Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Hugo Schwyzer and the sin of coercion

OK, I will begin my reply post to Hugo Schwyzer’s response to me by picking a bone with him as to how he presents me. He indicates that at Cal State Long Beach I had built a name for myself “as a consistent (some would say relentless) advocate for legitimizing sexual relationships between teachers and students”.  If the good professor had done his homework on me, he would have known that I built a name for myself in the area of legitimizing sexual relationships starting in the late 1960s when I relentlessly opposed discrimination against gays, wrote “Coming Out in the Gay World” which came to be regarded as a classic article in the sociology of homosexuality, created the first officially recognized undergraduate course on homosexuality in 1969, and worked to help create the first officially recognized GSU in California at CSULB and last but not least I wrote an article against Anita Bryant and her campaign against homosexuality which was reprinted throughout the United States and helped to defeat the Briggs initiative in 1977, and led to numerous threats against my life, see that article by clicking here.  Post my involvement in the gay rights campaign, I became involved in issues regarding interracial dating and marriage and helped to found the Interrace Association at CSULB.

So prior to my getting involved in the student professor issue I had an extensive background regarding transcending sexual boundaries, standing up for sexual freedom and consent.  In this area I was relentless and remain relentless.  Such relentlessness was not stifled by the small mindedness of too many of my opponents and their attempts to objectify and demonize me. For example, Schwyzer states that I celebrate student professor sexual relationships.  I do not celebrate any form of consensual sexuality.  What I celebrate is the right of consenting adults to engage in sexual fraternization no matter how offensive such fraternization is held to be by others.  What offends me are those who engage in coercion of consenting others who happen to violate their sexual “ethic”.

And as for Schwyzer not being able to see the similarities in the dynamics of those opposing interracial relationships and those opposing student professor relationships, I suggest that he is suffering from a form of cultural blindness.  I suggest that he read Lillian Smith’s book KILLERS OF THE DREAM and then he may understand the southern “ethic” that embraced the notion that a white woman/black man relationship can never be consensual, such always precluded consent, that such always represented rape, and that white men were protective of “their” white women who could not consent for themselves and were in essence children or childlike. Of course, any dissident black man faced a sentence of death via hanging and/or burning for the sin of loving the wrong person.  Of course, today’s sexual dissidents who engage in academia’s love that dare not speak its name do not face being physically killed but rather being socially and psychologically exiled from academia since they have violated the sacred principle of “differential power precludes consent”.  Safer for them to remain in the closet which has historically been the home of the sexually persecuted or those in support of the sexually persecuted.

In response to me, Schwyzer states-

I’m not incapable of drawing distinctions between behavior which is criminal and behavior which is merely unethical. But I also think that folks like Dank fail to recognize three things:

1. College students in their late teens and early twenties are still developing intellectually and emotionally, as this New York Times Magazine article made clear recently. Many young people are in a space between, as the old saying goes, “the Already and the Not Yet.” They are already legal adults and are in many ways fully responsible, but in other key ways continue to need more time to develop the complete capacity for impulse control and moral reasoning. As the Times article put it, the only ones who “got it right” about how long it takes young people to grow up are the car-rental companies, who often refuse to rent their vehicles to drivers under the age of twenty-five. While nineteen year-olds may be ready for sexual relationships with their peers, they are vulnerable to exploitation (whatever protestations may be made to the contrary) by those who are substantially older.

Schwyzer continues to focus on students as young people, apparently teens or just post teenager.  Such reflects Schwyzer’s hangups or possibly his complete immersion in the world of PCC.  To assume that university students are young and immature is absurd.

To assume that being young reflects immaturity is absurd.  To assume that being old reflects maturity is absurd.  To assume nothing and treat and respect the individuality of the other is not absurd. Such reflects in Buberian terms the willingness to employ an I-thou framework.  Schwyzer employs an I-it framework which makes coercing others so much easier.

Then comes his point 2-

2. The power imbalance between a professor and a student, regardless of the latter’s age, makes it impossible for the student to give consent as long as the professor is in a position to evaluate (or recommend) him or her. You can’t trust a “yes” unless the person who says the “yes” also feels free to say “no” in the confidence that there will be no deleterious consequences. And as long as a student is in any position to be evaluated professionally by their professor/lover, they can’t have that knowledge that a “no” will be safe. That’s not infantilizing; that’s common sense.

Here he states it really is not about age, but about power imbalance in general. He holds it axiomatic that students cannot give consent (such assumes of course that the student is not the initiator and the professor is the one consenting).  Such represents the end point of his argument- students cannot consent so we will not allow the student to be in such a position. What he fails to note is that now he and his chosen colleagues are now in the power position and they have taken away the ability to consent of both students and professors. Both students and professors must consent to the will of the all powerful bureaucrat.  Schwyzer and his confereres end up calling for what all authoritarians call for- OBEDIENCE, obedience to them.  And as for his comments about possible deleterious consequences, freedom always represents the possibility of deleterious consequences; lack of freedom always represents the reality of deleterious consequences.

And now to his third point-

3. The damage that professor-student sexual relationships do to the broader academic community is enormous. I’ve written that some of the students with whom I had sexual relationships remembered what we shared fondly; otherssuffered lasting negative consequences for which I take full responsibility and a profound sense of guilt. But leaving aside the essential question of the impact of these relationships on young women’s lives, I can say with certainty that these affairs are impossible to keep secret. Campus gossip made them widely known. Not only was I labeled a lecher, but the legitimacy of the entire college was in some sense compromised. I’ll never know how many young people grew a bit more cynical, a bit less trustful of the system, a bit more suspicious of older men as a result of my sadly well-deserved reputation in the mid-to-late 1990s on this campus.

Is Schwyzer referring to PCC here being damaged in some way by his relationships with young women?  I speculate that he is projecting his own sense of damage and guilt on to the wider academic community.  He is seeing his campus world thru his guilt tinged lenses.  He ends up dealing with his guilt by coercing others to be “better” than he was; he ends up being an authoritarian do-gooder.  And as for campus gossip, my advice to him is to just get beyond the rumor mongers; do what you consider to be right and don’t focus on the opinions of others.  And, of course, it will often be the case that no matter what one does, one can end up becoming rumor subject matter.

As for recommended pieces regarding this issue, he neglects the most powerful published essay written by then graduate student Cristina Nehring. You can find it on my blog, of course.  I can’t reprint the whole article, but I have reprinted enough to capture the essence of her argument, and do read the recent student comments on this posting.  Of course, you can read a couple of my pieces by clicking here and here as well as reading SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND CONSENT which I co-edited. Daphne Patai’s book although somewhat tangential gives a pretty good portrait of how campuses are becoming less free. And, of course, anything written by Dick Skeen, material based on his doctoral dissertation, should be required reading.

And I bemoan the loss of community on too many campuses.  The implementation of these fraternization rules make informal interaction between students and professors problematic.  Fear too often now structures student professor interaction; fear that there may be a sexual imputation.  Schwyzer never mentions this; never mentions that many campus regulations prohibit both sexual OR amorous relationships.  On a personal note, I became a professor already a part of academic life since I had married a professor’s daughter and took for granted the camaraderie, the informality that was a part of the community of learners, no matter what the age.  It’s basically gone now; replaced by an impersonal bureaucracy, paid bureaucrats making sure things are under control which de facto means keeping things in the closet.

I also want to make clear that I do not condemn or disrespect Schwyzer for his attempt to come to terms with his past sexuality.  His guilt feelings I do not doubt are real; his need for redemption is real. What I question that in his need for redemption or expiation he ends up advocating the coercing of others for engaging in consensual sex he disapproves of.  In the dankprofessor’s framework he commits the sin of coercion which represents his own unacknowledged arrogance.

September 30, 2010 Posted by | consensual relationships, Daphne Patai, ethics, fear, fraternization, gay rights, higher education, Pasadena City College, sex, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating | 25 Comments

Crushing student crushes

Hugo Schwyzer, a Pasadena City College professor, blogs on educational issues and at times on matters relating to student prof consenting sexual relationships.  He strongly disapproves of these relationships, and has expressed his strong disapproval of my writings on the subject.  He indicates in his last post and in his other posts on this subject that in the 1990s when he was single he engaged in a number of sexual relationships with students.  But now such relationships are in the past since presently he is married.  To a cynical  outsider, it may appear that Schwyzer engages in an ethic of convenience- when single it was OK for him to find partners who were students, but now that he is married he disapproves of such relationships.  Of course, such a cynical view also reflects a basic sociological tenet- ones attitudes change as a function of changes in ones social positions.

Schwyzer’s change in his attitudes and behavior in regards to student prof sex would have been of no importance to me except for the fact that he uses his past experience in part as a rationale for coercing students and professors in matters relating to their sexual behavior.  Schwyzer admits to having done the wrong thing when he slept with some of his students.

He feels guilt about the errors of his past ways.  Given his past wrongdoings, he wants to redeem himself.  He states:

“Part of my own redemptive work was to chair a committee to write a policy for Pasadena City College on consensual relationships, a policy that was not in place during the years in which I was conducting a series of these affairs.”

So in order for him to feel good about himself, he is willing to take away the rights of others to engage in mutual date/mate selection where the dyadic relationship is student/professor.

Or to make this matter more personal for me, he would have supported policies that would have barred my dating/mating with my wife to be in the 1990s.  Why? To relieve his sense of guilt.  To stop students from acting on their crushes for particular profs.  Crushes are his words.  Its always student crushes, never professor crushes; he sees profs as falling in love. Profs don’t have crushes since profs are not children.  For Schwyzer, students have crushes since students are de facto children.  They are not yet grownups who can experience a mature love.  Or translated- they have not yet graduated; once they graduate then they are adults. Reminds me of the old idea that a girl cannot become a woman, remains a girl or a child until she married.

Schwyzer states-

If we’re doing our job right, we have the power to change the way a student thinks about himself or herself. At our best, those of us who love to teach are practiced seducers, Casanovas of the classroom. But my agenda isn’t about sexual conquest, it’s about creating an interest and a passion where none previously existed. It’s about getting students to want something they didn’t know they wanted! Though some students may sexualize their crushes, what they really want is to continue to feel the way you make them feel: excited, energized, provoked, challenged.

The key is to remember that old mantra of youth workers everywhere: “affirm, and re-direct.” Though it is surely almost always best for a faculty member not to name out loud his or her responses to a student, it is the job of teachers to say to themselves: “These feelings I have are normal, and quite understandable, and not bad at all. But desire is not an irresistible predicate to action, and while I affirm that there may be ’something here’, I’m going to take the responsibility to re-direct all of that intoxicatiing intellectual/sexual energy on to the work itself.”

When a student has a crush on a teacher or mentor, it’s the job of that prof to “affirm and re-direct.” The affirmation doesn’t have to be as obvious as calling the student out on the crush, unless the student has already confessed it. The key is avoiding three “wrong” responses: shaming or belittling the student, withdrawing from one’s mentoring role, or engaging in amorous relations. Each of these responses represents a different sort of betrayal, and a sensible teacher ought to avoid them all…

Advise and redirect reminds me of the “advice” of the elders of bygone days- to go take a cold shower, to deal with your needs in a solitary manner.  Or going back a 100 years or so, children were coerced via having their hands forcibly tied at night.  Crushes were obliterated by crushing children and others who had sexual desires.  Oppression and repression were the traditional ways of dealing with those who deviated from sexual norms in an anti-sexual society.

And being anti-sexual is what Schwyer is ultimately “all about”.  He often dresses up his rhetoric in a garb of maturity, responsibility and self-control.  But his bottom line is the same as all the others who are at the core anti-sexual- coercion.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | corporate dating bans, ethics, higher education, Pasadena City College, sex, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating | 3 Comments

Lisa Chavez and the UNM Non-Creative Writing Program

The beat goes on and on at the University of New Mexico re Lisa Chavez.  Or more precisely the beating up of Lisa Chavez continues unabated.This time the beat is orchestrated via an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the Lisa Chavez controversy and then by a cacophony of bloggers comments which demonstrated little or no factual and/or ethical understanding of the history of this controversy.  There have been exceptions, of course, and one glowing exception has been Amy Letter’s piece, “The Scarlet “SW” for Sex Worker” published on the Rumpus blog.

Amy Letter’s states-

…the crux of the matter is that afterwards, other faculty in the English department went on a witch hunt. And “witch hunt” is really the phrase for it, with more-than-average appropriateness: just as Medieval women who did not sufficiently conform to contemporary ideas of womanliness were pursued without reason, taunted, tortured, and deprived of their lives, some at the U of New Mexico want to pursue Chavez without reason, shame her, torment her, and deprive her of her job.”

Such is definitely the crux of the matter.  As the dankprofessor has previously commented, Chavez’s opponents are moral crusaders who will only be satiated when Chavez is exiled from their community of the righteous, or more appropriately stated their community of the self-righteous.  Rational argument has no place for them.  When their position was not affirmed they attempted to resort to coercion and intimidation via a myriad of lawsuits.  Chavez has remained essentially silent in terms of responding to the shrillness of the UNM English faculty crowd, but she herself caved into the lawsuit fever by filing her own lawsuit. In academic issues, coercion, legal or otherwise, should hardly ever displace the rigors of academic discourse.  The academic scene has all too often become the new legal turf where lawyers can freely run amok.

Letters goes on to set the scene in quasi Biblical terms-

It goes beyond “Biblical”: I mean, the Bible talks about forgiveness too. But those are the later parts. Bronze Age desert dwellers would certainly recognize what Harjo and Warner and the others want to do: they want to purge by fire what they perceive as an uncleanness in their community. They want to wash their hands in Chavez’s metaphorical blood.

Or putting it in Dankian terms, they want complete power over Chavez to work their will on a woman who insists upon willing for herself.  She refuses to be used as an agent of the power hungry faculty.  It is ironic that Warner, et. al, apparently embrace a real world s-m scenario, no fantasy here- punish her, degrade her, exile her.  No apologies forthcoming from these s-m practitioners.

Letters continues

…I believe, some in the U of New Mexico English department have lost their minds. They have ceased to see Chavez as a person — with whom you reason, from whom you accept apologies and make peace. They now see her as a beast: an unclean danger to the innocent who must be destroyed lest this imagined corruption spread. The basis for this view is sexism, but not the simple kind: it’s a complex built of the anti-woman attitudes that make some want to label and objectify and destroy a woman, just because they don’t like how she uses sex and her sexuality; attitudes that make them want to drag her before an assembly of disapproving peers to have them yell “shame,shame!” like the red-clad girls in The Handmaid’s Tale; attitudes that make them want to sew a scarlet “SW” for “sex worker” on the lapel of a woman who dared earn money dominating men on the phone.

I use the literary references for a reason. This is an English department we’re talking about. They study history and culture and society and psychology, they exercise empathy daily just to understand what they read, they live in the world of perspective and points of view. They should be able to see beyond their own. They should know better.

More precisely this is a creative writing program we are talking about; however, this is a creative writing program in which creativity appears to be absent. Harjo, Warner and their colleagues appear unable to to comprehend that what Chavez and some of their students engaged in involved fantasy and role playing or in other terms was a form of theater or performance art.

Yes, this was a form of theater which offended some of the creative writing faculty.  But so what?  Can one be a creative writer and worry if potential readers may be offended?  Such is antithetical to the creative mind.  Whatever the creative writing faculty may worship it is not creativity; their worship is the god of normal.

September 24, 2010 Posted by | higher education, lisa chavez, sadomasochism, sexual politics, University of New Mexico | Leave a comment

   

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