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Creating a safer campus for women

Five female college students of different size, cultures and ethnicity are included in a colorful graphic
Women of all cultures, sizes, etc. are represented in this graphic. A forum held on campus discussed how people can work together to make women feel safer and included.

A faculty forum was held on Sept. 8 to educate professors and instructors on how to build a safer community for all women on BYU–Hawaii’s campus. Sponsored by the BYUH Faculty Advisory Council, Women in Academia and the BYUH Title IX Office, all of campus was invited to the Heber J. Grant Building 135 to learn the importance of acting against sexism.

There have been comments from women who said they feel unsafe on campus, said Rand Blimes, an associate professor in the Faculty of Business & Government. “I assume that most of my male colleagues didn’t mean to make people feel unsafe, but that’s not what matters. We need to change our behavior,” Blimes said.

For example, Becky Strain, a part-time religion instructor and temporary Title IX deputy, said when she was in graduate school, she was given the advice, “You need to stop negotiating like a woman. It’s not effective.”

Blimes shared a personal story of a time when he corrected his own behaviors. “Getting a Ph.D. basically brainwashes you to question every argument ever presented to you,” he said jokingly. Blimes explained anytime his wife made a comment, he would question it. His intention, he said, was to treat her as he would treat someone he views as his equal, but that was not how it came across. He appeared aggressive and made his wife uncomfortable, he said. Instead of trying to explain his actions, Blimes said he changed his behaviors. “Now when I see this in the classroom, I intervene. It takes way more social skills then I have to do this really well, but I still act,” said Blimes.

Acting like the Savior

Matthew Bowen, an associate professor in the Faculty of Religious Education, also addressed the crowd and shared a quote by writer Dorothy Sayers:

“Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the cradle and last at the cross. They had never known a man like this man – there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized, who never made arch jokes about them… who took their questions and arguments seriously, who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend.”

“All of us Latter-day Saints,” said Bowen, “should be taking the Savior as our model in everything we do.” Bowen said we should be asking ourselves the question, “What are we doing to prepare women and people of color on this campus to have success?”

Bystander intervention makes a difference

Strain shared with the gathered faculty a 2011 study about bystander intervention. She said the study found that bystanders speaking up is extremely effective in stopping unwanted behaviors. Depression and suicide rates dropped significantly when bystander prevention increased, Strain said while citing the study.

During the open discussion, Rebekah Walker, an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts, shared a story about watching another professor compliment a student on her beautiful hair. The next time Walker saw that teacher she pointed out that he should talk to his students about their academic pursuits, not their physical appearance. Michael Aldrich, Director of Library and Academic Success and Academics, said it was important to think about “how I, as a male professor, will react when I get called out.” He said it was important to respond well.

Line-Noue Kruse, a Pacific Studies associate editor and coordinator, told her colleagues about a time she watched a professor compliment a student on their English. She called this an indigenous microaggression. As far as she could tell, the student wasn’t bothered by the comment, but she was because her hair and skin looked like the student’s. She implemented bystander intervention and explained to the professor why that wasn’t an appropriate thing to say. Blimes added to her explanation, saying, “even if you’re not offended by it, I shouldn’t be doing it.”

As a part of implementing bystander prevention, Strain said it is important to speak up when someone sees something amiss, reach out to those who have been hurt and report concerns on BYUH’s homepage. She showed the crowd where to report concerns on the BYUH website, and advised them to also show it to their students as well.

A screen capture of the BYU-Hawaii website showing where people can anonymously report a concern they have about anything on campus.
To report a concern about something on campus, people can use this button at the bottom of the university website.

Associate Professor Chad Ford from the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts asked Strain how to navigate the space of priesthood leaders who are serve in bishoprics in student wards as well as students’ teachers. Strain responded that Title IX’s jurisdiction is over all students, faculty, and anything that happens on the campus and that any concerns should be reported. She also advised the faculty to draw appropriate and professional boundaries with their students to help navigate that space.