We’re all culpable: Reflecting on CHOOSE

Sister’s post inspired me to write a small paragraph on September’s VOW — CHOOSE — which turned into a long ramble. At first I wasn’t particularly sure what to write. Or rather, at the start of October I knew exactly what I wanted to write but was afraid I couldn’t express it well. So tonight, in light of Sister making the time to post, I decided something said was better that something left unsaid. So I CHOOSE to possibly come across incoherent… to likely anger and alienate people with my opinions.

School begins the around the beginning of September but my office onlyonly st to get busy around the time I post this (mid-October). To keep us occupied, we make the rounds presenting to clubs, organizations, departments, and freshman First Year Experience classes. I discuss what Title IX is, why we exist on campuses. I try not to lecture but let’s face it – when a 33-year-old woman discusses sexual violence in a room of teenagers, it is hard to come across anything but. Especially when your boss placed a moratorium on your use of curse words (I still maintain swearing creates an air of approachability).

I talk about policy. About what type of behaviors lead to what type of charges. About why the University cares what happens behind closed doors in the private lives of our community.

The most important slide in my presentation is near the end. After I’m done making their skin crawly by listing examples of non-verbal positive and negative consent or by physically demonstrating themarkers of incapacitation, I tell my students that I know when something traumatic happens to someone — one of those incidents I’ve been talking about for the past 45 minutes — the person impacted isn’t going to immediately seek help from my office. They are going to turn to a friend, roommate, sibling, or partner and say something bad happened to me.

And that’s when I bring up the choice points. I explain to students that they can CHOOSE to support and believe that person, free from judgement. I emphasize what a luxury this is because there is literally less than a handful of people on our campus who have to remain neutral, who have to ask the hard questions, who have to look for holes in the story. When I’m at work, I am one of those chosen few. So I appeal to students to skip taking on such an unnecessary (and very heavy) burden. Instead, they can say I believe you. Thank you for trusting me. It’s not your fault. I’m sorry this happened.

That’s it. Just one little choice to forego but what were you… or but why were you… can be instrumental in the long-term healing of the person who trusted them enough to lean in. The opposite can be catastrophic with the potential to quite literally change the course of a whole life. I’ve heard stories about women who were assaulted when they were 15, 16-years-old, and when they disclosed what happened to their mothers, they response they got was I don’t know what else you could have expected when you run around with someone like that. And *poof*. Those women sat in isolated pain for another 50 years. Five-zero, folks. Fifty years of carrying that trauma. Can you even imagine? Indeed, probably some of you can…

And then came Kavanaugh’s nomination. And that too-painful-to-endure interrogation of Dr. Ford.

It was all too much.

Though not so much in listening to Dr. Ford’s experience, since that is literally what my job entails. I hear about nearly that exact experience every. single. day. And please know that I’m not seeking sympathy for doing my job. No, what killed my heart was the social media and national discourse that accompanied it.

People CHOSE to believe one side or the other based solely on political affiliation.

People CHOSE to dehumanize both the parties involved. Because I’m gonna throw out something controversial — Kavanaugh’s emotional explosion during the hearing? I don’t heavily fault him for it. If it were you having your actions from over 30 years ago being brought up preventing you from attaining the highest honor your field can bestoe, you’d probably be emotional too. Especially if you perhaps couldn’t admit the truth of the matter. Or maybe you were expressing your truth and the whole world had decided you were a monster anyway. I would, at least. And as HRH Brene Brown says, it’s hard to hate people up close. Empathy changes things… for both sides.

So I CHOSE to hold my tongue. To process through the entire ordeal with my Person, who bless his charitable soul, was patient with me every step of the way. Even when I would explode in frustration at the end of long work days for both of us.

This is what I hope we as a country CHOOSE to learn from this. I hope we all CHOOSE to become better. That we can set aside our allegiances and just simply believe the person who tells us something terrible happens. Sexual violence, racial discrimination, ageism, fatphobia, any of it. A victim is a victim is a victim.

And perhaps CHOOSE to simultaneously believe the person who did that horrendous action is still a person. Fallible, imperfect, yet human.

That we espouse our anger at the broken system instead of raging at specific actors caught up in its forces. That we recognize how we each individually CHOOSE to reinforce this broken system.

All of us failed Dr. Ford.

I have failed her and my entire career is a mea culpa for contributing to a society that enabled such harm.

And with that sense of failure, I also CHOOSE something different every day. I CHOOSE to look at myself and my failings as realistically as possible. To identify when I have a racist thought. To self-criticize when I’ve injured another person. And hopefully, to make small steps forward every day knowing that I have the ability and goddamn option to militantly stand up for what is right while conceding that my way isn’t the only way.

Steph had a crazy summer, so you can catch up with her #VOWtreasure, #VOWchoose, and #VOWreject post here