I’m a new grad assistant here at Penn State, and I’ve already had my share of women’s issues at our great university. This is concerning considering that Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education, has decided to roll back Title IX legislation created in 2011 to reduce instances of sexual assault. In my department (which is a supposedly “progressive” discipline) I have seen professors blow off the issues of sexual assault during seminars, consistently push women out of their comfort zones, and have seen a trans woman asked what her “real” name was. Worse yet, when talking to some of my older peers this appears to be par for the course. It shouldn’t be.
It should not be acceptable that my colleague is scared to file a notice of sexual harassment, especially considering that this may be the last semester that Penn State will follow the Title IX guidelines set in 2011. When a university is slow in denouncing white supremacy, refuses to let students organize so that they can have a voice, and directs all notices of sexual assault to a local women’s shelter during non-workday hours then there is real call for concern as to its future policy decisions for vulnerable populations. We at CGE are already familiar with PSU’s tenuous support for people of color, for queer communities, and for those economically disenfranchised; how will women be treated any differently?
After all, DeVos’s decision to roll back Title IX also gives universities the opportunity to roll back recent equality initiatives in the name of efficiency. In spite of this, many universities have they will not back down in the fight against sexual assault on their campuses. I personally am disappointed that Penn State has not done the same.
Though Penn State promises to be an inclusive university, President Barron and other administrators have refused to take a strong stance against injustice, most recently when the administration defended the posting of white nationalist Evropa fliers. Free speech is unquestionably important, but it is ironic that the administration defends these fliers as it simultaneously attempts to silence graduate employees from asserting their rights as workers and engages in token multiculturalist acts such as renaming the Center for Women Students as the Center for Gender Equality. The administration, as benevolent as it claims to be, is not fighting for the rights of minorities or defending those of its workers. It’s time to unionize so that we may not only defend ourselves, but fight for true equity at Penn State.
In solidarity, a fellow graduate employee