Changing of the Guard
I have been blessed with meeting women and men from all walks of life that have encouraged me to share my voice. I therefore try to stay out of politics because I don’t want to risk offending anybody that might respond to my writing (though this is probably an impossible task). With this said, it’s awfully difficult to write about topics like male socialization and gendered violence prevention without referencing America’s top policy makers from time to time and I have to admit that I absolutely loved the Obama administration now that we have some distance from it. One of the reasons that I did so is because I always felt that we were fighting together on these atypical topics on which I insist on raising my voice. Let me explain.
Former President Obama chose a running mate in Joe Biden who is the politician most associated with the Violence Against Women Act, the sometimes-controversial act that provides funding for the prosecution of violent crimes against women. His Office of Civil Rights issued a monumental “Dear Colleague” letter that prescribed how educational institutions should handle student-on-student allegations of sexual violence. His administration sponsored the “It’s On Us” campaign in order to raise awareness about sexual violence on campuses. President Obama even vowed not to speak at universities after his term ended if they didn’t take sexual violence seriously. Do these actions have faults? Sure. Did they help normalize the idea that all educators, policy makers, and judicial personnel should care about sexual violence and its aftermath? Absolutely.
The Obama administration made a point of speaking out against sexual violence with a regularity that we have never seen previously. For these reasons and more, I always felt like it was on my side as I went around talking about why men needed to speak up against sexual violence. I believed that no less than the highest office in the land had my back.
Current secretary of Education Betsy DeVos just announced that the Trump administration will be making some changes to the guidelines for how educational institutions are to handle adjudication of student complaints of sexual assault. Chief among them is an expectation for schools to require “clear and convincing” evidence of fault before finding students responsible for violence – a ratcheting up of the “preponderance of the evidence” standard espoused during the Obama years. I suspect that these changes will put a damper on victims’ willingness to report but the effects remain to be seen. I take this moment as a reminder that legislators can never mandate empathy and we ultimately want to get to a place that people carry themselves in such a way that we don’t even need to adjudicate their hurtful behaviors after the fact. That fight is left to those of us with the opportunity to train and influence young boys and girls regardless of whether or not Washington backs us up. Policies from above will likely always be in flux so we have to provide the stability.