This post is in response to the article Colleges Need To Do More To Ensure Rape Survivors’ Grades Don’t Suffer over on Feministing.com
Students of all genders who are struggling after a sexual assault are often also struggling with their grades. The person who assaulted them may be their partner, an ex-partner, a friend or acquaintance, or a stranger. It’s awful no matter who it was. It may have involved physical force, verbal force, or that insidious coercion that our society encourages survivors to shake off as a part of having sex.
As a faculty member I have a great deal of power to be flexible to the needs of individual students. At the same time it also takes a huge amount of empathy, time, and effort to respond to their needs, especially if they are members of giant lecture hall classes.
I also come with a LOT of background expertise on this topic, something most faculty and administration won’t have. Some of my students come right out and tell me all about it, especially after we cover this topic in class. Others opt not to be as direct, but it’s in their eyes and body language when they come to my office. It hurts my heart every darned time…a lot. I cannot imagine what it is like for faculty and admin that don’t have extensive training and experience working with trauma survivors.
And I can only imagine the complexities that happen when a student approaches a faculty or admin member who has their own history of sexually assaulting others (probably without getting caught). After all, there is nothing about faculty and admin that automatically make us safe people who have hurt others less than any other person out there. We just happen to have authority in that time and place, which makes us either helpful allies or formidable foes. And it’s easiest to default into the latter category by either ignoring the request for help or claiming we can do nothing. I cannot tell you how often I have heard horror stories about how other faculty and admin have responded to their pleas for help and understanding. It would be so much easier for me if more of my fellow faculty/admin were on the same page. Instead, sometimes I feel like I’m trying to throw as many life preservers as possible while others are throwing rocks. Sometimes we are on the same page, though, and it’s a beautiful thing when we can create that blanket of support and caring.
Some weeks I have spent more time working to help these students than I did prepping my lecture or writing the quiz for their class of 500. At times my role stretches out for months after the semester has ended. Colleges and universities most certainly need to do more. As do K-12 schools.