Bonomi, Rothman, and a Human Rights Approach to Sexual Misconduct in Higher Education

By | The Administrative Life, The Long Road | No Comments

In her recent article in the Journal of Family ViolenceAmy Bonomi, Chair of Human Development and Family Studies at Michigan State University, insists that sexual assault and relationship violence cannot be effectively redressed until we undertake serious and systematic anti-bias education and training.1

Drawing on Emily Rothman’s Preventing Sexual Violence on Campus in the U.S.: Four Thought Experiments,2 which challenges us to recognize and dismantle the institutional structures of oppression that enable sexual violence, Bonomi argues that a broader human rights approach to cultural change on campus is required. She writes:

To become dedicated fighters for civil and human rights requires us, in an initial step, to get serious about anti-bias curricula aimed at reducing sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, ableism and classism.

As many of us here at Michigan State University have emphasized, sexual assault and relationship violence is a symptom of a broader cultural problem concerning how power is deployed across the system of higher education and more broadly in society at large.

The power of the approach for which Bonomi advocates lies in the way it focuses insistent attention on redressing institutional structures of inequity. Further, in emphasizing the importance of anti-bias training, she recognizes that our habits of decision making and the shape of our interpersonal interactions will need to change if we are to put the values of accountability, equity, and integrity we most urgently need into practice.

By tying our efforts to establish practices of diversity, equity, and inclusion as a matter of institutional habit to the urgent imperative to redress sexual misconduct and relationship violence, we will be better able to effect the deeper cultural change we need if we are to live up to our expectations to create an educational community that is transparent, open, trusting, and safe.