Monthly Archives: April 2014

Not Just the Academics

I’m writing this, still on a cloud nine. I was interviewed by the alumni magazine of my Alma Mater – Quinnipiac University. Yes, that small school in Connecticut, with the hard-to-pronounce name. That’s where I had my magical, transformational college experience. And of all the places I’ve lived, it’s the place I still consider home.

Being interviewed by “Quinnipiac Magazine” has definitely been a highlight in my short tenure as an author. I’ll share details and information on where you can find the write up as soon as it’s available. (The premise of the article is the importance of college) But, I wanted to give you a sneak peak of what you will find is the article, and share my full (and unabridged) response to one of the questions that was posed to me during the interview. A response I’m hoping will shed some light on the age-old question what is college really about?

Here is the question I was asked: Getting a job/having an income seems immediately important to the student and their parents. What is also important to keep in mind?

And here is my response – which is based on three factors: Research from employers’ feedback of the skills they seek in recent-college grads; the interviews I conducted for “A Matter of Semantics”; and my experience working with high school and college students. I will warn you. Brace yourself, the purpose of college may not actually be what you think.

College is not just about the academics. Of course the academics are the essence, or backbone, of the college experience. But there is far more to college than studying, going to the library, and taking exams. After students have returned from classes, and completed all of their projects and assignments, and spent a million hours reading, writing papers, doing research, re-organizing their notes, contacting professors, making study cards, and reviewing PowerPoint slides, they will still have an inordinate amount of free time leftover in the day. Parents may preach that students should go back and study longer, read more, and devote all of their free time to enriching your academic selves. But, to do so would be impossible, or at least, unimaginable. (To spend every waking moment focused solely on academics would leave students like that one kid in high school that was extremely book smart, but was socially awkward to the point that he couldn’t even hold a conversation, without stuttering, twitching nervously, and breaking out in a sweat.) Hold onto your seats, parents — college is not just about the academics.

So, why is college about? College is about each student, and the unique path they create, to help them get where they want to be in life. College is about finding purpose and creating success (however students define success).

But, specifically, college is about developing the social, emotional, and psychological self. Not in the I want to find myself sort of way. But, in the sense of exploring life’s philosophies – such as who am I versus who does everyone else expect me to be­ – so students develop their own outlook on life. College is about creating a social network – of friends who will go on to become colleagues and professors who will go on to become mentors; both of which are crucial to succeeding in the working world. College is about giving students the platform to develop their brand. (When people think of branding, they usually think of Bills Gates or Oprah Winfrey. But each of us had a brand. We might call is style or swagger, but it’s the thing about us that says, who we are, and who we are not) Academics helps students determine what type of career path they will take. But the outside of the classroom experiences help students to solidify what type of professional they will be once they land their first job. That is what college is about.

But, parents should consider others factors of the college experience, as to how college can help students grow and mature and become more competent professionals. For, college is also about students enhancing their skills and abilities; having once in a lifetime opportunities (like studying in other countries); applying concepts learned inside of the classroom and bringing those concepts to life outside of the classroom (like the psychology major who does social experiments with friends, to test theories she’s learning about); and even taking risks – not in terms of jumping off a roof, but in terms of exploring a class they never thought they would or going ziplining when they are scared of heights (as part of leadership training, for instance). College is about students experimenting with their sexuality, when they are still trying to define their own sexual orientation; or even asking someone out on a date, someone who’s of a different race or nationality, not know how they will response or what they will say.

Not only that, but college is  about gaining and acquiring skills that you can’t physically touch, but you can sure quantify on your resume; skills and abilities such as developing a work ethic, managing time, and becoming culturally competent. More than anything, college is about the experiences students learn that will help mold and shape them into becoming a better brother or sister, son or daughter, teammate and colleague, teacher or engineer, student and pupil, colleague, coworker, and ultimate, manager, sportsman or sportswoman, friend and significant other; experiences that will make students better versions of themselves than they are at this very moment; experiences that will go on to become life lessons.

Most of these experiences will occur outside of the classroom, yet, they will not be mere ancillary benefits of the college experience. They will have real substance and value – the research tells us that between 70 and 80% of what you college students learn takes place outside of the classroom. Even though academic and career development will be students’ primary reasons for going to go to college, it is their social, emotional, and psychological development that will be the areas that have the greatest impact during your college experience.

So go ahead to college for the academics; but don’t be surprised if you learn a lot more outside of the classroom, than you do inside those walls.

Famous Sal’s PIzza Box

Inevitably during this time of year, when activists are celebrating Sexual Assault Awareness Month, someone publishes an article or some group sponsors a conference on how men can prevent sexual violence. And rightfully so. If men commit the lion’s share of sexual assaults (I think the last statistic I read on this issue said the male species is responsible for 98% of rapes), why shouldn’t we address rape as a men’s problem? Crafting new and innovative way to reach men. Educating men on how, and why, sexual violence is harmful for men and women, alike. Striving to reach even just one man, so that he does not commit sexual violence.

But when I read these kinds of articles, I think back to the pizza parlor I used to go to, when I was a kid. Their pizza boxes read, “Famous Sal’s” or maybe it was “Famous Frank’s” (it was Famous Something-or-nother), but what I remember vividly was tagline on those boxes: You’ve tried all the rest, Now try the best.

I think about that tagline because, well, when I read articles on how men can prevent rape, the tips that I read are things that men could, or should do, in theory. Like, this one article I read that suggested men should ask women what it means to be a woman, the struggles, the glass ceiling, the fear of victimization. My initial thought was, hmmmm…interesting. I’m all for men developing and building empathy with women. But if not conducted in the right environment – on Dr. Phil’s couch or in a training session with diversity trainer Lee Mun Wah, for instance – men asking women about their struggles could produce all sorts of inflammatory dialogue: victim blaming, female bashing, male privilege and superiority.

So here is my attempt to address this issue, from a practical perspective. But, I’m no guru. I’m just a dude who’s been a feminist all his life; who has been educating men and women, boys and girls, and children and adults about preventing sexual violence for several years; who has been complimented (mostly, by the guys in the audience) about how I am able to connect with an audience. I’m no expert; but I know if you reach men (or any audience, for that matter), you have to reach them where they are, so they’ll stand a better chance of taking in your message. (Candy helps, too. So does humor.)

So, in no certain order, here are just a few other ways that men can prevent rape. This is not an exhaustive list. This is only meant to get the conversation going. With that, here goes nothing!

  1. For starters, men have to actually believe that rape is wrong. This should go without saying, but I think it’s important to say it anyway. If men are going to stand up to violence against women (which is what sexual violence is), as men, we must first believe that violence against women is not okay. That it is wrong and harmful. To give a man perspective, someone might ask – What if that girl was your sister or your mother or your wife, how would you feel? That’s a good question. I’ve heard prevention experts use this tactic, a lot. It makes the recipient put him or herself in a relationship with the survivor, so as to conjure up empathy – which is one of the first steps in choosing not to harm someone. But, read that question from a different perspective – it also says that if that woman is not your sister or mother of wife, then the recipient does not have to care for, and empathize with her, and, as a result, can disregard the violence that she experiences. So, the rapist would not want any harm to come to his sister or mother; but he’d have no objections violating that drunk woman sitting at the bar, or that teenage girl in the mall. Rape, no matter whom it’s committed against, is no okay. We have to start there. If we want men to become champions of violence against women, we have to start by getting men to agree and acknowledge that rape is wrong. That one element sets the foundation, or framework, for the remainder of the discussion. Because after that, (like we used to say back in Newark), it gets thick.
  2. As men, we can make a conscious decision not to support public officials who abuse women or who suggest rape and abusing women is okay. This one is easy. We all know who the public figure that has made idiotic and disparaging comments about women. We even know those that are abusive towards their wives and girlfriends. But we look past those mishaps, because, as we do for most offenses, we like to give second chances. As long as an act is within reason, anyone will be given a second chance. Drinking and driving, yup. Selling heroine, you betcha. Caught paying for sex from what one thinks is a prostitute, but is actually an undercover cop, we’ll take you too. But, what about that guy who abuses his wife (or girlfriend), vows that he’s going to change, only to abuse her again, is involved in other alleged altercations, and gets a tattoo of his wife’s battered face. He says he’s changed, but his actions suggest otherwise. Still, does he deserve a second chance? A benefit of the doubt? Our continual support and adoration? Sure, all we see are the surface-level events that unfold before our eyes, reported on by a biased media. But when we buy that guy’s albums (who talks about putting Mollies in ladies’ drinks), or wear his jersey (after he’s been arrested for allegedly abusing his wife), or vote for him (even after he makes an idiotic, ignorant, and biased comment about women), what is the message we are sending? What message are we sending when we vote for the politician who said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways of shutting that whole thing down”?  Or the guy who commented, “when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen”? Or, how about the politician (as educated as he ought to be) who said, “As long as it’s inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it”? You know the words, and how ridiculous and out-of-touch-with reality they are. As men, we have the right to stop supporting anyone who goes against our morals and values, no matter how much his songs move us. Just like I would never support an entertainer or vote for a politician who stood for racial discrimination and inequality, I would never support the public official who stands for violence against women. My support is theirs to earn. Not the other way around. Neither is it unconditional, especially when it comes to something I believe in.
  3. As men, we should challenge our friends – who may not be complete jerks, but have the tendency of saying or doing jerkish things – to show more respect for women.  Say, you’re at a bar. One of your friends says something about a young lady who walks past him. The young lady spins on her heels and walks swiftly towards your friend. Before you can even set your beer on the bar, she’s in his face yelling, “What did you call me?” You know your friend. You know how much of a jerk he can be. You know he probably called that young lady a slut because she had on an ultra-short skirt (or some other trendy outfit that he would be raving about if Megan Fox had been wearing it). You also know this friend tells rape jokes, and makes lists about how “rapable” certain girls are. He’s been your friend for years. He’s kind of annoying, but you know he’s a decent guy at heart. Here is where we, as men, can be really instrumental in ending violence against women. This illustration isn’t to suggest that your friend would rape, hit, or otherwise abuse a woman. But, his comments (as humorous as he swears they are) suggest that he would rape, hit, or otherwise abuse a woman, and that suggestion is what everyone sees. It’s how people will judge him. It’s the perception that creates a reality for women that says guys are a-holes. So, it might finally be a time to challenge your friend to stop being a jerk and find something else to joke about besides rape, or calling women sluts, or commenting how “rapable” women are. It’s making him look bad. It’s also making you look bad. It’s bad for women. It’s even bad for men. It says men can joke about one of the most violent experiences a woman can face; and men can joke about it, because, well, rape doesn’t happen to men. It only happens to sluts, like the one who wears short skirts to bars. But that’s beyond absurd. You know your friend. At his heart, rape is not what he truly what he stands for. So you can help him out by challenging him to stop putting on the act – you know, the male act of I will say even the stupidest, most offensive, most egregious things just to get a reaction and make someone laugh. It’s time for your friend to man up, and stop being a jerk. It’s time for you to show him the mirror.

Everyone else to catch up

Of course by now you’ve heard that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. That’s right, we have dedicated an entire month to raising awareness about preventing rape and taking a stand against sexual violence. Even the president is in on it! I recently received this mass email from the White House, where President Obama spoke of using April to “recommit to ending the outrage of sexual assault, giving survivors the support they need to heal, and building a culture that never tolerates sexual violence”1. Pretty cool that the president of the United States is such a staunch supporter of preventing sexual violence! But, his support also tells us one, important, thing: that rape is a big deal – traumatic, life-changing, fear-instilling, and, sadly, all too common.

But this isn’t new for survivors or counselors or advocates or many other people who have been impacted (e.g. as secondary survivors) by sexual violence. We already know how sexual violence scars and impacts survivors, their loved ones, and their communities. We’re just waiting for everyone else to catch up.

Everyone else who tells or laughs at rape jokes. Everyone else throws around the term date rape, to somehow justify or lessen the impact of rape, to make it sound less like the violent-scary-traumatic experience that it is, and more like a nice-cuddly form of rape…or as one expert put it, rape light. Everyone else who feels so entitled to sex, that they force themselves on another person. And everyone else who excuses rapists because that girl “put herself in that position”. As if there’s a position one can put themselves in that says, Hey! Come and rape me! And everyone else who purposefully and systematically gets a girl absolutely drunk, to the point where she can barely stand, let along give consent; then, having sex with that girl, and afterwards claiming, she wanted it.

Part of me wishes we did not have to have a month dedicated to ending sexual violence. That we could live in a more decent society. I know that many of our brothers and sisters feel the same way. But are NOT just waiting, we are holding rallies to raise awareness, educating our communities, and raising our children to value women*, and doing everything else in our power to get everyone else to catch up!

Please join me in recognizing and celebrating April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, where we take a collective stand against sexual violence and sexual assault attackers, and demonstrate support for sexual assault survivors!




– Presidential Proclamation — National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, 2014.

*Although women are not the only targets or victims of sexual violence, the research on sexual assault rapists tells us that they harbor a disdain and lack of respect for women, specifically.

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