For the last two years, AAWCC has attempted to eliminate a culture of silence surrounding sexual violence against women on our community college campuses. AAWCC-member presidents were offered partial scholarships to attend the National Organization for Victim Assistance’s Winter 2017 Campus Advocacy Training. The AAWCC website provided a best practice guide and free resources for members to learn more about preventing and responding to sexual violence on college campuses. The organization collaborated with the Clery Center for Security On Campus to provide the Intersection of Clery Act and Title IX in Responding to Sexual Assault webinar for community college professionals. In conjunction with the 2016 AACC Annual Convention, AAWCC partnered with the National Center for Campus Public Safety to host a community college executive focus group that identified the areas of critical need that present challenges related to preventing and responding to sexual violence. The outcome of the executive forum was AAWCC submitting the first-ever Council proposal that recommended to AACC President/CEO Bumphus a new AACC Commission on Sexual Prevention and Response.
As we partnered with various organizations to raise awareness and educate, I learned that some in our ranks still do not believe that community colleges should be concerned with sexual assault because few have residence hall living. Whether the violence occurs immediately on our campuses or on our borders, community college personnel are forced to deal with the aftermath. Nonstandard physical security concerns; cumbersome compliance measures; lack of resources, education and training; and cultural barriers make our jobs as community college personnel more stressful and our institutions more vulnerable.
I was mesmerized recently listening to Mott Community College’s Voices from Flint student production entitled “Kings and Queens” by Marquise Talley, Jr. Marquise shared with the audience that he wanted to tell his girlfriend’s story of survival because her voice had not been heard. After listening to this powerful account through music, art and journalism, I began to wonder how many women and men on our campuses have not let their stories be told, have been silenced because of the shame and embarrassment that comes along with the societal stigma of sexual assault. They exist and community college personnel must be vigilant and care enough to create environments of trust, empathy and supportive communication for our students and employees.
This is my last blog as President of AAWCC. I hope during these two years that our focus on eliminating sexual violence and its aftermath on community college campuses has brought change. As a college president, I am more aware now than I was two years ago and I hope that you are as well.
Beverly Walker-Griffea, PhD
American Association for Women in Community Colleges
Mott Community College
The top hip hop song this week is "Here" by 19-year old Alessia Cara. Often we associate misogynistic lyrics and profanity with the hip hop genre, and complain that it should be banned from the airwaves. But the success of "Here" proves that hip hop can be much more when it's used to capture and express the feelings of the average youth growing up. No thug life references or cursing to prove a point in this song. "Here" is a contemplative composition that reminds me of the 1975 hit "At Seventeen" by Janis Ian.
The song's lyrics and music video both speak to the often conflicted loneliness of young women on our college campuses. The principle character in the drama has realized that she has taken the wrong road which has put her in a situation that she is trying to wish away. Her "friends" have abandoned her at a party and she is left to wander around on her own as a disillusioned and disgusted voyeur, watching party-goers as they attempt to imitate the hipster lifestyle.
She desperately laments while soberly walking through the crowd of drunken "beautiful" people, "I ask myself what am I doing here?
Oh oh oh here oh oh oh here, And I can't wait till we can break up outta here."
But the real question is what is stopping her from leaving? The real travesty of this song is that it makes clear that we still have far to go in building self confidence in our young women to enable them to break away from the group and get out of a bad situation. Our young women may have tougher stances and use more saltier language than previous generations, but they still feel the pressure to assimilate.
Peer pressure, mean girls, model envy are all still alive and well in the land of growing up female. This weekend I witnessed three high school female organizations perform sketches about their lives. It was crushing to sit on the front row and realize these young ladies are still battling with the same issues that I dealt with in the 70's.
An independent voice, look, or style is still not celebrated. Group think trounces any spirit of individualism. And often, these same girls will find themselves, just like I did, wondering with seemingly no way out, "What am I doing here?"
Growing up as a young woman can be one of the most joyous and heartbreaking experiences – that sometimes transpires from one to the next in a moment's time. As our young women enter our college campuses, we must remember the importance of providing them with relationships and experiences that build their sense of identity. Our young female students need tangible and non-tangible personal networks stacked with interactions that motivate and build self-confidence.
There has been a shooting on campus. These words (that are, unfortunately, commonplace today) were first said to me as a 25-year old residence hall graduate assistant returning to the sophomore female dorm I managed one Saturday morning. Pinpricks became daggers to my heart as I listened to the description of what had happened. “The front desk clerk that worked overnight in __________ Hall was accosted by a man as she attempted to walk home to her dorm. She broke free after he grabbed her. As she attempted to run away, he shot her in the back. She is in intensive care.”
My mind was filled with grief and blame; my front desk clerk was fighting for her life and where was I? I had had enough of sophomore residence hall life and decided to escape one night to a friend’s house to regroup and rejuvenate. Around 10 pm I called to make a cursory check on the front desk, really just to relieve my mind that everything was going fine so I could relax and enjoy my night off. Surprisingly, the wrong voice answered the front desk phone. The female voice that said hello was of a young lady that lived in another dorm. I thought, “Why is she working? Our rules say that only students who live in the dorm can work the night shift.” As I questioned her, I heard about the party that everyone wanted to attend that night, except her. She was helping her fellow team members out by allowing everyone to have a great Friday night. I wanted to have a great Friday night too, so I ignored the rule and agreed it was okay. It was already 10 pm and her shift would end at midnight--what could possibly happen in two hours? I hung up, and without a thought of reticence or hesitancy, I proceeded to engage in a wonderful night of fun.
The next morning, I made my way back to campus, ready to support the development of female sophomores attending the university. They were such a tough group to work with and inspire. But that morning I was psyched up to take on the challenge. Hope plummeted to despair when I saw police and yellow caution tape surrounding the residence hall. The year was 1987--before cell phones, Clery, VAWA, and persistent gun violence on campuses. This was unfathomable.
We didn’t know what to do, so we (the college) did nothing. No counselors were deployed. No visits to the hospital. No flowers were sent…not even a card. No one talked about it. It was as if we didn’t speak about it, then it didn’t really happen. Normalcy was our only goal and on face value I guess we succeeded.
But true normalcy was elusive. The desk clerk survived, but the emotional scars were profound. The residence hall environment was filled with sadness, guilt, and blame. We replayed the events that led to the incident in our own heads, questioning ourselves. What if we would have done things differently that night? Whose fault was this truly? Everyone followed the front desk rules after that night, more out of trying for a do-over than any real new thought of accountability.
One of the most infamous and disturbing moments during my undergraduate experience was waking up to the phone call that a freshman had a train run on her by some fraternity members. What is a "train run" you ask? It was a term used to describe when a woman was fooled, coerced, or forced to have sex with several men one after the other.
The year was 1983. This was before Clery and Title IX.
I remember that the first thing that went through my mind was whether or not my then boyfriend, who was a member of that fraternity, was involved. It was later reported that he was not at the fraternity house that night. I was relieved. But then my relief turned to dismay. How could this have happened?
The young woman desperately wanted to be in the fraternity's all-female auxiliary. So, she was pledging the auxiliary. (Note: It was against the rules for fraternities to pledge these type of groups. Female auxiliary group members were supposed to be able to just join.)
Late that night some of the fraternity members called her and asked her to come to the fraternity house. When she arrived she was shocked to find that her line sisters were not present. The fraternity members told her that there was one more pledge task that each line sister had to complete before becoming a member – they would have to have sex with every frat brother. She would be the first and was expected to have sex with each one of them that night if she was going to be initiated. After she completed the "task", the fraternity members laughed at her and said that she would never be initiated because she was a whore. They then told her to get dressed and threw her out of the house. Humiliated, she left college early the next morning never to return that year.
Although probably every African American attending the college got a similar phone call that morning, no one told anyone outside of our circle. The only repercussion for the fraternity members were the disgusted, sideway looks they got from those of us that knew what they had done. We wondered out loud how or why she thought this would be a part of an initiation process, and we chalked up her vulnerability to being a freshman. And then we went on experiencing our everyday lives on a college campus.
It is hard to believe that sexual violence is still present on college campuses today; and that our female students are still letting go of their dreams and goals due to these unwanted – and criminal -- actions. Now, thanks to those that have championed the Clery Act, Title IX, and VAWA, the silence is no longer deafening when these despicable acts occur. The AAWCC National Board has adopted "Increasing
the roar to eliminate the culture of silence surrounding sexual violence against women on community college campuses" as the 2015-2016 National Platform. Our organization will spend the year discussing, informing, and advocating for women to have safe campus experiences. I invite you to join us. This is the year to make a difference.
Suddenly there was no air. I could see his mouth moving, but there was no sound. What did he say? My mind felt like I was trapped in some sort of third dimension that left you somewhere between reality and a really bad dream. What did he say? Come on, Beverly, focus. Pay attention.
Stage 2 Breast Cancer? But how could that be?
I had a mammogram in January and my annual exam with a breast check-up in February 2010. My doctor declared I was in excellent health! Excellent health she said. I had never had a doctor say that before and I felt good.
Everything was lining up nicely in my life. My son was graduating from high school in June. I was ready to take my next professional step...a college presidency.
I attended the AACC National Conference that April in Seattle with expectancy. My plan was to attend the Preconvention Workshop: Gateway to the Presidency, network at the conference and learn from the myriad of forums.
One morning in the hotel I felt a lump in my nipple. It was in such an odd place so I immediately called the doctor's office from Seattle. I am sure when she looked at my records – clear mammogram, clean bill of health in February – she thought this is just another one of Beverly's lump in breast scares. (I have had lumpy breasts since I was an undergrad at Oklahoma State University.) So, she didn't immediately agree to see me. She put me in the rotation.
I got in to see her in May and she didn't think it was anything, but to be sure she sent me to have an ultrasound. And then suddenly I found myself creeping in to be the reluctant star of a really scary Twilight Zone episode.
I was sitting in a radiologist's office waiting for the results of my biopsy. The first thing I thought was I didn't know radiologists have offices. When he came in he began to speak very deliberate and fast. My mind was stuck on the first six words though. You have stage 2 breast cancer. But in my haze he had moved on, speaking a lot of words that I couldn't comprehend. As he left he said it will be a hard year, but you will make it through fine.
My new path was not the one I was expecting. It was a road I had NEVER thought I would travel. A mastectomy immediately. Five months of weekly chemo until the last dose almost killed me the day before Christmas Eve. Bloated, no hair, little feeling in my feet and hands. Food tasted like tin. Being stuck with a needle (it seemed like every day). Taking this medicine at this specific time to counteract the chemo. Crying at the drop of a hat – not out of physical pain, but emotional pain. It was hard to smile.
Out of the haze I decided to call the American Cancer Society. I talked with a very nice lady that registered me for everything. She sent me everything.
For a person like me, information was everything. So I read all the literature. It became my lifeline for knowledge.
I took a friend (AAWCC Board Member, Deborah Fontaine) with me to attend the "Look Good. Feel Better" program. She was my buffer. And the cosmetologists that donated their time to give cancer patients a free make-over were so kind and compassionate. I stopped feeling like I had cancer. I felt normal for that brief period.
It seemed like we were all at a Mary Kay party as we said, "No, that's not your color" or "Ooh, now that looks nice." And to top it off, we got to look at the TLC products and take home a wig, cosmetics, and other donated items straight from top companies. The most important thing for me was that for that time period we could smile. So don't tell anyone…but I went twice. The second time by myself. And those experiences kept me going during the bleak times.
The American Cancer Society is more than a commercial or something you donate to so you can feel good about yourself. The organization stands in the gap for millions that cannot help themselves. The volunteers are kind, caring, and compassionate people that help. They helped me become a survivor, become a college president, and I am grateful that they were there when I called.
October is breast cancer awareness month. Please increase your knowledge and awareness of this potentially devastating disease.
I was heartbroken to receive the news that Dr. Mildred Beatrice Bulpitt, Founder of AAWCC and Leaders Institute, passed away on August 21. Although I never had the honor of meeting her in person, I believe I had begun to know her intimately through her interviews and writings. I didn't fully understand her greatness until I was asked to speak about women in community colleges at the Michigan Community College Association's Summer Workshop. Through the research, I found a new person to celebrate and appreciate! Dr. Bulpitt’s courage, persistence, and moxie captured my inner being. I now understood what great sacrifices had been made so that I could sit in the president’s chair. For that, I will always cherish Mildred, and the multitude of other unknown individuals, that came before me and made a courageous stand for equality in community colleges.
Dr. Bulpitt was a warrior to the end. Long after she retired, she continued to encourage women to have the confidence to move to the head of the line and take the reins of leadership gallantly. I am pleased that she lived to see the fruits of her labor as the number of female community college presidents has increased from approximately 50 in 1980 (when the Leaders Institute began) to 344 in 2015.
Today, I challenge us to remember Dr. Bulpitt and her important work by increasing the number of women in key decision-making roles at every community college. We need to work together to push females through the leadership pipeline and be intentional about moving the needle. Dr. Bulpitt's legacy, and her spirit, remains in all of us. Let's continue what she started!
In 1998, I was a recently divorced, single parent of a six-year old living far away from home in Spokane, Washington. Spokane Community College's Vice President for Student Services, Dan Chacon, had hired me as the Single Parent Counselor in 1995 and had tasked me with creating a program that would retain and graduate the approximately 1000 single parents that attended the college.
By 1998 that program was recognized by the American Association for Women in Community Colleges as a model program. I was elated, but also fearful and hesitant, to attend the AACC conference in Miami, Florida to receive the award. Dr. Jim Williams, President of Spokane Community College, insisted that I attend.
I made sure my posse (my mother and son) were in tow as I entered the secret world of college presidents. But even with their calming presence, I still thought "I don't belong here" and "couldn't Dr. Williams have picked up the award in my stead?" I knew he wanted me to have the experience of being recognized for my successful work, yet I was truly overwhelmed.
I remember that early morning AAWCC Annual Awards Breakfast like it was yesterday. My nerves were on edge because I didn't know what to expect. All I did know was there would be a lot of important women attending the event.
As we slowly approached the large conference room, I was trembling inside. We all gave big confident smiles, but my young son's smile was the only one that was real. I looked around and a distinguished woman wearing AAWCC paraphernalia warmly greeted us with a smile and escorted us to our table. I believe it was Ruby Curry, now Interim President at St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley.
My nerves began to thaw as I met more of the "distinguished" women in attendance that morning and as I learned more about the sisterhood of AAWCC. The women of AAWCC embraced me and my achievements that day and humanized leadership for me. They made me feel like I could – and did – belong.
Today, research states that our young women still have a confidence gap when it comes to taking on leadership roles, much like what I experienced. They want to be a senior leader, but can't envision (or don't know how to get) themselves there. They aren't out front sharing their perspectives and taking risks with their careers.
Joining AAWCC has been the single most important decision I made for my professional development. The women of AAWCC have provided me a platform to learn how to lead, how to serve, how to make decisions, and be true to who I am as a person.
As I begin my term as President of AAWCC, I want to stress how grateful I am to accept the reigns from the "distinguished" women that have come before me. I look forward to closing the confidence gap and increasing female leaders at all levels in our community colleges.