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Here’s a mind-boggling one.

Florida Atlantic University, a 29,000-student public university in Boca Raton, will announce today that it has sold the naming rights to its football stadium to a private prison company that until recently ran a youthful offender facility in Mississippi whose “pervasive level of brazen staff sexual misconduct”  was called “among the worst in the nation” by a 2012 Department of Justice investigation.

The Justice Department report on the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility found not only that Walnut Grove management was “deliberately indifferent to staff sexual misconduct,” but also that the facility “often use[d] excessive force as a first response” to disciplinary issues, tolerated active gang membership by facility employees, failed to protect inmates against physical and sexual assault by peers, and was “deliberately indifferent to the suicide risks and serious mental health needs of its youth.”

Walnut Grove was operated at the time by GEO Group, a global private prison operator. Later that year, after a federal judge described Walnut Grove as “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts,” GEO was removed as manager of the institution. The company would later claim that it had chosen not to renew the contract because Walnut Grove was “financially underperforming.”)

So why would FAU choose to associate itself with a company with such an appalling record? Two reasons.

First, the university has been searching for a corporate sponsor for the stadium without success since it opened two years ago. The $5 million reportedly offered by the GEO Group was apparently impossible to resist.

And second? Well, there’s GEO Group’s CEO, George Zoley. He’s a FAU alum and the former chair of the university’s board of trustees.

Update | It’s official. Thanks to a $6 million donation to the university, the stadium will now be named “GEO Group Stadium.” The university’s press release on the deal calls GEO Group a “fully integrated equity real estate investment trust specializing in the design, financing, development, and operation of correctional, detention, and community reentry facilities around the globe.”

Wednesday Update | The New York Times reports on the story, calling the deal a “a jarring case of the lengths colleges and teams will go to produce revenue, of the way that everything seems to be for sale now in sports — and to anyone with enough cash.” As well, it quotes local private-prison opponent Bob Libal as saying that the GEO Group has recently “poured enormous resources” into attempts “to take over a large portion of the Florida prison system,” characterizing yesterday’s agreement as an extension of that lobbying effort. GEO is, Libal says, “a company whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents that really draw into question their ability to successfully manage a prison facility.” As the Times itself notes, GEO “has been cited by state and federal regulators and lost a series of high-profile lawsuits.”

Asked by a Times reporter whether FAU had investigated such incidents before partnering with GEO, university president Saunders said, “we think it’s a wonderful company, and we’re very proud to partner with them.”

The Times also notes that two past FAU student government presidents have gone on to work for GEO Group.

Third Update | It has emerged that the GEO Group owns an immigrant detention center just ten miles from the Florida Atlantic campus that has been the target of criticism based on complaints of inadequate medical care and unjustified incarceration. The Miami Herald reported today that at least one current FAU student is a former detainee at the center.

Jim Banks, a Republican state senator from Indiana, wants to legalize concealed carry on the state’s public college campuses. And he’s got a novel argument in favor of the proposition.

Rape prevention.

“That’s what’s compelling about this issue,” he told an Associated Press reporter. “how many female students there are around the state, who have very specific and real reasons to be afraid for their own safety on their campus. The number of sexual assault cases on campuses is alarming.”

Of course a large majority of rapes are committed by people known to the victims, with nearly half perpetrated by friends, acquaintances, or prior sexual partners. And while it’s perhaps appealing on some level to imagine Indiana’s college women carrying guns on study sessions, to dorm parties, and on dates to protect themselves from the men they socialize with, one suspects that that’s not what Banks had in mind.

No, of course it isn’t. Banks read somewhere about the epidemic of campus rape and he just slotted it into his previously existing concept of the trenchcoat-clad ruffian in the bushes. And he slotted THAT into his pre-existing predilection for more guns, anywhere and everywhere.

It’s not actually about rape at all.

Update | As @DanMcDs just pointed out on Twitter, the most likely result of a major impact of widespread campus carry on sexual assault would be a massive increase in rapes perpetrated via gun threats or intimidation.

Here’s something that happened to me last month: I got asked my preferred gender pronoun.

For those who aren’t familiar, this is a thing that tends to happen a lot at queer-positive conferences and gatherings these days. When you go around the room at the beginning of a session, you’ll say your name, something about yourself, maybe answer an ice-breaker question, and state your preferred gender pronoun. It can be he/him, she/her, they/their, or one of the newer alternatives like ze or hir. Or you can just say you’d prefer to be referred to by your name.

I first encountered this tradition in 2011, I think. Maybe 2010. Most likely it was at a United States Student Association conference. The idea behind it is that respecting people’s gender identity is important, and volunteering your identity can be awkward, and misgendering someone is hurtful. So rather than guessing, or asking individual people to speak up if their preferences are non-standard or non-obvious, you just go around the room.

So I’ve been asked my preferred gender pronoun before. But this was different. This was at a party. In a one-on-one conversation.

It was the middle of the evening, and I’d been chatting with someone — a college student — for ten or fifteen minutes, over by the snacks. And at some point, as an aside, like asking me what borough I lived in, they asked what my preferred gender pronoun was.

I’m six foot three. I have short hair. That night I was wearing jeans and a button-down, and I don’t think I’d shaved. The question wasn’t about my self-presentation, is what I’m saying. It wasn’t specifically about me at all. It was about a new way of interacting, a new way of thinking that is on its way to becoming ubiquitous among young people — and far quicker than I could ever have imagined.

Every few months, doing the kind of work I do, I encounter another artifact of this sort of change. It can be a little discombobulating. But when I told this story to a friend a few days ago, and he rolled his eyes, I surprised myself a little with the vehemence of my response.

Because it was actually a great question that I was asked that night. It was an exciting question. I’m a “he.” I’ve always thought of myself as a he, and I expect I always will. I’m a man, I’m a guy, I’m a dad, I’m a son, I’m a brother.

But in that moment, I got to choose. I was asked to choose, asked to pick whether for the duration of that conversation I wanted to be approached as a he or as something else. And I knew that whatever answer I gave, it would be honored, respected, taken seriously. And that recognition, far more than any of the rote rounds of he/she/they/ze responses I’ve seen given at the start of workshops, opened something up in me. It wasn’t a door — at least not a door I was tempted to walk through — but it was a window.

And I liked the view.

This week the Good Men Project has run two stories about men who rape. The first was written by a friend of the rapist, a man who violated an acquaintance after she passed out at a party. The second was a first-person account by a man who says he’s raped a lot of women and expects to rape again.

The author of the first of these pieces says she wrote it because “no one is taking responsibility for the mixed messages about sex and sexuality in which we are stewing,” and the editor who approved the second says that “this anonymous rapist’s essay has held a mirror up to us, and it blazes with the news: here are the symptoms of our dysfunctional culture.”

But these justifications don’t hold water. These guys aren’t raping because of society’s mixed messages, and giving a rapist a platform doesn’t hold up a mirror to society.

Why? Because most people aren’t rapists. Most men aren’t rapists. In fact, most asshole men aren’t rapists. The data on this is pretty clear. The vast majority of rapes are committed by a small number of men, and the main reason so many people are raped is that those few men rape over and over again, mostly with impunity.

When right-thinking people talk about rape we tend to talk a lot about the importance of understanding how consent works. “No means no” and “yes means yes” and “enthusiastic consent.” And that’s all important stuff to talk about. It’s vital.

But it’s also vital to remember that when folks get their wires crossed about what each of them is looking for, rape isn’t usually the outcome. Far more often it’s discomfort or awkwardness or going home annoyed because someone who seemed nice turned out to be kind of a jerk.

That’s because most of the time, when someone’s not into something, their partner picks up on it. Maybe not immediately, but soon. And when they realize it, they stop. Because they don’t want to rape anybody.

Rapists don’t stop. Rapists don’t stop when the person they’ve been flirting with passes out — not because they don’t understand that an unconscious person can’t consent to sex, but because they don’t care. Rapists don’t stop when they realize someone is tensing up, or pushing them away, or drifting off, or crying, or saying no.

They don’t stop because they don’t want to stop.

So yes, let’s continue to have conversations about the ways that the sexual negotiation model of man as pursuer and woman as gatekeeper can lead to ugliness and confusion. Let’s continue to have conversations about the ways that intentions can get blurry in the presence of alcohol and drugs. Let’s continue to have conversations about how to get everyone on the same page without breaking the mood. About how to listen, how to speak up, how to check in. About how to deliver and respond to a rebuff graciously.

But let’s have those conversations among decent people.

Let’s leave the rapists out of it.

Last week a former Amherst College student’s harrowing account of being raped on campus — and of the administration’s subsequent appalling failure to support her or deal with the incident responsibly — was published in the college newspaper and almost immediately began to draw attention across the country.

Angie Epifano’s story of rape, involuntary institutionalization, and administrative failure brought other campus rape survivors forward, sparked vigils and other organizing, and prompted Amherst president Biddy Martin, until recently the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to announce an investigation of Epifano’s allegations and a series of possible revisions to campus policy.

In her statement, released six days ago, Martin declared Epifano’s experiences “horrifying,” and declared that the administration’s approach to rape complaints “must change.” As a result of an open meeting with students, she said, students would immediately be added to the campus Title IX and student life planning committees, campus penalties for sexual assault would be reviewed, and new regulation of off-campus fraternities would be considered.

On Friday a group of students secured a meeting with the Amherst board of trustees to discuss the crisis on campus, and the next day the board announced the establishment of a committee, to include student representation, which will conduct a review of campus policy in the area. The committee will make a public report in advance of the board’s next meeting in January, though it will have no formal institutional authority.

A crucial question going forward will be which students are brought into these processes, and how they are chosen. The president of the Amherst student government, not the administration, chose the delegation for the trustee meeting, but some students have been critical of the composition of that group, and are pressing for a less “manufactured” process for choosing representatives to the upcoming advisory committee.

Some activists also express concern that a narrow focus on written policies evades the core issues at stake. “The policy in place isn’t the heart of the problem,” senior Alexa Hettwer told the school paper. “Its enforcement by the administration has been shameful. This is more than just tinkering with policy; it raises serious questions about the direction and inclusiveness of the College in the future.”

Meanwhile, organizing continues. A new student website devoted to exposing sexual assault at Amherst appeared in the immediate aftermath of the publication of Epifano’s story, and yesterday they posted a photo essay of survivors (and allies) “featur[ing] eleven men and women who were sexually assaulted at Amherst College and the words that members of our community said to them following their assaults.” (The photos appeared on that site in slideshow form. They can be seen here in a single page format.)

And the impact of Epifano’s statement continues to be felt, most recently just this morning with the publication of another student’s account of how the Amherst administration mishandled her own rape complaint, leading to her transfer. (This student was enrolled at Mount Holyoke, a nearby college closely affiliated with Amherst, and was raped on the Amherst campus.)

About This Blog

n7772graysmall
StudentActivism.net is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

To contact Angus, click here. For more about him, check out AngusJohnston.com.

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