Some Highlights of Attending This Week’s American Association of Suicidology Conference in Atlanta (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Me at American Association of Suicidology Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, April 16, 2015

Me at American Association of Suicidology Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, April 16, 2015

This is my second year as a member of the American Association of Suicidology.  Earlier this Spring, I happened to peruse the association’s website and discovered that the annual conference was to be held in Atlanta, only a short distance from my home!  How could I pass up an opportunity to attend the conference?  It would have been unthinkable not to go.  So, this week, I invested the equivalent of two days throughout a three-day period into hearing presentations, attending workshops, meeting colleagues, and getting photographs.

Me with Dr. David Miller, President, American Association of Suicidology, Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, April 17, 2015

Me with Dr. David Miller, President, American Association of Suicidology, Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, April 17, 2015

The conference was very affordable at $150, plus receiving a free student seat to a half-day preconference workshop on Tuesday, presented by Dr. Jim Mazza and Dr. Alec Miller. I wasn’t required to fly or drive in over a long distance (although driving in the downpouring rain wasn’t very pleasant on Wednesday morning), I didn’t have to shell out big bucks for a hotel stay, and I didn’t have to pay alot of money for food.  I parked at a self-serve parking lot on Spring Street, just one block away from the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta, paying $4 per day for each of the three days.

Dr. Marsha Linehan and Dr. Michael Anestis, American Association of Suicidology Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, April 16, 2015

Dr. Marsha Linehan and Dr. Michael Anestis, American Association of Suicidology Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, April 16, 2015

Yesterday, I enjoyed eating lunch at the buffet of a nearby Chinese restaurant, paying only $8.50, including tip for my meal.  One thing I did miss out on today, however, was the $10 student lunch voucher.  I arrived too late, and there were none left, so I had to go without.  The wonderful bagels for breakfast, however, certainly made up for the lost lunch opportunity.

Dr. Thomas Joiner and Dr. Michael Anestis, American Association of Suicidology Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, April 17, 2015

Dr. Thomas Joiner and Dr. Michael Anestis, American Association of Suicidology Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, April 17, 2015

I’m still extremely happy to have enjoyed the free student seat at Wednesday’s workshop, as well as to have met a huge presence in the field of counseling and psychotherapy, Dr. Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy!  I snapped a couple of pictures of Dr. Linehan, but missed out on my chance to be photographed with her when a kind lady was unable to navigate my camera – and Dr. Linehan was in a hurry.  To hear her presentation about her personal background and how it relates to her creation of DBT is incredibly inspiring!

Iris Bolton Speaking at American Association of Suicidology Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, April 17, 2015

Iris Bolton Speaking at American Association of Suicidology Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, April 17, 2015

There are so many additional, wonderful presenters that I heard, as well, including, but not limited to Dr. Thomas Joiner and Dr. Cheryl King (who both autographed my program booklet – thank you!), Dr. Matt Nock, Dr. Michael Anestis (Conference Program Chair), Dr. David Miller (Association President, with whom I did get a photo!), Kathik Dinakar, Dr. David Klonsky, Dr. Keith Hawton, Adam Horwitz, Raymond Tucker, Stephanie Pennings, Dr. Sarra Nazem, Dr. April Smith, Chris Hagan, Iris Bolton, Dr. David Mayo, Dr. Madelyn Gould, and Dr. Peter Wyman.

Autographed Program Booklet, Name Tag, Book Bag, American Association of Suicidology Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, April 17, 2015

Autographed Program Booklet, Name Tag, Book Bag, American Association of Suicidology Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, April 17, 2015

While I did not do much networking, there were folks who I met and spoke with, making the experience more personal and enjoyable.  One particular colleague with whom I networked on each of the three days I was at the conference was Stephen.  Additionally, all of the staff and volunteers of the association were extremely helpful and friendly, particularly Justin, Sarah, John, and Pollyanna.

Dr. Keith Hawton Presenting at American Association of Suicidology Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, April 16, 2015

Dr. Keith Hawton Presenting at American Association of Suicidology Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, April 16, 2015

All those employees of the Hyatt Regency with whom I spoke were also very friendly and professional, providing an excellent reflection of the hospitality provided by those at the hotel.

Dr. Madelyn Gould Presenting at American Association of Suicidology Conference, with Dr. Cheryl King looking on, Atlanta, Georgia, April 17, 2015

Dr. Madelyn Gould Presenting at American Association of Suicidology Conference, with Dr. Cheryl King looking on, Atlanta, Georgia, April 17, 2015

There was so much that I learned, and I’m so happy to have had the chance to attend this year’s 48th annual conference.  I hope that I will be a more effective, compassionate, and professional support to those who have been affected in some way by suicidality, as a result of attending this conference.

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Teaching Respect and Protection of the Human Body: Working to Stop Rape and Sexual Traumas (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Rape, sexual assault, molestation, and other sexual traumas are far too common throughout our society.  So many people have experienced sexual traumas in their lives; unfortunately, it is much more common than might actually be fathomed.  Pediatricians, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and first responders are those who may often have interactions with patients or clients who are victims and survivors of sexual traumas.  They are those who often work with individuals following sexual traumas, though I am one who is also interested in teaching about the respect and protection of the human body in order that sexual traumas may be lessened and/or prevented in our society.

Teaching Prevention of Rape (from http://sundial.csun.edu/2013/08/culture-of-rape-victim-blaming-has-got-to-go/, retrieved September 13, 2014)

Teaching Prevention of Rape (objectives by Zerlina Maxwell, 2013, illustration by Jasmine Mochizuki, from http://sundial.csun.edu/2013/08/culture-of-rape-victim-blaming-has-got-to-go/, retrieved September 13, 2014)

Last year, writer and political analyst Zerlina Maxwell shared five objectives regarding how men, particularly young men, can be respectful of women’s humanity rather than viewing women as sexual objects.  Maxwell’s objectives were in regard to addressing the issue that women do not need guns to protect ourselves from rape because that places the blame on the victim/survivors, rather than placing responsibility on the offender.

I agree with that.  Society still often blames and stigmatizes victims and survivors, though I have observed that to be changing slowly as a result of more survivors speaking out about their experiences.  Speaking out is a good thing for many reasons.  It helps survivors heal, it can help provide information that protects others from experiencing sexual trauma, and it helps reduce and/or eliminate societal blame, revictimization, and stigmas experienced by survivors.

Also important to address is that people of all ages and backgrounds can be sex offenders, whether or not they have been charged and/or prosecuted.  Research that I, myself, have completed in this area has reflected that those who experience sexual traumas by others may be infants, children, teens, or adults.  It is also important to state that males an females may experience sexual traumas, and that those sexual traumas may be perpetrated by males and/or females, as well.  This is not an issue, therefore, that solely affects women, but also is a worldwide issue that affects our entire society.

Yes Means Yes, No Means No (from getacover.com, retrieved September 13, 2014)

Yes Means Yes, No Means No (from getacover.com, retrieved September 13, 2014)

That stated, a focus that I would like to bring to this post is in relation to protecting and educating young men about the humanity and integrity of young women’s bodies.  A particular focus in these respects is one that I direct toward male undergraduates and male entrants into the military.  Perhaps, then, a focus can be on stopping and/or preventing rape, as well as including language that focuses on protecting and respecting women’s bodies.

In my experience as an undergraduate college student, I am aware that there are those college men who rape, who encourage their male peers to rape, and who believe that rape is sex.  Both my experience and that I have observed includes the views of some college men who are fraternity members and football players.  It is the attitudes and behaviors of some of these men who reflect negatively on their peers.

Real Men Don't Rape (from bewakoof.com, retrieved September 13, 2014)

Real Men Don’t Rape (from bewakoof.com, retrieved September 13, 2014)

Similar attitudes and behaviors are increasing in regard to many men in the military.  Those who rape and sexually traumatize others cause and perpetuate trauma, particularly when much of our society still appears to blame, stigmatize, and revictimize survivors.  Survivors of sexual trauma should not be viewed as, nor treated as criminals; offenders should receive consequences, treatment, and be held accountable and responsible.

Another focus that I would like to state in this post is to share with young women, teen girls, and others who may be targeted for sexual trauma, ways in which to potentially protect themselves from it.  No matter how much one may work to protect oneself, it may not prevent or stop a sexual trauma from occurring, though such information is more helpful to know than not to.  One red flag to recognize is when a boy or young man is repeatedly pressuring, particularly about sex and/or drinking alcohol.  An objective of teen boys and young men who rape is to get a target drunk and/or spike alcohol with the pill known as the date rape drug.

Prevent Date Rape (from barnesandnoble.com, retrieved September 13, 2014)

Prevent Date Rape (from barnesandnoble.com, retrieved September 13, 2014)

One way to immediately protect oneself from this is to be aware of and recognize when a male is being pressuring regarding sex and/or drinking alcohol, and to remove oneself from that situation as quickly as possible.  Regarding some males, as soon as a female says, “No,” that becomes a cue for them to work more quickly toward raping their target.  So, in order to excuse oneself from such a situation, a female should not draw attention to feeling uncomfortable, wanting to leave, or desiring to return home, but should use some other excuse to leave the situation that will not escalate any potential for the male to commit sexual trauma toward her.

Other ways for females to protect ourselves is to recognize and be aware of males who are members of college fraternities, football and/or other sports teams, and who are in the military.  This also applies to males who serve in professions that support a strong male patriarchy and hierarchy, including the Catholic Church and other employers or volunteer organizations.  Unfortunately, males in many male groups often protect each other with a code of silence regarding offenses and/or crimes that may occur by their members.  When such offenses are brought to the attention of their superiors or the authorities, they may continue to be protected by other males, however it is important for such offenses to be officially reported and documented.

Rally Against Rape in New Delhi, India (from globalpost.com, retrieved September 13, 2014)

Rally Against Rape in New Delhi, India (from globalpost.com, retrieved September 13, 2014)

Something else for females to keep in mind is that some males believe that rape is sex, and that if they want it, they are going to “take” it by whatever means necessary.  Because some males believe that their action of raping another is sex, they seem to think they are “being men,” experiencing a “rite of passage,” and being “one of the guys.”  They may brag to peers about their sexual prowess, and how a female who was targeted was “easy,” “slutty,” or “trashy,” thus causing other male peers to become interested in targeting her, as well.  Females must be aware that males talk, and that their talk among each other may not reflect a realistic or accurate portrait of what occurred.  So, when other males appear “interested,” females must be aware that their interest may not be genuine, but may be based only on the inaccurate perspectives received from the males’ peer(s).

A big disadvantage for women in our society is that society teaches girls to always be agreeable, cooperative, and nice, and to look up to males, respecting them and holding them in high esteem.  Certainly, many males are worthy of trust, respect, and being viewed positively.  However, for girls who become women who have been taught to trust, respect, and view positively those who should not be, they may be more easily targeted for and experience sexual traumas.  Those who target others seek vulnerability.  Those who have any potential for being targeted should be aware of this, and also be aware of the other ways identified and described in this post to protect themselves.

Rape Victim-Shaming of Society Football (from pinterest.com, retrieved September 13, 2014)

Rape Victim-Shaming of Society Football (from pinterest.com, retrieved September 13, 2014)

Again, when a person experiences sexual trauma, the person who was the offender should be held responsible and accountable, not the survivor or victim.  A person may take every action to try to protect herself or himself from sexual trauma, and it may still occur.  Therefore, it is imperative for the survivor to know that he or she is not at fault and not to blame.  Those who offend have had experiences and/or learning that causes them to believe that it is acceptable for them to commit sexual offenses and/or traumas against others.

If you know of anyone who has experienced sexual trauma, consider going with them to report the crime.  Consider accompanying them to their doctor.  Perhaps, refer them to and go with them to a rape crisis agency.  There are trained professionals who are very sensitive toward survivors of sexual traumas, and there are other trained professionals who are not sensitive at all, but blaming and revictimizing.  Survivors and victims of sexual traumas must be supported on their journey to healing.  And, society must take every possible action to educate about and protect people of all ages from experiencing sexual traumas.  Respecting and honoring others and their bodies is all-important in establishing and maintaining healthy relationships.

UB Needs to get it Right (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

When I was a student at the University at Buffalo (UB), I had some really great experiences.  In prior posts in this blog, I have described many of my wonderful experiences.  I also had many unpleasant, hurtful, and traumatic experiences.  Describing about some of these situations, to follow, I will also provide some suggestions to officials at UB so that such situations are not repeated with other students.

1) In 1993, I earned a baccalaureate degree in psychology and a bachelor’s degree in political science.  This is a particular detail that is important to me, especially because the University at Buffalo Records and Registration Department (R&R) erred in identifying my accomplishment over a period of 10 – yes 10 – years. Additionally – and while I still very much appreciate it – UB’s President at the time, Dr. William Greiner – also erred on this detail in a recommendation he completed for me, such recommendation that is published in it’s entirety elsewhere in this blog.  On my official UB transcript from 1993-2003, R&R reflected that I earned only one BA, however that was incorrect.

When I went to R&R, personally, several times during the course of that decade, no one would listen to me.  I was brushed off and not taken seriously at all when I repeatedly told people in R&R that their records were incorrect.  Personally, I went to R&R and I wrote letters to several individuals over that period of 10 years until someone finally listened to me, verified that what I stated about my degrees was correct, and corrected my official transcript to reflect both of my degrees earned.

I am sure that anyone in my situation would feel similarly, particularly after experiencing what I have in regard to years of trying to see to it that my educational achievements have been correctly recorded and documented by UB officials.  This is particularly important when people read my resume, and other career-related documents, because I list my educational achievement of the two degrees correctly.

When this error was made during that decade, many believed that I was in error, and therefore, also dishonest, when it was UB that was in error.  I spent $10,000s on my education, including for the acquisition of my second BA at UB.  I also invested an obscene amount of credit hours to earn both of those degrees over a period of less than 3.5 years.  It is important, therefore, that UB has it right!

UB Partial View of Governor's Complex Dorms (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 fromhttp://housing.buffalo.edu/roosevelt.php)

UB Partial View of Governor’s Complex Dorms (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 fromhttp://housing.buffalo.edu/roosevelt.php)

2) In my first semester at UB, I experienced bullying by my roommate.  She was often disruptive in our dorm room by coming back in the wee hours of the morning with her boyfriend, who would also spend the rest of the night in our dorm room.  She also often moved my things and made many attempts at taking over my space, which we had originally divided evenly.  On frigid winter nights, she would also open the window to it’s full four feet, and expect that it would be acceptable to me that we should freeze.  She would often turn up her stereo volume loudly when I was quietly studying in our dorm room.  And, she had a nasty habit of slamming the door to our dorm room, which as you can imagine, endeared her to everyone on the hall (realize I am being sarcastic here).

I tried to speak with my roommate many times about my concerns, trying to reach agreement and compromise with her, however she always refused.  It always had to be her way.  Therefore, I repeatedly reported these situations to my graduate resident advisor, and repeatedly asked to move, though he did nothing until a situation occurred in which we were both required to move out of the dorm room as a result of our behavior toward each other.  Bullying and the creation of a hostile environment in dorm rooms are issues that UB definitely needs to take more seriously.

Ejaculating Snow Penis at UB in 2010 (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from http://photographsbyseon.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/the-snow-phallus-is-back/) (Definitely offensive to UB rape survivors)

Ejaculating Snow Penis at UB in 2010 (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from http://photographsbyseon.wordpress.com/ 2010/02/27/the-snow-phallus-is-back/) (Definitely offensive to UB rape survivors)

3) What I will always remember as a traumatic and negatively life-changing experience at UB was when I was sexually assaulted in my dorm room during my last semester there.  Four people were aware of what occurred, though no one reported it.  Two of those people became accomplices to the man who raped me by not reporting it.  It took me about 2.5 years to gain the courage and overcome the humiliation to report this crime.  When I did so at UB, one of the public safety chiefs laughed out loud about what had occurred.  I felt like an ant that had just been smashed.

That was only the beginning of the repeated process of revictimization I experienced as a result of this crime that, to this day, has not been resolved to my satisfaction, and regarding which the offender was never charged or prosecuted.  Additionally, a description of what occurred, as well the offender’s name and other identifying information such as his birthday (both of which I will always remember, by the way), have been deleted from the report that I filed at UB.  I am thankful, however, for the female public safety officer who treated me with kindness and respect.  She was the only person in the entire legal process who supported me in any way.

When I attempted to reach out, prior to finally officially reporting the sexual assault, to several UB administrators and/or their family members, I was ostracized and turned away.  On a number of occasions, I tried to reach out to UB President Bill Greiner by sending him short correspondence.  The answer that I received to my correspondence was from then-Dean of Students Dennis Black, threatening criminal action against me if I continued my communications with Bill!  These were communications that were appropriate, and in which I was merely attempting to reach out for some emotional support and assistance.  I did not get that from anyone at UB except the female public safety officer who originally took my report, and who was kind and professional toward me.

Shortly after reporting the sexual assault and experiencing repeated revictimization through the legal process of doing so, I wrote and posted about my experience at UB and other area campuses in an effort to educate and inform other students about my experience, in the hope that they would be able to protect themselves against something similar happening to them.  One day when I posted my writings at UB, a UB official approached me and told me not to post my information.  This only caused me to post and write about it more.  Such insensitivity and lack of understanding was incredible to me!

UB Partial View of Ellicott Complex Dorms (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from Google Images of the University at Buffalo)

UB Partial View of Ellicott Complex Dorms (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from Google Images of the University at Buffalo)

Therefore, I have a number of suggestions to UB officials in regard to these situations.  For #1, there should be an audit process at UB that reviews students’ degrees to be sure that the information on record is accurate.  For the information about my degrees to be recorded and repeatedly documented incorrectly, over a period of 10 years, and still to the present day, is absolutely unacceptable.  Also unacceptable was the treatment that I received by individuals in R&R who repeatedly refused to listen to me, nor consider that my information to them was correct and that they were in error.

In association with #2, all too often bullying and a hostile environment are created when people take no action to stop it and/or resolve the situations.  The graduate resident advisor to whom I repeatedly reported these situations did nothing until a serious situation occurred that was unresolvable.  Those who oversee the welfare of others must take seriously the issues of bullying and a hostile environment so that worse situations are not provoked into occurring.

Regarding #3, no one was there for me at UB when I was sexually assaulted.  When I turned to many people, no one helped me.  Being so hurt and humiliated by this violent and traumatizing experience in which I was internally-injured, I blocked it out for a period of a few years before returning to UB to report it, as well as to seek support and assistance for my recovery outside of UB.  I have spent $1,000s on my recovery from this painful trauma, such assistance having been a great benefit and self-help for me.  For any UB official to minimize, ridicule, disbelieve, overlook, deny, and/or cover up this crime, as well as to revictimize me as the survivor is abominable, and there were a number who did so.

UB can establish programs to support sexual trauma survivors, and can also educate about sexual trauma, including how it occurs and how vulnerable individuals can protect themselves from it.  UB can also train it’s officials in regard to responding more sensitively and effectively to those who have experienced sexual traumas on campus.

Myself on Graduation Day at the University at Buffalo, New York, May 16, 1993

Myself on Graduation Day at the University at Buffalo, New York, May 16, 1993

Individuals at UB are what make up UB.  Each individual is a part of the whole, and when any individual is harmed, the whole is also harmed.  The institution should not be more important than the individual, however that was repeatedly proven to me in what I experienced.  So, while I had many wonderful experiences at UB, many of which I have written about in this blog, I have also experienced these hurtful situations.  I expected more from UB, but in regard to these specific situations, I received less.  As a result, I am speaking out, and have already spoken out in several capacities, particularly in regard to being sexually assaulted.

UB will not silence me, nor overlook, minimize, or ridicule my experience, nor succeed in revictimizing me.  Rather than attempt that, why not take action to help and support survivors and victims of sexual trauma that has occurred on campus? Indeed, I have become an activist and advocate for those who are minimized and bullied, as well as for those who have experienced sexual trauma.  I am also a supporter for the recovery of those of all ages, including children, who have suicidal ideation, particularly as a result of sexual trauma.

My experience of being sexually assaulted at UB has been singular in my advocacy for sexual trauma survivors.  So, while being sexually assaulted at UB created much hurt and pain in my life, the good thing is that it has caused me to become an advocate for others who have had similar experiences.  I also try to be aware of speaking and reaching out to those who will actually be helpful to survivors and victims.  Particularly in this area, UB can do better!

Recently, a UB official contacted me via LinkedIn through my personal email account, and requested that I write a recommendation for UB.  Due to the above-described information, I am unable to author a recommendation for UB, however information about many of my positive experiences as a student at UB can be found in prior posts within this blog.

There is good and bad everywhere and in everything, however UB still needs to show me that it can get it right with regard to these issues!

Author’s Note (June 5, 2014): Since posting a UB article about Nursing Week, and how UB could potentially take some initiative within the nursing program to implement programs for student survivors of sexual trauma that has occurred on campus, my comments and posts in the LinkedIn group, University at Buffalo Alumni, have been restricted.  I have attempted to post additional comments and articles, and have requested of the group manager that I be free to post, however she has responded to me that I am, however she has not approved my comments or posts.  Currently, this is the only LinkedIn group (out of 51 groups) in which a manager has not changed my settings to be free to post, nor has approved all of my comments and posts.

It also seems that this is a greater reflection on UB that when controversial issues arise, there are attempts at silencing them.  This is another reason why The Spectrum, the student newspaper at UB, is independent of the university – because of the politics involved in students previously being unable to publish freely, without experiencing retaliation, threats, and/or attempts at silencing them from UB officials.  My view is that my article is an opportunity for people at UB to take initiative regarding these issues and make improvements rather than attempt to silence them and prevent freedom of speech.

 

 

Gun Law Expansion Causes Georgia to Regress, not Progress (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Last evening, upon watching the national evening news, I was shocked to learn that Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal signed a new bill, called the Safe Carry Protection Act, into law, going into effect as of July 1, 2014.  Georgia House Bill 60 will allow permitted gun bearers to keep and carry guns into many churches, schools zones, portions of airports, government buildings, and bars.  Representative Doug Holt of Georgia’s 112th district introduced the legislation.  It has been stated that the gun lobby initiated and secured the enactment of this law, with many critics being strongly against it.  I am also one of those critics who is strongly against it.

An attorney in Georgia once told me that it is better not to keep or bear arms.  Why?  Because doing so creates the potential of using them, and of injuring others and/or taking their lives.  While I believe it is certainly important for people to have the ability to protect themselves, there is no need to expand gun rights in the United States.  Business owners, school officials, and church leaders should not be forced to be responsible to make decisions regarding whether or not people are able to carry guns onto their property and into their buildings.  It should be a no-brainer that people should not be allowed to carry guns into these venues, unless they are highly trained, and are paid as security personnel or police to maintain the safety of the venue.

What is also important to keep in mind is that just because a person carries a gun, does not mean that he or she is trained in using firearms, nor has the self-control necessary to make decisions that are in the best interests of everyone should a situation become heated or violent.  Further, anyone could walk into a venue, carrying a gun, and not have a legitimate permit.  It seems to me that the “Safe Carry Protection Act” only creates the potential for environments that are less safe and less protected.  Owning, having, carrying, and maintaining guns only creates the higher potential for using them, and therefore, for seriously injuring or killing people.  More guns means more potential for violence, period.

In his speech at Ellijay, Georgia yesterday, Governor Deal quoted Thomas Jefferson as well as the United States Constitution on many occasions.  He basically affirmed Jefferson’s values and beliefs related to Americans having the right to keep and bear arms, in order to protect themselves from the tyranny of the government.  Is our government tyrannical?  I thought we lived in a republic that practiced democratic values.  Must people be handed the right to keep and bear arms everywhere?  Indeed, critics of the new law have dubbed it the “guns everywhere” law.  Allowing a greater number of people to legally carry guns into so many venues creates the potential for a lawless state.  In Georgia, the right to keep and bear arms has appeared to become the foremost of its citizens inalienable rights, and wrongly so.  My legislators have not correctly supported or promoted my beliefs and values regarding these measures.

Have the people so quickly forgotten the many tragedies that have occurred throughout our nation as a result of the use of guns to injure and kill others?  Those tragedies, on a national scale, that quickly come to mind include those at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  Columbine experienced the killings of 15 individuals, including the shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.  In Newtown, Adam Lanza killed 28 people, including himself, on a tragic day when our nation lost so many innocent children and dedicated educators.

Another incident that comes to mind is when I was a teacher in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and a young teenaged boy hijacked a car, placing the vehicle’s owner at gunpoint, then driving the car to the school at which I worked, and entering the school that was in session for the day.  The school went on lockdown, and police with dogs searched the school for the boy.  It was believed that he was armed when he entered the school (although he was not armed at that time), and when he attempted to flee the school, police had their guns drawn on him as he attempted escape through a side exit.  It is because of incidents such as these that better security is needed at our nation’s schools, for example, rather than allowing seemingly anyone to carry guns almost where ever they please.

In short, if more people are allowed to legally carry guns into more buildings and venues in Georgia, including government buildings, schools, and churches, then I will definitely feel more uncomfortable, less safe, and less protected.  Further, allowing guns to be carried into bars only creates the potential for more harm to occur.  We already know that mixing alcohol with weapons has the potential to cause violence, such violence that is unnecessary.  Indeed, many people will likely feel much less safe and protected in the very locations and venues in which such protections are virtually guaranteed, such as particular government buildings for example.

Expanding gun laws and rights in Georgia – or anywhere in the United States, for that matter – is a step backward, not forward.  We no longer live in the 1700s, where it was “every man for himself.”  Our government is not tyrannical, and we do not need to protect ourselves from it with guns.  In fact, it is our government on which we rely for protections against those who do not abide by reasonable laws.  The Safe Carry Protection Act is not a reasonable law.  This law has proceeded to throw the baby out with the bath water, and takes Georgia one step further into creating a lawless state in which it will, again, be every person for themself.   Repeal this law before it is too late, causing more lives to be needlessly lost because of it.

References:

Columbine High School massacre (2014).  Wikipedia.  Retrieved on April 24, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbine_High_School_massacre

Copeland, L., & Richards, D. (April 23, 2014). Ga. governor signs ‘guns everywhere’ into law.  USA Today.  Retrieved on April 24, 2014 from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/04/23/georgia-gun-law/8046315/

Georgia House of Representatives (2014).  Doug Holt.  Atlanta, GA: Georgia House of Representatives.  Retrieved on April 24, 2014 from http://www.house.ga.gov/Representatives/en-US/member.aspx?Member=128

Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (2014).  Wikipedia.  Retrieved on April 24, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandy_Hook_Elementary_School_shooting

Sayers, D.M., & McLaughlin, E.C. (April 23, 2014). Georgia law allows guns in some schools, bars, churches. Atlanta, Georgia: CNN.com.  Retrieved on April 24, 2014 from  http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/23/us/georgia-governor-signs-gun-bill/index.html

“University at Buffalo Alumnus Personal Biography Update” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

To follow is an alumni update that I posted today at my alma mater, the University at Buffalo.  I am also posting it here so there is awareness regarding what I wrote, and so that my readers may understand a bit about my background.

In my years since graduation from UB in 1993, most of my career experience has been in teaching, mostly social studies and science.  I obtained my MS from Buffalo State College in 1997; and returned to school there for my education certification, receiving it in 2000, also interning for Sam Hoyt.  I moved to the Atlanta, Georgia area for an employment opportunity in teaching in 2000.  In 2002, I was married; and in 2003, my son was born.  In 2009, I was divorced, following a 2.5-year separation.  I returned to New York State and worked for a few months before moving back to Georgia.  Then, I returned to school and obtained my certificate in healthcare with honors.

Currently, I am pursuing my second master’s degree, this one in counseling, at Argosy University in Atlanta.  There, I am an honor student, and am taking double the full-time course load.  My current activities include volunteer work, as well as maintaining two blogs, and being active on LinkedIn with two groups that I founded and manage, “People Against Retaliation and Bullying,” and “Lepidoptera Lovers.”  I also write and contribute, pseudonymously, for both a national and an international non-profit.  I enjoy nature and the outdoors, and spending quality time with my son.

In my experiences at UB, I am thankful for the opportunity to gain a great education, particularly learning about research and participating as a research assistant in the Department of Psychology.  Having experiences in music as a member of pep band, wind ensemble (concert band), and chorus enriched my life.  Being a member of the UB Royals women’s track team, and competing in shot put at the 1990 NCAA championships also broadened my horizons.  Studying abroad in Poland, visiting relatives, and traveling in Europe were also enjoyable.

UB gave me opportunities to expand my interests and personality in many ways, as I was a member and/or leader in many clubs and organizations.  I met many people at UB who enriched my life.  I am thankful for these experiences, and do my best to make a positive difference in the lives of others, including as a result of both the positive and negative experiences that I had at UB. As a result, I have become a strong advocate for children and women, and victims/survivors of trauma and sexual assault.

Michele Babcock-Nice

BA, Psychology, 1993 & BA, Political Science, 1993

“Children Need Advocacy and Support, not Ignorance and Punishment” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Not a day goes by that I am amazed and disappointed by the lack of insight and support that many people have regarding children.  Even in regard to people who one might believe are trained in child development and education may be completely oblivious to realizing that their words and behaviors are unsupportive of, and in many cases, detrimental toward children.  What children in our world need – especially those who may have special considerations, including disabilities – is advocacy, understanding, and support rather than ignorance, misunderstanding, and punishment.

When people in child development, education, and other fields are rigid and unbelieving about the needs of children – and who, in fact, do not have an understanding of children that is in the child’s best interests – children suffer in many ways and can be placed at great risk in many cases.  In medical and healthcare fields, individuals are supposed to do their best to ‘do no harm’ and adhere to the Hippocratic Oath.  While the medical field, however, often practices from a perspective of illness, the counseling field strives to recognize people from a view of wellness.  An illness or disease is not the person; but rather, it is the person who must be supported in a view of wellness in order to improve or recover from illness.

Educators, child care specialists, and others – including parents – need to have a wider view of what is best for children.  In cases of highly contentious and adversarial divorces, for example, psychological evaluations and/or assessments of the parties involved, may be ordered by a judge.  In such cases, by today’s standards, these reports, typically made by an unbiased psychologist, provide judges and attorneys with a more clear perspective of family relationships and parenting.  Thus, people in the legal field recognize that they may not have the training needed to make such unbiased evaluations.  They rely on psychologists to ethically and professionally perform them so that the best interests of the child are maintained.

Unfortunately, and to the detriment of children, not everyone recognizes that they do not have the insight or training needed to work in and make decisions that are in the best interests of children.  From my knowledge and experiences regarding many schools, particularly those in the South, individuals in education are quick to punish, including for minor issues, and may not realize that they do not have the insight necessary to best support children and do what is best for children.  Exercise as punishment (such as being made to walk or run laps outside, including in high temperatures) and lengthy detentions (including 30-60 minute lunch/recess detentions), particularly for insignificant issues, and issued toward children, do not resolve, but compound issues, making children potentially distrustful, disrespecting of, and hopeless about school officials.  (I know of at least four schools in my immediate area where these are practices.) 

These situations are compounded and worsened regarding children who have special needs.  Sometimes, it appears to be the children and/or parents who are blamed in situations in which school officials promise support and accommodation to such children, however they may just be going through the motions and not adequately or effectively be meeting such needs.  And, punishments toward children have been shown in research to be ineffective; truly, they may only serve to increase distrust and resentment in children toward adults who are supposed to have their best interests in mind, but who, in fact, do not.

In some situations, an array of psychological evaluations and assessments may be provided to educators that address children’s special needs – and parents may inform school teachers and leaders about what is best for their child – however, for whatever reasons, school teachers and officials may simply be ignorant about such needs, may not follow the suggestions of professional evaluations or parent recommendations, and may completely misjudge the situations.  Doing this places some children with special needs in greater danger and at higher risk for worse outcomes and situations at school.  Through the school officials’ own lack of insight – and in some cases – lack of compassion and motivation to learn, grow, and develop – children are, in fact, harmed by their ignorance and lack of support, and in some cases, are blamed and punished due to it – the pitfall of blaming the victim.

When children with special needs are not sufficiently, nor positively accommodated in schools, great risk and danger may be imposed upon them due to others’ ignorance.  To some people, what is clear and obvious in certain situations goes completely unrecognized – and therefore, not at all addressed – in others.  What is worse in these situations is when people who are ignorant about these situations categorically deny that they have occurred and escalate already tense situations that may involve high emotions.  Such lack of insight and understanding reflects not only their ignorance, but their rigidity, inflexibility, and absolute refusal toward even having an interest at gaining any increased understanding about the issues or situations.  

Even those most highly-trained in supporting children may sometimes miss critical pieces of information, however this should be an indication to others that as much training and information is needed to enlighten themselves to children’s needs and what is in children’s best interests.  Additionally, because there is often the tendency in people to desire to perceive issues and situations in an optimistic manner, there should be an awareness of this so that critical issues about others are not missed and do not turn potentially tragic. 

In short, particularly when it comes to educating children, it is not acceptable to be clueless about and not practice what is in their best interests.  And, situations that are detrimental and potentially tragic to children that occur out of the ignorance of educators and school officials should not be escalated – but diffused – in the best interests of children. 

In my book, perhaps schools in which ignorance and a lack of support prevails toward children may be performing okay with some students, but they may also be harming those students who are most at risk.  Such characteristics, policies, and/or the lack of policies of schools become dangerous to children when people in education do not even realize that what is occurring is creating a potentially harmful or tragic situation for children.  Parents must be acutely aware of and insightful about such circumstances in order to advocate for and protect their children as much as possible, particularly in schools where everyone may not be on the same page about what is best for children.

“Georgia’s SST Process is Supposed to Help, not Hurt Students” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Instructional Materials

Instructional Materials

In Georgia, schools have what is called “Student Support Team” or “SST” to assist students who are struggling with academics, behavior, and/or socialization in the classroom.  In my experience as a public middle school teacher in Georgia for six years, I found that the SST process was extremely helpful and supportive to students, especially when I was the teacher leading and/or otherwise participating in it.  My experienced education mentors in the DeKalb County School System near Atlanta taught me the process and ensured that open-mindedness was maintained in helping and supporting students with every possible intervention for which they qualified, based on their academic, behavioral, and/or social needs.  In public schools, one also had to maintain caution about not suggesting supports and/or interventions that the parent would not consider because the school system (as is true of all public school systems, to my knowledge) did not desire to pay for services that it was unable to offer.  In the private school setting, however, the SST process is extremely different and potentially much less supportive than that in public schools, which I will compare here.

“Georgia SST teams had their origin in a federal lawsuit known as Marshall vs. Georgia (1984). It dealt primarily with disproportionate placement of minority students in Special Education. While the state prevailed in this case, a shortcoming in Georgia education became obvious: there was no standard process for students to obtain individualized help in the regular classroom for learning or behavior difficulties.  Instead, the route to such help usually led to placement in Special Education, often involving removal from the general classroom.  As part of its commitment to federal court to remedy technical violations found in the trial, the State of Georgia mandated that a Student Support Team would be established in every Georgia public school, K-12. The court accepted this commitment, thereby making the SST mandate a permanent injunction” (Block quote from: State of Georgia Department of Education, 2011).

In my experience as a public school teacher in Georgia, I would estimate having led and/or participated in many dozens of SST process team meetings for my students.  Whenever any of my colleagues and/or I identified areas of deficiency and/or potential improvement for students, the students were referred to SST.  SST is a type of support for students that identifies and monitors areas and/or other characteristics of the student in the school setting that could be improved.  For example, a gifted student who has straight As in all subjects except for math – and who is failing math – can be referred to SST for support and monitoring.  Also, a student who has recently maintained average grades, but who has become withdrawn, is failing, and is at-risk (of dropping out of school) can be forwarded through the SST process.  And, a student whose behavior is inappropriate, unacceptable, and/or dangerous, and who is failing due to his or her behavior can also be referred to SST.  Additionally, a student who is pregnant and who is expected to be out of school for awhile due to giving birth can also be referred to SST.

In my experience in teaching public middle school students around Atlanta, Georgia, the SST process was always helpful on each and every occasion.  Public school educators are very interested in assisting and supporting students so that they will be successful, and/or so that they will improve in the areas in which betterment is desired.  I can say that the educators with whom I worked, including myself, were always consistently interested in helping and supporting our students as much as possible.  We went above and beyond in doing what we could, within legal guidelines for public school educators, in suggesting out-of-school supports, as well as in providing and implementing in-school aids to support increased success and learning. 

Some of the actions that were implemented by public school teachers for students through SST to aid them include moving the student’s desk closer in proximity to the teacher to better assist in maintaining the student’s attention; providing extended time to complete assignments and/or assessments; giving individualized verbal and written instructions and/or directions (in addition to addressing them to the entire class); breaking up larger assignments into smaller parts; providing more positive feedback, incentives, and reinforcements; providing increased follow-up, monitoring for progress, and/or redirection to students for whom it is needed and/or helpful; pairing students with those who are good mentors and/or role models; etc.  There are a great many more interventions that can be provided in the classroom, as well, including giving the student leadership opportunities in class; providing the student with more opportunities to speak and/or ask and answer questions; calling on the student by name; maintaining a positive, nonjudgmental tone with the student; not “guilting” a student because he or she is unable to understand and/or complete work; and giving students opportunities to be more mobile in class.  All of these interventions and more are those which my colleagues and I implemented for students with whom we were involved in the SST process.

In contrast, I can also describe a perfect example of how the SST process has broken down and has seriously emotionally and/or academically-injured and/or failed a student, including the generation of risk to their health and life.  I believe that because educators, administrators, and/or counselors and psychologists in private schools are unfamiliar and inexperienced with the SST process in Georgia because they have not been required to utilize it and/or there has been little to no oversight or enforcement of it in their school systems, that it is not nearly as effective as the process implemented in public schools.  Or, perhaps school employees in private schools may deliberately mishandle the process, purposely jeopardizing students’ health, life, and/or academic success.  Public school teachers in Georgia utilitze the SST process to assist students all the time; private school teachers and other school personnel appear to perceive the SST process as a last resort and something to avoid at all possible costs.  Even for those students who may need, require, and/or benefit from the SST process in private schools, there is a great lack of it’s utilization in the private school environment, as I have observed.

In relation to the particular student whom I will call Carl, he is an elementary school (grade 3) aged child who has regularly achieved high grades and is an honor student, academically, behaviorally, as well as in character and values.  Carl’s standardized test scores are extremely high, with his average academic functioning ranging between grade 5 to 7, and his overall academic functioning ranging between grade 3 to grade 10.  Carl’s socialization might benefit from more positive interactions and opportunities for positive, small group cooperative work with his peers, however he has had prior experiences that have understandably-caused him to be cautious of his peers and others.  Carl could also benefit from increased follow-up, attention, reassurance, and positive reinforcement from his teachers, as well as greater open-mindedness toward utilizing and implementing supports that will better aid in Carl’s academic success, reduction in stress, and increased happiness and confidence at school.

For Carl, it would have benefited him for his teachers and/or school to have instituted the SST process immediately upon their observation of him requiring additional time to complete his assignments and/or assessments.  They provided accommodations to Carl for a period of six months prior to nearly all of them being removed by the school psychologist, against the many suggestions and evidence provided by an outside professional who completed an outside evaluation of Carl.  It’s not that Carl is unable to perform extremely well on all of his work, it’s that he simply needs some additional time to complete it.  Therefore, what happened was that extended time was provided for some time, and following an outside assessment, nearly all extended time was removed, even though the professional who completed the outside assessment repeatedly recommended continuing the extended time accommodations, and identified – through a valid evaluation – that Carl’s processing time was lower than average.  Basically, the evaluation that was completed addressed only reading and math, and not language arts or writing.  Simply based on the reading and math results of the evaluation, the school psychologist of the private faith-based school removed nearly all of Carl’s extended time accommodations, without having any concrete evidence to do so in his other subjects. 

School Books and Assignments

School Books and Assignments

In my experience, removing accommodations already in place without evidence to support the need for their removal is simply not done and is unethical.  To remove nearly all of six months worth of accommodations placed Carl at significant peril in many areas of his life and development.  In all of my experience, accommodations are only removed when the student shows progress in being able to be successful without them in place.  Accommodations are never removed if they will hurt the student in some – or any – way.  In Carl’s situation, nearly all of his extended time accommodations were removed, and it was literally like the rug being pulled out from under him.  Again, the professional who completed Carl’s evaluation repeatedly stated that the extended time accommodations was needed and warranted.  The school psychologist who interpreted the professional’s evaluation removed nearly all of the accommodations that were in place to help support Carl in maintaining success. 

The school psychologist would rather remove accommodations already proven to help and support Carl, and require additional evaluations, rather than keep supports in place that have aided in his success.  The school principal also likely prepped the school psychologist for the outcome that was desired, and that is what occurred.  Further, school leaders always speak of wanting a partnership between home and school, however when situations such as this occur – when accommodations are removed that have been proven to assist the student in his success – it reflects that there is no partnership, and instead, there exists an adversarial relationship.

Following the removal of nearly all of Carl’s accommodations by the school psychologist, he began failing many assignments and/or attaining low grades on them – not because he was not capable of doing them well, but because he was unable to complete them.  This, therefore, placed extreme and unnecessary stress on Carl, and led to a crisis situation.  It, therefore, appears that the school psychologist and even perhaps other school leaders are more interested in removing supports to assist students, rigidly adhering to curriculum requirements that students may be unable to attain without extra supports, and essentially and literally placing a nail in a student’s coffin by removing supports that have assisted them. 

Rather than understand and support an outstanding student such as Carl as much as possible, why would a school psychologist remove supports for him that have been proven to assist him in his success?  Why would a school psychologist prefer to create a crisis situation for such a wonderful and outstanding student, when there is no evidence to support the removal of accommodations already in place?  Does the school psychologist prefer that Carl fail?  Does the school psychologist intend for Carl to experience a crisis or worse?  It appears so.

In this situation, the SST process at this private, faith-based school has failed Carl, and caused risk to his health and life.  Worse than negatively affecting his grades, assignment completion, confidence, and mood, it caused a crisis situation that could have led to Carl not being here today.  Is curriculum of greater importance than a child’s life?  Is educational rigidity and a lack of understanding of students more important than supporting and helping them as much as possible to be successful and happy in school?  Are private schools not to be held accountable for assisting students with success through positive (rather than negative) endeavors of the SST process?  In this particular situation, this certainly appears to be the case. 

When a related issue of parentally-requested school support of Carl be completed for him – and it was not – the issue went before the school system’s superintendent, who cited her support for curriculum, policy, and the privatization of the school system, preferring those areas to the support and well-being of Carl.  When school leaders succumb to intellectual blindness related to denying support, success, well-being, and lives of their students, such school leaders cease to be effective.  School leaders who are also unable to cope with constructive criticism and honesty, and who are either unwilling or unable to provide simple support, understanding, and compassion to students – particularly children – have the potential for being more destructive than constructive. 

In order to be productive and progressive, schools and school leaders must be open-minded to all perspectives and philosophies – even the ones they don’t like to hear – in order to improve and in order to best-serve and benefit the students.  School leaders, particularly those in upper administration, must also use their intelligence and insight in order to model, understand, and believe what is true and correct – as well as remain ethical – rather than allowing themselves to be poisoned by inaccurate or false information provided to them by those whom they manage. 

There are some school leaders who are open-minded and effective because they listen to and consider the issues of their customers, however there often seem to be many more who do not listen to, nor consider serious issues because they do not approach the issues with open-mindedness and without prejudgment and bias.  Leaders of the former-type are most effective because they always have the best interests of the students in mind.  Regarding the latter-type leaders, their purposeful ignorance and/or “fix” to the issues may only contribute to further problems and a worsening of the issues.

Students in all schools in Georgia – not just those attending public schools – must be afforded the positive support that they need through SST and the SST process.  Removing supports that were put in place to assist the student, and doing so with no evidence that the student is able to perform as well without the supports, unnecessarily injures the student, placing the student at risk for further injury.  Hopefully, people who have been entrusted to support and help students will do so, rather than playing with their intellect, emotions, and lives as if they are unimportant and unvalued.  Hopefully, such people will do so before it is too late.  But, then again, some people never change.

References:

State of Georgia Department of Education, 2011.  “Student Support Teams (SST): Structure and Process” (p. 4).  Retrieved on March 3, 2013 from   http://archives.gadoe.org/DMGetDocument.aspx/SST%20Guidelines%20Final%209-16-11.pdfp=6CC6799F8C1371F62BDB7AD6F76A3052D9E5ABE36C978EDD135479A5CF0628D1&Type=D