound cynical and sceptical, maybe dyspeptic; but not stoical. Anything but that. That’s why I’m here, in a public university in a civilised country; that’s why my parents left Northern Ireland and tried to bring up their children as civilised educated responsible good people.

(10) Doing actively: what is done ought to be active, interactive, proactive, and continuing.

Not—emphatically not—the pseudo-action of appearing to act, stalling, making gestures, “consultation” as a charade, and holding token events like an Awareness Month. [ED. clarifying: I support #UBCSAAM but it shouldn’t—in a better world—be a month, it should be all the time, permanently. In an ideal world, it would be unnecessary, redundant because sexual assault itself would have become an historic obsolescence.] This is about preventing sexual assault, combatting rape culture, and changing sex from a negative and a tool of oppression to a positive. It’s about changing respect to being a normal expected part of everyday civilised life; from being a marginal issue that gets occasional tokenist Grand Dramatic Grand-Standing (especially if that can be politically useful). There would also be a connection—via political feminism and feminist politics—to procedural, systemic, and institutional change; and to movement into responsible, accountable, transparent, civilised open governance; in a word that’s been used a lot in this present piece and by others, “community.”

Ethics isn’t a fancy fluffy extra, something for special occasions, a rhetorical puff for scoring points. Whatever is done should be done properly and well; that is, for ethical reasons. I would rather that my institution and/as its upper echelons do and say nothing at all than that they do and say something for bad reasons or for no reasons at all; reacting unthinkingly to a situation, playing catch-up in a scurrying panic, or reacting for legal and political expediency; paying off some sort of simple-minded barbaric Weregild; worse, reacting out of fear of getting things wrong, looking bad, self-protection / territorial defence, getting sued, and so on. No to doing things for appearances, so as to look good, paying lip-service to fashion, covering oneself (which slips all too easily, as we’ve seen recently, into covering up), or in compliance.

UBC deserves better and is better than that. We should be setting ethical standards. That “we” might currently be the faculty (individually, in groups, or as a whole); it is already an “ethical we” in coordination with students and student groups. That “we” ought to be The University of British Columbia. As a whole. There is no reason why that “we” should not include other constitutents of the university, including even its most heinously bureaucratic inhuman pathological parts. Surely reform and rehabilitation, education, respect, and hope should be open to all?

This is a crisis of identity for an institution, a crucial moment in which it has a golden opportunity to come out publicly as a “university.” At present there’s a sense of tomber et patauger dans la merde which could become une descente aux enfers et la condamnation éternelle. It could be briefly immortalised as short-lived Comedy Gold, or at least until the next in a succession of political pratfalls. It could, with work and thought and goodwill, instead become Long-Term Long-Distance Solid Gold: a happy conjunction of our actual lived reality and the fantasy world of PR / Public Affairs / Branding.

We will see what we will see as regards policy. It is important that we already have practical tools in place, of which the most important are human beings who can act now, directly.

For more on UBC present problems at a structural level, you may find the following of interest; as critiques go it’s deeper, detailed, and much sharper, in both senses, than anything here on Meta-meta-medieval:

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The future:

We need to talk, with each other, together, directly, openly.

We need to discuss—and I use the word in its common plain English sense, not as bureaucratic perverted fudge-speak—peer to peer. No grand monologues from On High. No dialogues, more or less scripted, controlled, of a sort that assume there are two sides and only two. No “us” and “them”; not just victims and aggressors, victims and others (this is where my institution is multiply culpable, of making itself the “other” in counter-position to victims, and thus making itself occupy an “anti-victim” role in all interactions); perhaps also no “good” and “bad” guys. Real proper true conversations—intercourse rather than discourse, if you’ll permit the terrible and probably bad-taste pun (hey, I’m a Medievalist, what do you expect?)—that are open, multiple, with many voices and points of view, diverse, varied. And a total ban on jargon and NewSpeak: this must be talking in plain clear language that is comprehensible and in common to all: to all constituents of the university, and to people outside. Remember, this is a public institution; our community is part of a larger immediate one, and in intersecting larger spheres moving further out, up to a global level.

Education, re-education, that is enlightened: what better place for this than a university, in classes, in round-tables. Speaking, acting, and yes intellectualising against rape culture.

A first step: our students—like any other colleagues—should know that we faculty are a safe space, that they can speak to us, we will listen, we will take them and what they say seriously, and we will try our best to help them. (This is where colleagues who harass students are a heinous offence.)

A second step: we should talk, on an equal footing, in equity and parity, as intelligent fellow adults and as intellectuals, together, in our classes. This is part of a university education: to shape citizens who think, question, and discuss openly and freely.

This is Karl Popper’s open society.

The university community needs to be strengthened—like the family, friends, tight social sociable network that it is—rather than divided against itself. One way to do this is, as far as possible, not to send people who come to you for help elsewhere. That marginalises them and whatever has happened to them, distances them and keeps them at a distance, that sending them away. One of the most important pieces of advice that my colleague MOH gave me, when I started coordinating FREN 101 & 102 and before I started the French advising gig, was precisely that. If a student comes to see you, if their problem is actually best resolved by someone else somewhere else (or indeed entirely their remit and not your own): don’t send them away. In my case, I’ll walk down with them to the service concerned, talking along the way. That’s not sending someone away: that’s going with them. Sure, we also need to remember our own limits (see the UBC Green Folder). We are not trained specialised experts in the therapeutic fields. But as we are the people that students see most often and as their first point of contact, we have a duty to act immediately and directly to help them. If a student comes to see me, I’ll help them as far as I can; I’ll offer support; I’ll come with them to see others who can help more and better (but who are, remember, often strangers in an unfamiliar environment, often accessed via a reception area where the first person you meet is a student worker… all of which can in turn be distressing or add to trauma). We must act in solidarity. We must act.

An analogy from “my” world: Jean de Meun’s “oeuvres pardurables” in the Roman de la Rose.

UBC is not a brand, slogans, advertising campaigns, a product for sale.

It’s a university FFS. That is something that people do not see often or clearly enough: UBC is a concrete (well, our campus is indeed very concrete) reality, lived, living, a human community that works together in the world of ideas and knowledge. That is an important message to convey to students, future students, and their parents. UBC’s motto is tuum est: it is yours. Recent events could be a valuable opportunity for our university to remember its history and its roots, in this its centennial.  Working together, we (yes, not just “it” or “them”: “we”) could become a new and innovative kind of twenty-first-century university: a human, humane intellectual community, attractive to students, to future students, and to their parents because we bring together a great university (of the “intellectual power-house” variety, not just “high ranking”), a big university, and a smaller one that is close-knit, compassionate, caring, human, open, and supportive.

We need to humanise UBC.

What I’m saying isn’t that outrageous or radical; observe the common ground with this official statement (2015-12-16, Sara-Jane Finlay, UBC Equity and Inclusion):

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What actions can be taken in the future to prevent  harassment?

We need to remember, to remind ourselves, that we are a cooperative community of faculty, students, and colleagues in the supporting sectors of the university (advising, counselling, the library, …). We need to remember the history of universities themselves, and their beginnings in a medieval guild-structure. Confraternity. That’s what collegiality is. And we need to live it, attentively, in daily practice. Yes, that’s also medievally-rooted in a monastic sense. In a good way. Imitatio christi in “green martyrdom.”

We need to work together and with one another including with allied organisations: unions, student groups, media such as students newspapers. We are all the Fifth Estate, as is right and proper in a democratic civil Open Society; double-sensedly “critical” to it. We are a small republic on the edge of the Point Grey cliffs; let’s act together, in concert, as a commonality, in commonweal; for the common good, res publica.

That’s an integral part of a humanistic education: towards an ideal intellectual community:  Rabelais’s Thélème; Christine de Pisan’s Cité des dames; a world of enlightened discussion like in the Decameron, Heptaméron, and medieval Occitan partimens & judici d’amors and medieval French jeux partis.

Here are some suggestions from my FREN 215 students today (and thank you again, dear marvellous students!) in our first Round Table of the term:

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[ED. Yes, the first word is misspelled, my bad, what happens when you’re working in several Romance languages including older ones (with the bonus of more relaxed chilled-out attitude to tolerant spelling) simultaneously just before class. Welcome to Romance languages (and the joys of Medievalism): once you know one, you get the gist of the rest, and that is good: for the greater good of greater mutual understanding!]

Main topic of discussion, and what seemed most important to the students: prevention. Consent. How to change rape culture. I was fascinated to learn, for example, that while sororities have obligatory events on consent at least a couple of times a year, fraternities do not or are absent.

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Why am I talking about all this stuff?

The questions above came from a radio interview I did this morning with Radio-Canada. There was also a TV interview with them later (right after the FREN 215 class). I agreed to do both for reasons of putting my money where my mouth was. Put up or shut up.

Because we all know that women talk too much.

Because we all know that women apologise all the time. There’s even an app for that; or rather, for trying to stop it.

Because medievalists do it courteously; and yes, I plan to make my fortune selling that slogan in bumper-sticker and t-shirt form. OMFG that would be perfect on condoms…

Because UBC, and the world, might be the better if it were a more openly-but-courteously expressed, feminist, apologetic place.

[EDITED 2016-01-09 TO ADD: ] Here’s a practical idea that could be in place by the beginning (and indeed happen actively at the beginning) of next year. The model is something very discreet and subtle that happened at the Freshers’ Fair in Freshers’ Week when I was a student at Cambridge; I went to my first such fair in 1991 (during the “No Means No” campaign and close in time to my first “Take Back The Night” march), and went to others in later years. Our UBC equivalent would be a combination of the Orientation events, including the compulsory ones for incoming graduate and international students, in August; plus Imagine UBC, before the first day of actual classes.

What not to do (or, sure, do this as an extra, but what I’m going to suggest is an extra): having a fixed stand / booth about Sexual Harassment and Assault; or indeed, less po-faced flat-footedly, one just called “Sex!” At another university, they had a hilariously “Sex please, we’re British” variant. The combination of positivity and wit is always lethal.

What to do: have people, of all genders and orientations and of no obvious ones, people of all sorts, the more varied the better; maybe some in costumes; maybe team up with some local cosplayers and games societies? Anyway, get some people. Arm them with big smiles and positive attitude and baskets. Into those baskets, place condoms. They should have beautiful irridescent shiny glittery wrappers, in a rainbow range of colours and black. Maybe also some matte black because that’s very chic.

These condoms could have nothing on one side of the wrapper, or (if all things must be branded) “tuum est” which is a gift, being half-way to “tumescent” already; or “a place of mind,” which is an excellent below-the-belt pun.

On the other side, and printed on the condom: sex-positive phrases about consent. Some examples:

  • Got Consent? = a classic already in circulation
  • Condoms For Consent / Consenting Condom
  • This is a consenting condom (I’m thinking variations on Magritte’s “ceci n’est pas une pipe” which phrase has a whole other appropriate meaning in a condom context)
  • Medievalists Do It Courteously
  • similar groan-worthy phrases for all other areas of study and university activity and life: l’imagination au pouvoir (that would work too).
  • Latin phrases, especially if cross-lingually amusing so they also look like puns and innuendo in English: get our Classicists, Medievalists, and multi-linguists to work
  • and we can keep thinking of phrases that are, hopefully, amusing. Maybe even silly. And mix them up, like fortune-cookies.

Being able to giggle or groan over a condom message is a pretty good sign that one is capable of giving and understanding consent; the phrases can be a talking-point which is in turn educational in a hands-on “experiential learning” way, a subtle and friendly way for peers to learn and teach each other about consent; that talking gives a reason to be talking consent, which otherwise can be tricky to broach; uncomfortable, or just plain practically, pragmatically problematic. Pausing in the condom moment, slowing down that being-in-the-moment, can only help.

I’m thinking condoms because let’s face the facts: most perpetrators of sexual assault are of the male persuasion. It’s a pragmatic start. Won’t stop the minute minority of violent pathological rapists. May help with the majority of situations, where consent is unclear or ambiguous; or unknown, left unspoken by either or both; those borderline and grey-area cases hovering around negligence and recklessness; perhaps even when The Moment risks carrying a penetrating party over into unstoppability and the use of force.

I’m thinking humour because it’s necessary, positive, leads to conversation, helps with awkward situations, defuses tension, contributes to happy flirting, and keeps heavy things light. And, above all, it engineers that crucial pause that ensures consent.

The condoms must of course be free, and people should be able to take as many as they like (OK, within reason). They should be all over campus and unavoidable.

Bonus: some condoms could have winning messages printed on the inside of the wrapper, for appropriate prizes: a bottle of champagne, dinner for two, tickets to Improv Comedy: interactive things, not necessarily things like movies.

The condom-distributing people should not say anything at all—no shouting slogans, no sales pitches, nothing—unless spoken to. No, not even “hello, would you like a condom?” Maybe we could add some mimes and living statues, along Main Mall? If and when spoken to—and this is where training will be needed by the volunteers—responses should be neutral and friendly; simply encouraging sex-positive fun.

Volunteers should be from all parts of the university, and all ranks. Students, faculty, staff, members of the Board of Governors, and even the President, why not?

A less formal and formalised approach to sex education and to eradicating rape culture, conversational and interactive, peer to peer, and in a happy festive atmosphere.

Very much not “Sexual Assault Awareness Month” [2nd ED. adding]: rather, “sex, however and whenever and whatever you choose to do with it (or not), is an integral pleasant happy part of life.” To be combined with: “Sex is by definition consensual. If there isn’t consent, it’s not sex. It’s violence.” I’d quite like to get rid of the terms “sexual harassment” and “sexual assault,” they connotatively damage “sexual.” Let’s call a spade a spade: “attempted rape,” for example, following the model of murder. And “harassment” sounds too like a junior light version: in some jurisdictions, it is already “assault” (as distinct from the optional extra of physical “battery”): how about adopting / adapting the perfectly good and useful categorisations of “assault,” “assault occasioning actual bodily harm,” ditto “with grievous bodily harm,” and “aggravated assault” (i.e. with a weapon, and slippage into attempted murder)? Or, to emphasise the severity of the act and its anti-social dehumanising mens rea, adding some of the categories associated in some jurisdictions with murder: “in the first and second degrees?”

But I digress. Back to our happy imaginary future sex-positive condoms. [/end of ED. 2]

Make the message unavoidable: a condom-shaped dirigible anchored to the UBC Central Campus Clock-Tower, with a “consent” message on the side, up to the end of the first week of term.

Fraternities and other venues for sexual violence and inappropriate inhuman misbehaviour: whenever they hold an event, they should have pro-consent messages in lights outside and projecting into the skies above; at their own expense. They could in exchange be provided with exclusive special luxe condoms, with the fraternity symbol on one side of the wrapper and with the phrase on the condom itself in glow-in-the-dark letters. [/end of that EDIT]

 

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One last thing.

What’s been talked about is sexual harassment and assault, with an implication all too often that this is “just a women’s issue.” Well, that’s already half the population or so, so it’s hardly a minority issue.

Add in others who suffer—essentially anyone who’s not a hetero cis male, and even there we’d be making some very gross assumptions—and you’re looking at least (and this is conservative) at a two-thirds, if not three-quarters, decisive majority of the population.

Add in the material fact that every human body is rape-able: for those dehumanists for whom numbers and statistics are all that count, look! we’re now up to sexual harrassment and assault being a matter for 100% of the population.

And it’s not about these acts of aggression, it’s about what happens to and with and after them: policies and procedures and process that contribute—even if that’s passively and indirectly—to rape culture, to its social inclusion rather than ostracism, to its institutionalisation. Secondary assaults, adding insult to injury, abnormalise and marginalise victims.

And this isn’t just about sexual harassment and assault and rape culture.  Here’s an idea, kind of related to some recommendations in the External Reviews of my home department and of the Faculty of Arts. Our current language requirement is all very well, but why not extend it to a cultural consciousness requirement, and more pertinently for where we are, a First Nations cultural requirement? A fitting expression of UBC’s “From Here” slogan. To that could be added another requirement, to be satisfied in the summer before starting at UBC or in the first term here (for all newcomers: undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty: all together, yes in classes together) in ethics. With practical applied work. How to be a good fellow citizen. Rethinking and reconfiguring the purpose, the end of a university education: it’s not simply to get a better job, better paid, so as to be more productive and to contribute to The Economy. It’s to become a better human being, to contribute to one’s community and country, to civilisation and humanity themselves. A good start would be to think before one acts (or, indeed, speaks). And to consider the consequences of one’s actions.

Put these things together, go back a step, and add a next step. What we’re currently going through, what’s currently in the news, isn’t just a question about the status of women, nor only a feminist question and/or/as one for women. Many women would never go to the police or report an assault. First Nations women, here. (And Black women, in many places. Because harassment and assault, and sexual harassment and assault, are global problems.) We are living a terrible tragedy here in British Columbia, one that extends back in time for the whole glorious centenary of UBC and through the whole colonial history of this province. That is the history of “Canada.” A tragedy of missing women; of women and girls and two-spirit people abducted, used and abused, raped, murdered. What is happening right now, “our” current events, are part of a larger history of intersectional social injustice.

What should be done? What should we do? Behave like human beings. In the manner of Montaigne and Rousseau. Treat other people like human beings and like our peers. Expect others to do likewise: including university adminstrators. “The Suits,” “The Corpses,” they’re human beings too. Let’s remember that, and remind them, and have the same expectations of them as we do of colleagues and friends. All too often—and it’s understandable in an institution of this size, what with over 50,000 students and a giant campus it’s the size and complexity of a town—we all fall into compartmentalisation, silo thinking, “us” and “them.” Let’s welcome The Administration into “us” in the spirit of hospitality (en bel accueil courtois, “fair welcome”), which we owe them just as we do to every precious individual human being.

Conclusions :

  • liberté, égalité, fraternité
  • humanity and humility
  • respect and mutuality
  • collective cooperation
  • community

Why sign The 6 January Letter? Why say anything? (Why did I agree to be interviewed on the radio and TV today, heaven help the poor undeserving listeners?) Why call for action? Because the opposite is silence. And silence is the enemy, the opposite of all that we should do and be.

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