Resilience

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I have this baby at home. He’s super cute, as babies tend to be. Fairly uncoordinated, as babies tend to be.

Not surprisingly, falls are a regular occurrence in this house. Maybe there was an unfair wrinkle in the rug, or an unattended Duplo sitting in just the right spot, or an imagined breeze. But whoever it is that’s to blame, the results are the same: you’re walking along, bothering no one – no one! – and all of a sudden you’re on the ground, and you hurt. Much high-decibel sadness immediately follows.

But do you stop walking?

Well, maybe for a few minutes. Hell, your head still hurts. Like, a lot. And who knows exactly WHY this terrible thing happened? It’s scary putting one foot in front of the other when something that seemed so routine ended in tears just a few moments ago.

But no. After a quick comfort snuggle, you get back up and keep toddling across the floor, with renewed zeal fueling your quest to plunge your hands into that ficus planter soil, maybe even tasting its earthy deliciousness one more time before the tall people catch you.

I think I know how he feels.

A year and 24 hours ago, we were bundling up the kids for a crowded T ride into the city, heading for a friend’s apartment on the marathon route to enjoy some fantastic company and a beautiful spring day, and to cheer on a bunch of runners we’d never met. They’d write their names on their jerseys in Sharpie, so we could call them out by name: “Go Sarah/Bill/Melissa! You’re doing great! Wooooooo!” (Our older kid is particularly good at this last part.)

And then a year and 12 hours ago, everything felt, somehow, fundamentally different. The fear of an unknown future following a major terrifying event can seem immobilizing. Even though we knew, deep down, the marathon would continue next year, and the year after that, and the year after that – because you can’t defeat the world’s oldest annual marathon that easily, PLEASE – would we go? As a random spectator, would it feel easier, safer, just to stay home and enjoy the day off from work?

But a lot can happen in a year.

This weekend, our marathon route friend was over for our baby’s first birthday party. She looks at me. So what are you guys doing for the marathon? I pause to think for a moment. Then, with a smile: Nothing…yet. She, also with a smile: Want to come over to our place? We can grill, the kids can hang out…

That sounds awesome. We’re in.

Human beings are pretty f-ing resilient creatures. It’s fundamental to our success as a species. When we stumble, when we feel pain, or fear, obviously we tend to react, at least immediately, with avoidance. Clear evolutionary advantage here: you don’t want the entire family sauntering back out of the cave when just moments ago Grandpa was eaten by the lion that’s still standing outside.

But once you have some time to take stock, reassess the level of risk, make your process a little safer if need be, we tend to get right back to it – whatever “it” might be – even more focused and determined than we were before. We can be capable of some pretty great things, and it’s our stubborn resilience in the face of adversity makes these great things possible.

I mean. It’s not like that ficus soil is going to eat itself.

Dear too-many colleges: here’s why you’re next in line for a Title IX suit

ivy

Another week, another famous institution of higher learning in the news for mismanaging cases of sexual assault on campus.

This time, it was Harvard. The most common response, from what I can tell, seems to be summarized thusly: “Oh myyyyy – even at Hahvahd?” (eyebrows raised in surprise, mouth forming a delicate “o” of prim concern).

The morning the story broke in the local news, I happened to be having lunch with these two guys who work in administration at a nearby college. Guy #1 says to me, “So, have you heard about Harvard? And the sexual assault case?” Why yes, yes I have. Guy #1 continues, in a voice of genuine concern: “So, what can we do to keep people from drinking so much?”

Guy #2 murmurs in agreement, eyebrows knitted with empathy.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. EXHIBIT A. This, right here, is the crux of why colleges keep finding themselves in trouble when it comes to dealing with sexual assault.

I know, I KNOW. It’s not like Guys #1 and #2 are alone in their thinking here. Just read the comments section of any article on the college-sexual-assault topic for a primer on the latest and greatest in victim-blaming. The idea that intoxication negates one’s ability to provide consent seems to be a logical stretch for quite of few of the world’s armchair analysts.

But here’s the thing. I don’t really care if some random dude with a laptop disagrees with whether rape is rape when alcohol is involved. I mean, I don’t like it, but one guy with an opinion just doesn’t matter all that much. The extent of his power ends once his opinion’s been expressed.

However. If you’ve made a career for yourself in college administration or college health, and you continue to think that the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses is really about excessive drinking and morning-after regret, don’t act shocked when your school is next to hit the news with a Title IX suit and a bunch of unflattering media attention of your own.

Yes, you could be the next Harvard. Or Dartmouth. Or Mizzou. Because sexual assault is happening on college campuses EVERYWHERE. It has, without question, happened on your campus. And if this common-yet-ultimately-wrong-minded perspective frames how you choose to respond to a sexual assault survivor’s case once it’s been brought to your attention, there’s a good chance that survivor will feel justifiably wronged. And, if they’re feeling brave enough, they just might decide to take this dissatisfaction with you and your colleagues public. Very, very public.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not denying that there’s a problem with binge drinking on college campuses that we need to address. But it needs to be addressed as an issue that’s separate and distinct from that of sexual assault. After all, just because it might be easier to mug someone who’s walking home late at night after they’ve had few drinks with friends, it’s not like the mugging itself isn’t still a crime.

I mean, someone who’s been attacked and robbed isn’t told by the authorities that their mugger didn’t REALLY commit a crime, because, y’know, you WERE pretty wasted, after all, and maybe sorta kinda asking for it by walking down the street in the middle of the night. I mean, who’s to say you didn’t HAND that aggressive stranger your money when he asked nicely? Who knows? He said, she said. You know what? Let’s just chalk this one up to youthful indiscretion and a lesson learned.

Hell no. Safety bulletins are sent out, city and campus police start patrolling overtime, and no one rests until the assailant’s been caught.

Intoxication may make a predator’s job easier. But it doesn’t make them NOT a predator.

In a perfect world, everyone would GET THIS, and this tortured public debate over what-is-or-isn’t-rape would cease to exist. I’m not naive enough to think that sexual assault wouldn’t still happen – because some people are terrible human beings – but society would deal with it the way it does any other violent crime. Meaning a) those who choose to commit a crime are consistently removed from the community for the safety of others, and b) the threat of criminal charges and incarceration might make some of the would-be assailants of the world think twice before committing assault. Both of which would result in less sexual assault. And I’m pretty sure we can all agree that less sexual assault = GOOD.

Those of us who work on college campuses need to be held to a different standard than Random Laptop Guy. You can’t hold regressive and harmful views on a topic as important – and yes, public – as sexual assault, with those views shaping your institutional response to individual reports of rape, and NOT expect that it might come back to bite you someday.

Unless, of course, you’d been hoping to end up on the front page of the Globe someday. In which case, vaya con Dios, my friends.