Tag Archives: university of memphis

Prevalence of rape culture calls for an un-blurring of the lines

Editor’s Note: This opinion/editorial piece was originally written for one of my professors at the U of M. I thought about sending it out for consideration as a freelance piece, but ultimately I decided it belonged on this blog.

 

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Isabella Porcaro, pictured above, began her activist career as a teenager in Manhattan, New York, before moving to Memphis.

Robin Thicke sings about blurred lines, but the pop vocalist’s message, like society’s, is crystal clear.

“Blurred Lines” has earned its reputation as “the rape culture anthem,” which makes it harder to understand the longevity of its popularity. But that’s exactly how things work within rape culture, said Isabella Porcaro.

After being molested in her teens and becoming a bit of an activist, Porcaro, 20, spent months studying rape culture while working on an undergraduate project at the University of Memphis.

Rape culture, she said, is “the idea that a culture and a society normalizes rape and sexual assault, meaning that it’s commonplace.”

This includes “the way we view women as objects, because the stereotypes we put women into (make it) more OK,” she said. “When we’re sexually assaulted, it ends up being socially accepted.”

When rape becomes socially accepted, a society ends up with problems such as a huge rape kit backlog stemming from a failure to make solving rape cases a budgetary priority. This looks something like the 12,000 plus untested rape kits currently sitting on police storage shelves in Memphis. This backlog, which is made of untested kits used to collect DNA from the bodies of rape victims, has been dubbed the largest in the country.

That society would also be the kind that would figuratively tear apart a rape victim who dared to speak out about her attack. This recently happened to Dylan Farrow after she accused her former stepfather and famed producer Woody Allen of molesting her.

I’d wager a bet that Farrow doesn’t enjoy Thicke’s hit single.

A quick listen will get you nearly 20 repetitions of “I know you want it.” In the song, Thicke references his willingness to use a date rape drug on a woman at a nightclub. He insists that he will not be denied sexually, even with all of these supposed blurred lines drugging her would create.

Beth Johnson, 25, was sexually assaulted a few miles from her Memphis home in July. Thicke’s song, she said, makes her feel re-victimized. She worries about her two daughters, 5 and 4, hearing it. In their house, Robin Thicke songs are banned outright.

“If it comes on the radio we change stations. It comes on entirely too much in public places, and sometimes we just leave,” Johnson said. “I don’t want them hearing that because, even though they’re still young, they’re still absorbing that message.”

But Thicke isn’t the Lone Rape Culture Ranger.

“We’re saturated with rape culture,” Johnson said. She said she sees it on Disney Channel when male characters comment on the bodies of female characters and even in everyday interactions, such as her 5-year-old’s recent playground incident.

A boy pushed her down, and Johnson arrived just in time to hear his mother telling her daughter that it happened because he liked her. Johnson said she pulled her daughter away from the playground and had a conversation with her about what types of behaviors were acceptable.

Neither the action of the boy nor the reaction of his mother made that list.

“I feel like I’m putting a lot of the responsibility on her, but she needs to know how to react in that situation,” she said. “In the little moments if she’s not taught, what’s going to happen when we get to the big situations?”

Porcaro thinks having these types of conversations early and often might be our only tool to combat rape culture.

“When conversations come up with small kids, like when a boy is picking on a girl, we should never say, ‘Boys will be boys,’ or ‘Oh, he pushed you in the dirt because he likes you,’” she said. “It teaches young women that men hurt them when they like them and that abusive behavior is acceptable.”

Porcaro said she deals with a variation of sexual harassment regularly at the local steakhouse where she works as a server. Recently, she offered dessert to a table of male customers, and one of them responded with, “Only if we can have you for dessert.”

“I don’t see how it’s 2014 and we’ve made so many advances, but there are still so many people who look at women as second class citizens and tell sexist jokes they think are funny,” she said.

While rape culture doesn’t seem to be becoming more prevalent, Porcaro said things aren’t improving. This place of stagnation comes as a result of low awareness about rape culture and how to combat it.

Since there’s no way to escape it, unless we’re all ready to move underground, our only hope, she said, is through participating in open dialogues with our children.

“Answer questions they have. Teach them, especially your daughters. Tell them they matter, their feelings matter, that when they say no it matters and that they are allowed to say no,” she said.

Johnson said she plans to continue teaching her daughters to be strong, but she wishes so much of the responsibility didn’t fall onto girls.

“It’s time men stop skirting this responsibility,” Johnson said. “It’s not our job as women to protect ourselves from something that shouldn’t be happening in the first place.”

It’s time that we get serious about rape culture and start creating a better society for our children.

I know you want it.

 

 

 

 

 

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U. Memphis’ carelessness in awarding financial aid hurts students

When people picture college students, most of them think of free-spirited young people with a lot more ambition than money. In fact, college might be the only period of the typical American life in which being poor is the norm. Tuition costs are HIGH. Textbook costs are HIGH. Add in living expenses like rent or dorm fees, food, hygiene items, other school supplies, automobile expenses – the only thing that isn’t high for college students is the amount on our paychecks.

Anyone who has ever been to college knows how the story goes. And that’s why the University of Memphis Financial Aid Office’s inability to inform students about the amount of aid they’re receiving this semester is so detrimental. (Ridiculous and pathetic also come to mind.)

I wrote about the difficulties college students from less glamorous financial backgrounds face here right before I began my first semester at the U of M. But that was before life had its way with me.

The following story is my own.

When I first started college in 2010, I was involved in a car accident on the way home to visit my grandparents for the weekend. I had to withdraw from school and go through the painful process of physical therapy for months.

Because of laws (rules? regulations?) governing federal financial aid, students must have a 67 percent completion rate (pass 67 percent of all classes taken) to continue receiving financial aid. When I withdrew, my completion rate hit zero percent.

The accident wasn’t my fault, but I’ve been cleaning up the pieces for 3.5 years. Every semester, I have had to submit an appeal with the same paperwork – copies of the accident report, my doctor’s notes, my physical therapist’s notes and reports from scans done on my back. (You’d think they could store these in my file, but…) Then I wait for it to be approved so that I can receive financial aid. It’s a very stressful, time-consuming process that I honestly don’t feel like anyone deserves to go through.

Please know that I genuinely love and care about school. I’m an honors student – I’m in one honors society and two honors programs (university-wide and department-wide). So on December 19, when my grades from the fall semester became official/final, there weren’t words to express how happy I was because my completion rate was (finally) over 67 percent.

Still, I was told I had to wait to be approved for financial aid for the spring – just one last wait, and I’d be free from all of the appeals and the paperwork that have plagued my life for years.

I waited for my financial aid to post. And then I waited. I took a nap to pass some of the time, and then I continued to wait. Christmas Eve came, and the entire university shut down for 10 days. I waited. It reopened in 2014, and I continued to wait.

When January 3 arrived and I hadn’t heard anything, I called the office (again) to inquire about it. I was told I had just then been approved to receive aid for the semester (16 days after my grades became official). The representative told me it would take another three to five business days for the amount of aid to appear on my online student portal.

My stress level skyrocketed.

You see, I lost some of my financial aid after the accident (because of the withdrawal), and while I could’ve appealed that and gotten it back, the university screwed that up for me (another story for another day). I pay a portion of my tuition out of pocket now. For the fall 2013 semester, I ended up paying about $1,000 out of pocket just for tuition. Purchasing textbooks added another $300.

Tuition is due by the close of business January 15. That’s eight days away, and I have no idea how much I owe the school – $1,000 again? The whole $5,050? I don’t know because they literally will not tell me, and those three to five additional business days are up exactly five days before the money is due.

To be fair, I should mention that the university offers students a payment plan option. When we enroll in a payment plan, we must pay a $50 enrollment fee and half of the amount owed. The remaining balance is split into two or three monthly payments. The program is designed to help students plan financially, but how does a student, who is broke almost by definition, plan financially when she has no idea how much money she needs to pay?

I understand that there’s a lot going on at the end of a semester. And there are a lot of students. And it was the holiday season. And we still haven’t decided if the chicken or the egg came first. But there has to be a better way of doing things.

For all I know, I could be receiving NO financial aid and be on the hook for over $5,000 plus additional fees, textbooks and additional supplies. Even making use of the payment plan option, there’s no way I can pay $2,500 (half of the tuition amount due) and a $50 enrollment fee and purchase $200 (minimum) worth of textbooks and a bunch of supplies – totaling close to $3,000 – WITH FIVE DAYS NOTICE.

If that happens, add “spring 2014” to the list of semesters I was unable to attend school for reasons beyond my control.

I just wonder how many of “me” there are out there.

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