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day after election day

It’s the day after Election Day, and I started class with a freewrite prompt: how do you engage politically?

Out of my 60 college freshman, almost all those who spoke up admitted that they mainly feel politically participatory when they are reading the news online. They feel that reading and spreading information is a way to act. Two students said something different — two women of color — one said she attends protests, and the other said she makes it a priority to have conversations with the people in her life.

Earlier this term, when the #metoo movement resurged into consciousness via the Kavanaugh trials, I had a class session where a student asked: what is the relevance of investigating cases of sexual misconduct that have occurred so far in the past? He was referencing Bill Cosby, but the conversation started around Kavanaugh. I felt a rush of hot blood fill my cheeks and my jaw clench. I have many ideas and passions around this topic, and a long personal history of feminist ranting. As a professor, it’s been my duty to monitor myself, to make sure that my students are given space to explore the parameters of their consciousnesses unencumbered by my personal beliefs. I responded by saying that the Kavanaugh trial and the #metoo movement are evidence enough of the relevance of these issues, that these violations, though they may have occurred in the past, continue, that this is an ongoing and current epidemic. I went home confused. It’s important for me to leave my personal political beliefs out of the classroom, but why did I suddenly feel like consent was a partisan issue? Consensual sex and the right to not be sexually violated are BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS. I felt sick to realize how I had internalized a thought otherwise. This is the insidious, deceptive power resulting from sexual predators in the seats of the presidency and the courts.

The next class, we defined consent. We sifted through our confusions on what it meant, how it could be reversible, that it should be enthusiastically given, etc. etc. It was a nonpartisan and essential discussion. An alarming number of students admitted they had never been formally educated on this. Is this because teachers don’t think it’s our responsibility— because the class is not focused on Consent, but maybe on Math or Literature or Chemistry? What do students need to know if not this? How has capitalism compartmentalized our sense of duty within education and in conversation so that we avoid such dire concepts?

I was reminded of this James Baldwin quote:

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I love when my students speak up, disagree, debate. This is healthy and important. But as our government continues to institutionalize oppression and violence, it continues to be my (our) duty to distinguish between differences of opinion and the sanctity of human rights.

I grew up studying philosophy and believing that change comes from within—that we examine our beliefs, we challenge and study our own consciousnesses in order to act from a place of clear values and intentions. Perhaps this aligns with the prevalence of cyborg citizenry. This is one of the opportunities at our social media disposal— to continue to educate each other, and to stay open, to listen.

Sara Sutter