Sunday, July 17, 2016

Housewarmings

It's been almost a month since we've moved officially to our new house, since our furniture arrived, since we unpacked our knick knacks and clothes and found new homes for kitchen utensils that we're still trying to find again on a regular basis.

We've made pitchers of sangria and had family and friends arrive in rotation, on the 3rd and 4th and 10th of July; on Thursday one of the local moms rang the doorbell and invited me to join the other women from the block for a drink on her back deck; and on Friday, after our neighbor delivered a delicious carrot zucchini bread, my colleagues from work came over with their families for dinner, during which we consumed many bottles of champagne. One of my colleagues brought a dense dark brown bread and salt, a traditional European blessing for a new home, reminding me of my friend's blog, which is named for those very gifts.

On Saturday, the neighbors pulled chairs out to the cul de sac, and the kids (there are many on our road) rode bicycles and pulled each other around (sometimes dumping each other out of) a home-made rickshaw and drew in chalk on the road while we all talked and drank beer and water and whatever else people brought out with them to share.

This is more partying than I think we've ever done in such a short period of time; we've smoked loins of pork and entire chickens and grilled chicken and salmon and burgers and hot dogs; we've made kale salads and watermelon salads and corn and Spanish tortillas and gazpacho and icebox pie and lemon Bundt cake. We've sat outside until it gets dark, and until the mosquitos begin to nip at us. It only rained once, and even then, just during dessert.

The people from whom we bought this house entertained a lot, they said; they talked about how they loved having a crowd over, cooking and baking and laughing together.  While we did that in our Flemington house sometimes, too, it's been nice to feel like there's space to share. This house invites gatherings of loved ones and new friends.

I still worry sometimes about feeling lonely here, about missing old friends, about not making the kinds of close friends I left behind.  But as I said to my son just this morning, it may be that the people we meet here don't become our best friends, and that's OK, because they seem to be kind people, and we're haven't left our other friends behind. Both have already warmed our house with so much laughter and good food and good company, for which I've been especially grateful this summer, given the sadness and darkness unfolding in the world.  Maybe, in some small way, our celebrations of each other can continue to create ripples of light.
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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On Domestic Abuse

I have cried a lot, watching the events of the past week unfold.  More dead Black men. More protests. And then dead police in Dallas.

I had a title, but not a post, for a few days: Black and Blue. Like a bruise. Like the result of battering. A domestic abuse.

But I had nothing new to say. I felt like a voyeur. Watching the videos, scanning the photos from the comfort/discomfort of my couch, on my laptop.

Perhaps most memorable for me, this one, taken by Jonathan Bachman of Reuters:

 

A young Black woman, standing tall and straight, bold and powerful, being handcuffed.  White officers in full riot gear. Destabilized. Why do they need to approach this unarmed woman this way? How much is this like the initial moments of colonization and slavery? How can they see her as a threat?  And yet, they do.

Is this, as Michelle Alexander writes, our mirror? Will this be enough? Will it disturb us enough?

My neighbors went to a Black Lives Matter protest in Trenton last night. I was home with two kids who were not going to a protest. Part of me has been looking for a protest, and another part of me, like this woman, wonders, what the fuck is a protest going to do? We can march all we want; what is really going to change? How many times will we lose energy, and forget?

I watched protest video footage from Baton Rouge.  I wanted to reach through the screen and pull those people to safety, here in my living room.

Our students, this past year, occupied the University President's office, telling him they wouldn't leave until he agreed to their demands.  He did, eventually. Or at least, agreed to consider them. Which, of course, wasn't really the same thing at all. Why did he agree? Because he believes that the institution he leads is a fundamentally racist institution?   I doubt that, though I know his heart is in the right place, and I'm sure that he realizes the institution will need to change and evolve and respond during the next few years. Will our students return to their protests this year, knowing that they haven't achieved their goals?

Beyond our campus, where do we sit in? Whose office do we occupy?  What do we demand?  Not more task forces. Not more committees.  Yes, justice. Accountability.  But more. So much more.

What counts as a crime? Who gets stopped, imprisoned? How do we make sure that our measures are equal, regardless of the color of our skin?

Who gets to live in places that are clean and safe and bright and affordable?

Who gets access to a good education, good jobs?

Who gets a chance in this nation of opportunity?

We can approach each other -- black, white, brown, blue -- with open hearts, but how do our open hearts create equality?  We encourage our students to meet each other with civility, with respect, but how can we change lifetimes of wrongs before someone else has to die?

Years ago, I served as a board member for our county's domestic violence agency. We didn't get to see the agency's clients very often because of the policies around confidentiality.  But we did get to see a lot of the infrastructure that supported them.  We toured the safe house and the transitional house, where families were protected and then getting back on their feet, preparing to start over again.  We met children in the Peace: A Learned Solution (PALS) program, who were finding voices through art and music and theater, unlearning conflict and violence. We talked with the people who manned the crisis hotline, were often joined in meetings by the lawyer who supported clients free of charge through difficult appearances in court. And we also met counselors and community educators who worked with the abusers and with outreach to high school students, who shared a belief not just that we could create safe spaces for the victims of domestic violence, but that the perpetrators of violence could change. There is research on this: that abusers can stop abusing their partners, if they take responsibility, if they learn communication skills, if they examine their own pasts.

Maybe there are lessons to be learned here.  That domestic abuse can stop. That abusers can redefine what it means to be masculine, that they can begin to see their partners as partners, not as threats. That we can find ways to support both abusers and survivors. That we can offer hope. That we can heal our broken and bruised political body.

Because the alternative is too much for our nation, and for us all, to bear.

For Tamir Rice, Ousmane Zongo, Rekia Boyd, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Kajieme Powell, Samuel DuBose, Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Kayla Moore and Tanisha Anderson. For Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, and Brent Thompson, who were there to protect that day, and who, I have to believe, shared the conviction that #Black Lives Matter.
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Monday, June 13, 2016

What Are We Waiting For? (For Orlando, and for all of us)

I have been at loss for words.

My Facebook feed is full of "gun control," but also (because I have grown up with, and still talk with, people who are pro-gun-rights) "shooter shoots, not guns."  There are people condemning Muslim terrorists, and Muslim friends calling for more overt support of the LGBT community. (BTW, Donald: he was born in New York.)

CNN tells us the police have found no accomplices, though the shooter pledged allegiance to ISIS during a 911 call.  

The victims whose names have been released so far are largely from the Latinx community. Given where they were killed, a place that is a sanctuary, I wonder how many of them had families who knew, how many of them have families who will mourn, how many of them died with the only family they knew.  At least two of them were college students.  They could easily have been my students.

Everything we know about people who become radicalized suggests that they are isolated, disconnected, lost; that they turn to radical ideology (even if they're not religious) for meaning, for structure, for order in a world over which they feel no control, for belonging when they don't belong anywhere else.  Maybe they have parents who have fanned the flames of their hate.  But in the end, they're not so different from abandoned mentally ill people who, say, enter a theater and open fire.  Or who go to an elementary school and take the lives of twenty first graders. What happened in Orlando was a hate crime against LGBT people of color, against diversity of expression of love itself, done in the name of domestic terror. Hate, fueled by hate.

Let me be clear: I don't understand why anyone needs an assault-style or semi-automatic weapon for their personal use.  I don't understand why people don't have to pass the same kinds of tests to own and operate a gun that they do to own and drive a car. I don't understand why someone who has been the subject of a domestic violence report gets to purchase a weapon without some pretty detailed background investigation.

I also don't understand how, if this person was mentally ill, no one realized this before.  Did anyone at his college notice?  Did anyone at his security firm notice (did he have to pass any psychological tests)?  His ex-wife noticed. Did anyone do anything after she filed her domestic violence report?

And most of all, I don't understand how there can be so much hate, and how we can't seem to do a damn thing about it.

Particularly because the gunman wasn't an immigrant, but a native-born American who was just like any one of us, I've been thinking about this event in connection with the debate about free speech on our campuses, the ways in which some students say they don't feel safe when they hear racist or sexist or anti-religious or homophobic discourse.  As administrators, we try to walk the line between free speech and civility.  We try to make sure that everyone's voice is heard.  Some people even dismiss students' demands for "safety," saying that they shouldn't be so coddled, saying that they're in no real danger.  But when tragic events like this one unfold, and we have no mechanisms to prevent them, how can we be so sure?

I'm tired of signing my name to petitions.  I'm tired of having to explain to my son, who reads the news on his tablet before we can intervene, why this keeps happening. I'm tired of hugging my children and my friends and saying we should hold each other close. I'm tired of feeling powerless.

We are all victims.  We are Charlie, we are Aurora, we are Brussels, we are Charleston, we are Lebanon, we are Columbine, we are San Bernardino, we are Fort Hood, we are Sandy Hook. Now we are Orlando.  When will the loss be too great to bear?

What are we waiting for? When we will say we have had enough?  When will we put people in power who can do something in the name of love?

#MoreLoveLessHate
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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Brock Turner, Rape Culture, and Us

(with apologies for another angry post without mention of food. and with a warning for anyone triggered by sexual assault, in case it wasn't already obvious.)

I have been following the coverage of Brock Turner with my stomach tied in knots.

It makes me sick that he thought he could do this (or worse, that he didn't think it important enough to think at all); it makes me sick that the judge let him get away with it by handing down such a light sentence; it makes me sick that anyone would come to his defense after the fact, citing "political correctness" or "promiscuity" or alcohol as the culprit.

But perhaps it makes more visible than ever both the privilege of white male athletes (each of those words an additive in privilege), and the rape culture that is so pervasive we don't even see it any more.

I work at a university that, like most universities, requires all of its incoming freshmen and graduate students to complete an online mandatory sexual assault prevention program.  During orientation, students participate in an hour and a half long performance and discussion focused on sexual assault, rape, and bystander intervention. That program is followed by small group discussions, and additional information later on in the week.

During which many of them, I know, are thinking: "this would never happen to me."

And yet, it does.

A recent survey on our campus (with a high response rate) revealed that in the past year, 20 percent of all students (with a higher proportion of women then men, and higher proportion of undergraduates than graduates) have experienced sexual assault (which includes everything from harassment to stalking to nonconsensual sexual contact). And that during the past year, four percent of all students (men, women and gender nonbinary) experienced nonconsensual sexual penetration: rape.  Breaking that down by self-identified gender, eight percent of undergraduate women report that they were raped.  Mostly by people they knew.

One rape is one rape too many.  But 1 out of every 12 women?

We know that orientation isn't enough. So we try to start conversations that continue to loop students back in, remind them about how to have healthy relationships.  But they have had so much programming by age 17; it's an uphill climb.

They learn that if someone doesn't want to be with you, you buy them another drink.  They learn that no really means "not yet."  They learn that red means stop, green means go, and yellow means floor it so you can get through before it turns red.

Eighty four percent of college men who were found guilty of sexual assault did not believe their behavior was illegal.  Why?  Because women are described as objects so often that it becomes easy to see them as objects.  Because masculinity is described in terms of sexual conquest, and men--especially adolescent men, and they're trying to figure out who they're going to be--fall prey to those definitions. All of this makes rape culture normative, invisible, particularly, I'd argue, when it lives inside of white privilege, which is also invisible.  (*I am very aware that sexual assault is not limited to male perpetrators and female victims/survivors; I've worked with gay students who have been assaulted by other gay students, men assaulted by women, trans people assaulted by cisgender students. That said: rape culture feels rooted, to me, in power dynamics that are attached to gender.)

Why is it that so many people are more concerned about what will happen when a trans person steps into the bathroom than they are about what will happen when a white cisgender male is trying to prove his masculinity to himself in a culture where he'll never measure up?

I was heartened to read Vice President Biden's moving open letter today.  It was an important statement to make. But I also know that this river is deep. And that even Joe Biden doesn't go back to the place where rape culture begins.  Because you have to go back pretty far in the development of our children to learn when we first start to talk about consent, and bodies, and limits, and respect.

In case you hadn't heard, it turns out that Brock Turner will only be serving three months of his six month sentence.   Even college campus processes have more successful sanctioning than the prosecution record of rape cases. I don't have to ask you how you think this might have unfolded for a Black male, because we know.

Is it any surprise that survivors of rape don't want to report the crime to the police, knowing that this will be the outcome?

Is it any surprise that I didn't say anything to anyone about my own experience for more than ten years?

I know that many of you were silent, too.

What are we--you--me--doing to change this, not just at college orientation, but long before we ever have to have those conversations with our youth, before they ever find themselves bystanders?
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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Table Manners

Imagine, if you will:

Your boss has invited you to lunch to discuss your summer project plans.  This is not a special invitation, exactly, because she has also invited your colleagues to similar lunch meetings, all during the same week. But you have settled on a semi-fancy farm-to-table place, prepare a list of things you want to make sure you cover, stash said list in your purse, and wear something in which you take yourself seriously.

By Chrisrobertsantieau - Own work, Public Domain,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7554497
Things are going well enough; you have a good conversation, you enjoy a delicious meal, you manage not to have salad sticking out of your teeth.  You order coffee, after asking if she is also ordering coffee.  When it arrives, you select a yellow packet from the sugar bowl, stir, and sip.

Three sips in or so, you realize that the coffee needs cream, or milk, or whatever happens to be in the small creamer on the table, the one that is even smaller than your coffee cup.  She has already added cream to hers, so you reach for the creamer and begin to pour.

At which point, it slips from your fingers, and lands with an impressive splash directly in the middle of your cup of coffee, where it is now making cafe au lait of its own accord.

You have managed to splatter it all around the cup, but not on your dress, which, of course, is brand new.  You take your napkin, and wipe up around the spill; your boss asks if you are all right, you assure her that you are unscathed.  Nothing to see here.

And then?  Then what do you do?

Well, if you are me, and you want coffee, and you're not thinking very clearly, you gingerly fish the creamer out of the cup, wipe it off, add the appropriate amount of cafe au lait to your cup, making some comment about how much you'd had in the cup originally, and drink it.

And then, on the way home from work four hours later, you realize your faux pas, feel mortified, and wonder how you will now teach your children table manners with a straight face.
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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Look(ing) Out

Word travels fast.

Facebook told me this morning about an active shooter at UCLA, before any other media did, since I'd already gotten the Times digest for the day.  As soon as I heard, I went to the LA Times for more in-depth coverage.  Once I had the backstory I turned to Twitter for immediate updates, and back to Facebook for updates from a friend who was there.  Tomorrow there will be coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education, in Inside Higher Ed, in The Skimm, and in my Thursday digest of the Times.

It all felt, and continues to feel, a little surreal.

I attended UCLA as a graduate student.  I know exactly what building the suspect and victim were in. I saw students running down paths that were familiar, hands raised above their heads.  A friend from graduate school, now returned to UCLA as a colleague, was there on campus, as were professors I'd had years ago. One of our current students was headed there to take a class this summer; we didn't know if she'd arrived yet.  My heart is with the UCLA community tonight, and everyone connected to the victims.

This could just as easily have happened at the place where I work.

There is no security stopping people as they enter campus.  There are no checkpoints.  There are no metal detectors to make sure students don't have guns when they enter a building. Yes, you can lock down a building, but not until it's already too late.  We are lucky that we haven't had anyone threaten to hurt others, but it's not uncommon for students to think about--and even act on thoughts of--hurting themselves when they can't cope.

Lookout
via flickr user Duncan Rawlinson
I worry about a culture in which students who see themselves as academic or social failures feel that they have no recourse but violence.  We can debate about the need for gun control (making it the fault of a system that will allow people to acquire guns, though people who want guns badly enough can find less legal ways to get them); we can debate about the availability of mental health resources (making it the fault of a system that lets people fall through the cracks); we can debate about parenting (making it the fault of parents who are raising less resilient children).  We can even debate whether we should recognize achievement at all (like the North Carolina school board who voted to stop recognizing valedictorians just did), or whether we should "cover" grades (like many universities are doing) to remove at least one of the sources of stress.

But at the end of the day all we do is debate whose fault it is, if all we do is watch it happen over and over again, what good have we done?

With all of our social media voyeurism and instantaneous sharing of news, why do we do so much "looking out," instead of looking out for each other, from the moment we understand what empathy means?
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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Caveat Emptor

Inspired by Searching for our Silver Lining's post about putting her home on the market.

~~~~

Caveat emptor:

You will need to check the raspberries in early July.  I know the bushes are prickly, but please pick them daily; don't let the birds get those two quarts.  I worked too hard for that, pruning the canes each year, the tiny thorns stuck in my skin. I have a recipe for fresh raspberry pie if you need it.

About the hydrangeas.  I know they look dead right now.  They've come and gone these ten years (we coaxed them to bloom the first year we moved in); perhaps they're in mourning for us.  They came too early this year, with the warm spring, and were taken by surprise by the cold snap in March.  You might want to leave them be, in case they come around in the end.

I know that you're planning to live mostly on one floor, but I hope you'll take a shower upstairs every once in a while, where you can look out the window and see the barn bathed in early morning sunlight. I'll make sure it sparkles for you before we leave.

I hope you don't mind my forwardness, but the best place for your couch is near the window in the living room.  The breezes are calming at night, and you'll be able to look outside, sitting sideways, and hear the sounds of people enjoying summer at the pool. If you're not feeling well, the sounds will lull you to sleep.

Are you bringing some chairs for the front porch? It's the best place to watch thunderstorms and the 5K races on Thanksgiving and in June. I recommend a rocking chair.  It's an old porch.

While we're on the subject of porches: please plan to buy at least ten bags of candy for Halloween.  There will be about 300 children who come to your door, and I don't want to disappoint them.

I hope you like the neighbors.  Feel free to ask to borrow an egg or some aluminum foil, like we did on the day we moved in. Maybe they'll tell you about the time I won an ice cream block party from Edy's for an essay I wrote about my community, and we all sat out under the tree between your driveway and your neighbors' driveway, with tubs and tubs of ice cream they shipped to us in styrofoam containers with dry ice.

And one last thing: there may be ghosts.  They're quiet, mostly, but you may hear them at night, unfulfilled dreams, children that never saw this world.  Be kind to them.  Speak softly to them.  They shouldn't trouble you; they're looking for me.  You can tell them where we've gone.

Take care of this home, with its patches in the drywall, with its spiders in the basement, with its letters scratched in the concrete foundation. It's been here a long time.  I promise it will take care of you.

with love,
Justine

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