Support Systems

This is a “duh” statement, but there’s been a lot of talk recently about sexual assault, domestic abuse, violence against women. With so many high-profile cases, they’re nearly impossible topics to avoid. This is a conversation that we need to have—a conversation that lots of individuals, lots of organizations, lots of institutions need to discuss, listen to, and address. And I love that people seem to be genuinely interested in engaging with this discourse. It has, however, brought more of the dissenters to my radar.

A small example: I was in Michigan last week. One afternoon as I was walking my dog, a group of three guys circled around us. One said, “Hey cutie.” I smiled quickly, said “hi,” kept walking. As I walked past, the same guy asked me my name. When I didn’t respond and instead crossed the street, I heard, “Hey man, do you want me to choke you out?” I shared this on Twitter and awoke the next morning to some quality responses from trolls decrying women for not being thankful for men who are just trying to “appreciate beauty.”

I’m rarely in a position where I have to engage with—or even just read the perspectives of—misogynists. I have a strong feminist support group in both my physical & social environments. And I need that.

I attended an 800-student, all-women’s college as an undergraduate, which significantly shaped the way I see the world. I’ve attended two institutions since my time at Hollins, and I haven’t connected with either university in the same way. That could just be the nature of experiencing a campus as an undergraduate versus a graduate student instructor. But I think it also depends on the campus climates. When I visited Hollins as a senior in high school, I remember staring at the decorated t-shirts strung along clotheslines across the quad. They were raising awareness for sexual assault. I attended Take Back the Night events every year. Many of my friends volunteered for the Coalition against Sexual Assault. I comforted friends who had been sexually assaulted, and they comforted me. I often think about those invaluable experiences and the fact that I knew—at any moment—I could ask for advice, silent understanding, a hug, long-term support.

I’ve missed that community in the last two institutions I’ve attended. And today, for the first time, I regained some of that. Although I love my program—and have been so well supported within my own graduate networks—I haven’t felt much connection to Syracuse as a larger student community.

Today, students organized #rallyforconsent. In early June, after students were gone for the summer, the administration announced the closing of the Advocacy Center, which provided sexual assault resources and support to college students. The AC services have been redirected to the Counseling Center, but this decision—both the decision itself and the way it was delivered with no community impact—was immediately met with outcry. There was a petition. There were Buzzfeed articles. And there was organizing.

Today was a culmination of these efforts, and, depending on which news source you read, close to 100 students and faculty gathered in front of Hendrick’s chapel to make their demands (from the rally’s Facebook group):

  • The prompt creation of a standalone center for advocacy and education on campus
  • No more decisions about us without us! Student input and participation now!

Particularly as I listened to organizers read student comments from the petition about the importance of the AC to their Syracuse experience, I felt connected to this community in a way that I haven’t before.

I’m applying to jobs for the next couple months, and as I think through what kind of academic community I hope to join—to contribute to as a teacher and researcher and department/university citizen—I realize I want to join a community that cares about the well being of their students. Really cares. Being part of an academic community that privileges social justice, ethical labor practices, and the needs of its students is important. Knowing that I’m supported both as a faculty member and as a whole person is important. Knowing that my students are supported as people is important.

I’ve heard lots of people talking about what it means to be a balanced academic. For me, that means ensuring I have a strong intellectual support system that motivates & encourages me, nourishes me, and pushes me to advocate for better resources & support for others.

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