Google Analytics Tracking Code

Friday, May 1, 2015

What do you say to a naked lady?

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Recently a young woman at Texas State sat naked on the steps of
the library as an art project. I think people would call it performance art. So, what would I do, as an administrator if it happened here? I also wonder how others feel. Some initial thoughts:

It's weird
Being naked in public just seems... unnatural. I mean, she wasn't wearing (hardly) any clothes and people could see she was naked. Several years ago a student in California known as The Naked Guy wore the emperor's clothes. Sometimes people do things in the name of art to simply draw attention to themselves. Or maybe they are troubled.

It's oddly sexist
If a guy did this people would be creeped out and would call him a pervert, or worse, just laugh at him.

It's art
Really, in this case it is expression, and art really is expression. Though unconventional she did communicate something to others... I am impressed with her courage if not her boldness. What started as odd actually morphed more from spectacle to message, at least for the thoughtful.

It's unfair to the other art students
...but of course most people take longer to do their artwork. So is it really art? It is possible she hadn't been doing well in class, and thought "oh crap, this is due today" and ran out to the library with her blindfold and headphones... Meanwhile, someone is laboring for weeks on his or her project. I could see that as unfair.

It makes the University choose between rules and expression
Sure, most universities have policies that explicitly or implicitly state that people should wear clothes. Sure, some people might be offended by this woman's actions. On the other hand, students do offensive things on most campuses on most weekends, and with much less thought or virtue. Universities are the open market places of ideas. In this case, people may be compelled to talk about the point of her art and the statement she is making in substantive ways. Or not.

In this case she did not violate any law and apparently no policies. I think Texas State handled it well. The story didn't become about them.

Free speech - again
Sometimes people have important things to say. Sometimes they have crude and rude things to say. And sometimes people are fighting oppression against themselves or others. Generally, even offensive speech is good speech because it stimulates ideas, allows students to find their voices, and helps them learn to choose their battles, to push back, and to be assertive while being civil.

To wrap it up...
I tend to think that if this happened here people would let it go. We let Calvert Ghosts happen. (That is a Halloween streaking tradition. We let that take place because it is relatively small, it isn't alcohol-driven,  the students are more like naked tots running from the bath to the bedroom with glee than anything harmless, and because we want to see naked people.)

What do you think? Weigh in on the poll at the upper right.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Social Media Lessons by Michael Buble

Students, and all of us, really, have to be careful in using social media. Pop singer Michael Buble recently created a stir when he posted an Instagram photo of a woman's derriere on his account. He later apologized, but said he intended no offense. No surprise that there has been some intense reaction. I have posted before on social issues such as race, twice, and homosexuality, twice. I have also posted about social media. There are so many educational lessons here related to sexism and social media combined, that I had to break them down in a pie chart (above).

Many are saying people shouldn't go out in public with their gluteal folds peaking from underneath their shorts. If they do, then all bets are off. Hopefully we all have friends who will give us grief about what we are wearing... or we at least have mirrors where we live.

The biggest question, in my mind, is this really something a sensitive person would do? It might be a little mean, a little... un-Christian. (Though in fairness, it is a little-known fact that the original Christians had wonderful senses of humor. In the recently recovered Biblical book "Antics of the Apostles," we learned that St. Bartholomew was teased mercilessly for his flatulence problem. He was often referred to by the other apostles as "Fart-olomew.") So as a society, we must ask, "are we overly sensitive?" Or is it just a fact of life that everyone throughout time has made fun of other people? He who has not commented on another person's appearance should cast the first Instagram.

Public shaming
There seems to be quite a bit of consternation that this person was put out there with no consent and could be ashamed. This hits close to home for me as I recently found a photo of me on a professor's account that was pretty embarrassing:

Me, innocently shopping for vitamins...
Anyways, it could be worse. At least this woman has anonymity. Until she goes on Oprah. Celebrities themselves are routinely skewered in the media as though they have no feelings.

Michael Buble was simply doing what throngs of people do at Wal-Mart. His sin, apparently was being Michael Buble and not being anonymous. Of course if HE is taking all of the Wal-Mart photos we have several different issues.

I am not sure I really buy that this is sexist. I might buy that it is a little rude. If this were a guy in the photo no one would care and more likely, most people would be grossed out. Let's face it, there IS a sub-population of really chauvinistic people - they're called men.

So wait, his wife took this photo? So if he was really having her take photos that he would hashtag as #myshorts, #babygotback, #hungryshorts, isn't that weird? Isn't it even stranger that he is so locked in to those hashtags? If this was not rude humor then was it kinky. Eww... who are you?

Okay students of the liberal arts, you know the drill. Michael Buble is not all good and not all bad. So those who are writing him off for this are ridiculous. Those who are championing him might be blinded by his celebrity. It was a "light-hearted" post, as he said, and maybe it offended some and maybe it didn't. Period.

Fast Food
Which brings us to this issue: Why does Michael Buble go out for fast food. Really? You're Michael Buble!

Calling Michael Buble
If I ever want to find Michael I will definitely wear my short-shorts and go to What-a-Burger.

Okay, his apology was the worst. He tried to make us think he was attracted to this bottom, but his post -- with the hashtag #onlyinmiami -- seems disingenuous. Here is how I would write the apology:

"Sorry I offended some with my photo. I thought it was funny that I could see this woman's butt cheeks. I am not in third grade. Neither are you, but I bet you would have done this too. That's life. So, let me sing my sweet songs, eat fast food, and hang out with my wife. This was nothing more. And it's nothing less."

Thursday, March 26, 2015

White Lies

Small group of Black Student Union students at dinner in March 2015.
Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, I had little exposure to black people. I liked the players on the Packers and Bucks who were black, so that was a start. In fourth grade, on a field trip to a movie downtown, I had my first meaningful personal encounter with a black person. It was with a student from a mostly black school on a similar trip, and he was loud, ran into me, and knocked over my popcorn. I made a judgment and formed an impression. (What's worse, the movie was Disney's Fantasia. I know.)

My next significant contact occurred when Brookfield East played in the basketball sectionals in the late 1970's against Milwaukee North and then Milwaukee Washington. I was in the stands. These were two mostly black inner-city teams and they each had home court advantage. Their style on the court was fluid, flamboyant, and what I considered undisciplined. Their style in the stands was even more so. It was alarming, because it was different, and intimidating. Again, the experience fed into negative stereotypes I had learned.

Finally, there was one other encounter - or near encounter - when I learned that black people from downtown would be marching out to the suburbs. This seemed really scary and threatening. They wanted what we had. We called it a threat. Today we call it social justice.

So one of my biggest concerns  heading off to college was whether or not I would have a black roommate. I didn't. But by the end of my freshman year I wished I had. Harold Deaudine a black student from Chicago was my wall-mate and was the coolest and smoothest dude on the floor. My roommate, Jeff from Beaver Dam, not so much. (I was no prize either.) My stereotypes were challenged by reality.

When the parents of the OU fraternity members -- who are now infamous for their horrible song -- tell us there is more to their young men, I believe them. We are complex beings. These students weren't born racist. Racism is something we learn. Most of us, like me, are challenged to then un-learn it. And the best way we can have our erroneous ideas and biases challenged is to broaden our experiences and figure out that superficial and stereotypical negative first impressions may not be accurate, and shouldn't be lasting ones. Hopefully we can see, in hindsight, that wherever the fear came from, that fear was based on lies.

The scary thing about the Oklahoma fraternity men is that this isn't just about them. Because they are us. We are lying to ourselves if we think otherwise. And we are in Ferguson, and in New York, and Oakland, and Los Angeles, and, well, Seemingly Almost Everywhere. A colleague recently asked me why I care so much about this campus population. Maybe it is because I like them. Maybe it is because I learned to like them. Perhaps I have a little white guilt. Mostly, though, I think it must be terrible to live in a country where racism lurks under (and often above) the surface everywhere and always. That a hanging in Mississippi of a man, Otis Byrd, though yet unproven as a hate-crime, can even seem plausible, means we should all bow our heads in shame. It wasn't that long ago, after all, when another man named Byrd met a despicable and horrible fate at the hand of racists.

After working at two campuses in upstate New York, with many African-American students, my notions have continued to evolve. Being mentored by Coleen Grissom and Felicia Lee, and working side-by-side with the likes of Ankita Rakhe, JaNay Queen, Karen Pennington, Raphael Moffett, and Ben Newhouse, to name a mere few, I feel better equipped to live in a diverse world. Now what is scary are the innumerable subtle and violent examples of racism that continue today.

And yet... Several years ago on vacation with my family at Disney World I almost got beat up by a large and loud black woman vying for a spot on a shuttle. Despite my progress, I was confronted with an individual and deep-seated stereotypes I thought I had shaken. Suddenly I was in fourth grade all over again. And there was popcorn at my feet. Maybe there is a Disney curse.

We can never stop working on ourselves - individually - and collectively. We need to fight our biases all the time. This is why having conversations, programs, and open-minds on college campuses is so important. Our Black Student Union is doing a great job of this. They co-hosted a panel called "I Can't Breathe," that tapped the expertise of our learned faculty. They hosted a soul food study break, a film, and more for Black History Month. They participated in our MLK Jr. march and attended an inspirational speech on campus that week by Tim Wise.

Indeed, our responsibility as a campus administration is to be vigilant about our campus climate for our black students. I loathe the campus-racial-incident-response formula: Racial incident, leads to forum, leads to out-cries that this has been happening "here" for years, leads to charges of a clueless administration, leads to a task force, leads to programs and new staff. And then things go back to normal.

Instead, because every campus is one-drunk student-with-a-marker-away from a racial incident, we need to have conversations all the time. We need to nurture the climate proactively rather than re-actively. This isn't just the responsibility of BSU. This is everyone's responsibility. I meet with our BSU students annually. I like what I hear, mostly. I want them to feel like we care about their experience and that we are not on cruise-control about what they deal with daily.

Our NASPA award-winning orientation program about diversity challenges students to have their own conversations and take safe and respectful, even if uninformed, risks. I once asked my Korean friend, Felicia Lee, how Chinese fortune cookies were made. She scoffed at me for assuming she knew simply because she was Korean. I followed up, though and asked, "do you?" - to which she said, "well, yes." It is hard, I know. No one wants to be ignorant. Who wants to ask a black person about their hair and seem insensitive and uneducated? Who wants to put any black person in the position to speak on behalf of their race?

If we keep shoving our ideas and biases deeper inside ourselves, they will come out. Maybe someday on a video. Or worse. Someone recently said that something like what happened at OU couldn't happen at Trinity. Oh, it definitely could. While I agree our racial climate may be generally positive, it would be a lie to think any campus could be immune. Just a little white lie.

Monday, March 16, 2015

In the Heart of a Campus

Sometime after 11 a.m on Wednesday, March 4, Trinity's heart stopped beating. Life came to a standstill when popular professor Dr. Michael Kearl suffered an apparent heart attack in the area of campus between the library and Northrup Hall. Students and an instructor stopped to render assistance until TUPD arrived to take over resuscitation efforts. After being taken to the hospital by ambulance, the campus learned through a campus-wide notice at 1:25 p.m. that Dr. Kearl had died.

Though we shared the same campus for over 25 years, I don't feel like I knew Dr. Kearl well enough to memorialize him. He seemed to abide me in the execution of my duties. He would probably say "Tuttle. You don't have better things to do than blog about me dying?"

I will let others memorialize him with their greater personal knowledge and insight. Like most others, I respected him as a bigger than life campus figure with a caustic wit, swagger, and booming voice. I was a little afraid of him. He was world-renowned for his sociological website, A Sociological Tour Through Cyberspace. More specifically, Dr. Kearl was famous for his sociological study of death. In a 1984 Trinitonian article on the topic (I hope to link this soon), Dr. Kearl was quoted, "A good ending really helps the overall effect. If we are designed to die with a meaningless epilogue, it could wreck the meaning of the rest of the story."

That part I can write about. It seems morbidly ironic, and somewhat poetic, that this international expert on death and dying would die publicly, in the heart of the campus, in front of mostly students. I learned from Reverend Nickle that Dr. Kearl railed against our society's relegation of details of death to the unspeakable, hiding them in sterile hospitals and nursing homes. To die in front of students was perhaps the greatest final lesson Dr. Kearl could give his students. Perhaps not. Certainly a comfortable and peaceful time and place would have been better. As that 1984 article noted, "Kearl is an authority on death, though he has yet to experience it." It happened how it happened, so I want to think that for him, this was his "rest of the story," and that it offered incredible punctuation to a rich life of teaching and learning.

1984 Trinitonian piece (courtesy MK Cooper)
One could imagine his spirit fluttering, wishing to take notes and deliver a final soliloquy to a classroom about what took place. Imagine how thrilled he might have been to come back from a near-death experience - taking his research to unparalleled heights. 

On that day, though, I was phoned by a colleague, who believed a student had collapsed. As I arrived to the scene my heart skipped several times: first to see it was not a student, but an older adult, second to see it was a campus colleague, and third, to see the intense life-saving efforts of the TUPD officers. I saw something else. People, mostly students, standing silently. One could hear the officers communicating and the computer-generated voice instructions of the AED.

Students stood out of the way, some embracing, most stone-faced, and some quietly crying. The dueling images of the life-saving efforts and the absolute student hope was moving and eerie. On this dreary, muggy day, students, many of whom who never took Dr. Kearl's courses on death, were pulling for his life. Some there knew him and were suffering profound and personal feelings of fear and loss. We eventually moved people away. To do so immediately would have robbed Dr. Kearl of the love being directed at him, as well as robbed the students of the experience to participate in a community of hope and determination. There was no gawking, no texting, no talking. Simply care. People prayed for a miracle. I will never forget it.

To be clear, it would have been much better had he lived. He had good years ahead of him and family, friends, and students who cared deeply for him. Beyond the obvious lessons - that life is fragile, and tenuous - there were more personal ones. Some students, I know, reflected on those they had lost, while others reflected forward, thinking about their parents and grandparents and their mortality.

Former Chaplain Raymond Judd used to speak about the heart of Trinity's campus being pierced when it experienced a loss. I saw that again. I saw Mike's friends and colleagues rushing to the site with looks of grave concern, shock, and pain. These same people having lost another colleague just months earlier. I listened as a student asked me (and he apologized for being morbid - which he wasn't) whether or not they would learn what the outcome would be. I learned that TUPD is well-trained, and that on this difficult day would be challenged again, hours later, having to be focused differently, nabbing a campus robber. I learned that parents, upon receiving notice, would express condolences, care, and concern for Dr. Kearl's campus and personal family. I learned the Trinitonian staff is pretty good.

I learned again, about the incredible character of our students. The following day some of his students went to his class to simply sit in silence. The student government president, Sean McCutchen, would send his own message to students in a spontaneous campus email. It was sweet, honest, and inviting:

I was one of the many students that passed through campus and saw this tragedy. I have to admit, I'm still trying to process all of this even though I never had a class with Dr. Kearl. Trinity is such a close knit community that when we lose someone, it almost feels as if we lost a family member... If you want to just talk with another student, I'm more than willing to listen. I say this not from some false sense of heightened self-importance, but as a student and as a representative of the student body.

I would learn the next day of students wishing to formalize through their pre-med organizations student CPR training. Anything to take away the helplessness some felt the day before. I learned that one student was going to really miss her teacher. I learned another was worried about another professor, and would value every moment with him moving forward.

I will never walk through this spot on campus and not think of Mike Kearl. I suspect others will feel the same. Dr. Kearl was a bedrock of the faculty and institution. And the students were his top beneficiaries. Most of all, I am reminded that the heart of this community isn't its endowment, its strategic plan, or its buildings. The heart of Trinity is its people. It includes faculty, students, staff, parents, and alumni. Trinity's heart broke a little on March 4.  For a moment, we were reminded. That doesn't change things. But it's not a bad epilogue.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Review: Recent Articles Highlight Sexual Assault Issues

Editor's note: There will be a general campus forum on sexual assault at 6 pm on Tuesday, March 3, 2015 in the Fiesta Room of the Coates University Center.

Nearly everyday I receive a forwarded article about sexual assault on college campuses. While many contend that there are university efforts to cover-up assaults and there is gross incompetence in the handling of cases, I find these assertions to not be true in the majority of cases. These are really complex issues and situations and results can be second-guessed on any side of any given case. Processes should be evaluated in full, not based on outcomes of high-profile cases. While I have given much attention to this topic, here, over the last year, I think it deserves it.

So here are some of my choices of really good recent articles that I recommend:

How Drunk is Too Drunk to Have Sex?
By Amanda Hess, February 11, 2015

What I like: This reinforces to me that our newly proposed behavior-based policy hits the mark. In it, in the absence of force, coercion, or a lack of consent, drunk sex is not a violation. Incapacitation essentially means just that. A lack of control of motor skills. This change has been vetted by the Coalition for Respect and sent for comment to all students, faculty, and staff.

It's clear to all reasonable people that it's cool for two sober men and/or women to enthusiastically consent to sex and that when one person in unconscious, that's assault. But there is an ambiguous middle ground between clear-eyed sober and passed-out drunk where one or both parties may become too intoxicated to meaningfully consent to sex, and school have now been tasked with discerning that line for themselves. In doing so they've been forced to confront a host of philosophical, moral, physiological, and practical questions -- none of which have easy answers.

On a Stanford Man Who Alleged a Sexual Assault
By Connor Friedersdorf, January 28, 2015

What I like: This is a thoughtful, non-judgmental piece that asks more questions than offers answers. And, it makes it clear that in a word, it's "complicated."

How we ultimately define sexual assault is a choice–one that combines elements of prevailing culture and law, of connotation and denotation. Insofar as a community adheres around a notion of sexual assault that tends to involve high degrees of predation and trauma, the stigma against it will remain relatively powerful. As "sexual assault" is broadened to encompass gray areas that combine low degrees of predation with victims who aren't traumatized, the stigma may diminish.

Why It's So Hard to Talk to Our Daughters About Campus Rape
By Susanna Schrobsdorff, January 29, 2015

What I like:
Everyone understands (or should understand) that women have the right to go to a party and drink and choose to hook-up. It is never their fault if they are assaulted. And yet, we should be able to arm them with risk reduction tips. If it is precautionary it isn't victim-blaming.

It’s not fair, but it’s reality. I realize that I need to have some version of the talk that so many African-American parents have with their sons about being careful of what they wear and how they behave so as not to put themselves in danger.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Why a four-year advising model might be a good thing

Four years since the process began, we are seeing some aspects of the Trinity Tomorrow strategic plan come to fruition. Encouraging plans are underway for the soft launching of centers related to international initiatives, student success, and experiential learning. Other components in the plan, such as those related to academics, marketing, and admissions are well in motion. One recommendation yet to be addressed is a review of Trinity's advising model.

According to the plan there should be an initiative:

" revamp the advising process to include conversations about students' current and future goals - academic, professional, and personal. While these conversations certainly occur in some advising interactions, they are not as universal as they should be. Effective advising enhances student learning, promotes professional development and a healthy work-life balance, and strengthens student retention."

As someone in the Student Life area this is very appealing. The question is "how do we get from here, to there?" I hope that this issue can be reviewed with robust conversations that go beyond the fringes of the issues, but that might start with this premise: If we could rebuild advising from scratch (which we could), how would we rebuild it? And how could we meet the aspirations in the strategic plan?

I believe that the vast majority of our faculty members are exceptional advisors. I think most issues with student advising are systemic, in part, because there isn't even agreement about the advising role.

The University has shown that it is committed to having faculty, rather than staff advising. There are many advantages to this. First, the faculty are already employed and we don't need to hire full-time advisors. Second, most faculty members generally are experienced with the curriculum. And third, and most important, it is in the ethos of the institution that our faculty advise our students. This is what students want when they come here: personalized attention from our faculty. And though I can't speak for the faculty, this is what I think draws many of them here too. These advising relationships can be very meaningful and the potential to develop them further is hopefully on the horizon.

As we are currently situated, advising is primarily academic, intended to assist students in course selection and registration, fulfillment of requirements, and consideration and completion of majors and minors. Many advisors take this further, naturally, by showing concern for the welfare of their advisees and continuing mentoring relationships.

When students declare majors, they generally switch advisors. In place of the (usually) random initial advisor, they choose -- or assigned -- someone in their major. Essentially the advising process that begins in year one is truncated in the sophomore or junior year. Then the process begins anew.

In order to achieve the goals laid out in the strategic plan, I propose consideration of a four-year advising model. Under such a plan, a faculty member would work with a small group from "cradle-to-grave" if you will: From new student orientation up until graduation, and maybe beyond.

Here are some potential advantages:

1. With a four-year advisor, each student will have one person who assists them, not only with the mechanics of registration, but with the full arc of their experience: academic, personal, professional. An advising syllabus would probably need to be developed so all advisors could cover all of the elements that make for a student's experience, not just the academic ones. Personal touchstones could include sleep, time management, health, substances, relationships, family, and more. Professionally advisors could discuss with students their involvement in activities, service, plans for going abroad, internships, and resumes as well as offer advice related to graduate school and employment. This would dovetail well with our residential model that builds over a period of time and is developmentally based.

2. If a student stops out for a period of time the advisor, under this model, is perfectly situated to keep in touch. Each advisor will have a better sense of their advisees and be able to track what is happening with their students, even if they leave. At times, a simple nudge from someone, anyone, when a student is six weeks out, six months out, or a year out may help get students back on track.

3. One program mentioned in the strategic plan is a reflections seminar. Ideally, the full experience here would have several points of natural reflection. Imagine an opportunity for advising groups to convene each semester -- or at least annually -- and to do some sort of informal and formal reflection and discussion. One of the exciting things about working with students is to watch their growth over four years as they mature into adulthood. By having a support group to address successes, challenges, and developmental issues in a sharing environment, students could put their experiences in context chronologically and with others.

There are clearly some logistical impediments, but none that couldn't be addressed:

1. Having a person who advises students on their major is currently important for upper-class students. In this model, there are no such roles. Formally. An advisor working with a person who has declared a major takes on some of the academic responsibilities, but often serves as a kind of informal role model and mentor. There is no reason that students couldn't still get the kind of mentor-ship from one or more faculty members in a department. Indeed, I suspect this happens routinely, especially as students take on multiple majors and minors. Given our culture and environment, perhaps the role of "major advisor" can be reconsidered. Concurrent to whatever transpires in a student's majors and minors, the student would continue the important advising relationship developed since day one.

2. The numbers still work. If professors don't serve in a "major" advising role, then that reduces their number of formal advisees. At any given time (2,400 students and 240 faculty) each faculty member would have one advising group. Perhaps the advising might be more intensive and fruitful, but not likely more time consuming.

3. There are areas that require very structured and specific advising. Engineering Science seems to be the most structured. We could continue with matching prospective Engineering students with that faculty. In Health Professions, most first year students who start there don't end there. For them, having four-year advising could be really beneficial. For those continuing in Health Professions, they will find the mentoring they need. I know there are certain structural pathways to navigating the Health Professions curriculum. But if those things can't be read in curricular bulletins they are likely too complex and subject to individual interpretation anyways. Certainly group sessions on the curriculum could supplement what transpires in individual advising.

4. Some feel that they, as faculty, are more oriented to their disciplines than to holistic advising. I would challenge that. I have yet to encounter a faculty member who isn't student-centered. With appropriate orientation, training, and resources - such as an advising handbook and syllabus - everyone here could be effective in a four-year model.

Though I am not a student or faculty member I do hear about these issues regularly. I don't feel unqualified to suggest something different. Advising as an issue was raised in a 1999 task force on student life and again in 2006 in the upper-class task force. That the issue has surfaced again in 2011 suggests that we have an obligation to do something different and bold. After all, our approach should be first and foremost student-centered, focused on creating an advising model around them. Perhaps it is something like this or something vastly different. I hope we can have energized and creative discussions around this topic. It is time.