This Valentine’s Day, Practice Love and Understanding (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Water Heart Design (from www.newevolutiondesigns.com, February 14, 2015)

Water Heart Design (from http://www.newevolutiondesigns.com, February 14, 2015)

It is St. Valentine’s Day, a day for love and romance, especially as reflected in our culture and history. Valentine’s Day is a day that is important for couples, though it is also important for everyone. On Valentine’s Day, everyone can show a little more love, respect, appreciation, and understanding toward each other.

I’ve already heard the national news today of a plot to kill people in a mall in Canada that was thwarted. Later today, I heard about a cartoonist in Denmark who was killed – an artist who apparently depicted Mohammed in a negative manner. There are also likely so many more countless tragedies, hate crimes, and killings that have occurred around the world.

Today – as every day – however, should be a day for spreading love, kindness, compassion, and understanding. Do not be the person who is ugly toward or who hurts others. Take the opportunity to do an act of kindness for another.

For those who are unable or unwilling to practice loving kindness and understanding, my heart and prayers go out to you. I understand that, sometimes, life experiences may make it more difficult to love, but it should not be an excuse to avoid doing so.

On this day of all days, we must open our hearts and practice loving kindness and forgiveness. Of course, that does not mean that we should fall victim to being hurt for doing so, however setting a good, positive example may be all a person needs for his or her spirit to be uplifted, even for one day.

How will you practice love, kindness, and understanding toward others today?

Thoughts on Some Recent Societal Violence (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Talking, writing, and/or teaching about violence in society, and ways to reduce it, are always sensitive issues that tend to stir up many emotions in people.  Unfortunately, many times, emotions sometimes get the best of people regarding situations, and those situations escalate into those that only fuel maladaptive and/or harmful conduct.  Two recent situations that I would like to address include the terrorism at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France, and the killing of a 12-year-old boy (who was holding what appeared to be a real gun) by a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio.

As a person who tries to view all sides of a situation or issue, I am one who does my best to think through it before addressing or weighing in on the subject.  My approach is the same in regard to the two above-identified issues.  Knowing that these are sensitive and controversial issues that have created tragedy and turmoil, my approach is one that tries to consider and share different perspectives.  These, of course, are views that others may or may not agree with, and I understand that.

Admittedly, regarding Charlie Hebdo, I know little about this company, but can already see that the satirical cartoons published by it may be offensive to particular people.  First, as a Caucasian, Christian, and Westerner, I understand and appreciate people’s freedoms of speech, expression, publication, and the arts.  Even if what is expressed is offensive – and certainly, there are plenty of publications and art mediums out there that are offensive – there are protections on them that are guaranteed by official government documents in many countries.  For people whose cultures may be middle eastern and/or who practice religions other than Christianity – such as Islam, for example – their upbringing may create views that clash with the majority, including rights enacted within countries in which they live.

I am not condoning, nor do I support any kinds of harassment or terrorism – in any forms – however what I am saying is that increased tolerance, understanding, and sensitivity toward peoples and cultures that are not the majority in particular countries must be exercised.  People who commit terrorist actions appear to believe they are actually doing a good thing.  In the case of those who died as a result of the terrorism at Charlie Hebdo, it seems that the terrorists were acting as martyrs, willing to sacrifice their own lives in seeking vengeance and retaliation (but what they likely believed was justice) for insults to Muhammad and Islam.  In their own way (that most likely view as twisted), they believed they were doing the right thing, even though it is completely against Western values in this regard.

An issue closer to home – in Cleveland, Ohio – about which I read, online, today is about a 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed by a police officer.  The boy had been holding and/or carrying what appeared to be a real gun, but was apparently a replica of a gun that sure looked real to me.  I’ve also read about situations in the past in which boys who hold guns, including toy guns that appear to be real, have been shot by police.

First, I express my condolences and sympathies for the boy and his family about his untimely and tragic death.  This is certainly an unfortunate and devastating occurrence that could have been avoided and prevented.  But, what drew me to reading this story are the many questions that I have about it.  First, why is a child holding what would appear to be a real gun?  Wasn’t he taught not to hold anything that would remotely appear to be a weapon?  Why does he want to hold it to begin with?  And, hasn’t he been taught that police officers are trained to shoot to kill in these types of situations?  This boy’s actions were like inviting suicide.

With all of the recent bad news about incidents involving police officers around the country, we must also remember and keep in mind that there are many truly good and helpful police officers who place their lives on the line every day in service to others.  Sometimes, it seems that police in some areas have resorted to using increased and unnecessary force.  Requiring that police are competent in training regarding the de-escalation of violent and potentially violent situations is necessary.  Also, police minimizing, covering up, and/or excusing situations that are clearly wrong and/or which could have been prevented or improved upon only serves to increase public distrust of the very people who are supposed to protect us.

So, that brings me back to the boy who was holding what did appear to be a real gun, but was not.  Parents must educate their children that our society has drastically changed.  In today’s generation, there was the horrific tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in which so many were killed, including children.  In my generation, I noticed the change when the violence at Columbine High School in Colorado occurred.  In a prior generation, the change may have been more noticeable as a result of the students who were killed by authorities at Kent State University in Ohio.  What I’m saying is that police don’t play – they can’t.  Police sometimes have only split seconds to decide on what actions they must take – shoot or not shoot.  And, in my understanding and observations, police typically shoot to kill.  They don’t shoot to wound or they may end up being those who are killed.

Therefore, and as tragic as it is for the young boy who was killed, and his family, children must be taught these things.  Guns and weapons – and things that look like them – are not toys.  In this day and age, people aren’t playing, especially police.  It is up to adults to educate children to act in their best interests.  Yes, this boy did a stupid thing, but it is something that could have been avoided.  Because he did not, he tragically paid for his mistake with his life.  How many more children will be killed by police for holding fake or toy guns because they have not been taught otherwise, are taking unnecessary and dangerous risks, and/or don’t care?  People have to remember that police are going to shoot first, and will shoot to kill – that is their training, otherwise they will become the one who falls.

There are many other situations of violence that have occurred in our society, especially recently, that I could address here, as well, however these are two that have captured my attention because of the manner in which they could have been prevented in the first place.  So, while there is freedom of speech, press, and arts in the West, those from other cultures who now live in Western society may have differing views.  Sadly, they are willing to sacrifice their own lives, take the lives of others, and create turmoil out of situations that they appear not to respect, tolerate, or understand.  Increased tolerance, respect, and sensitivity is needed on all sides in order to improve relations between people of differing backgrounds and cultures.

Lastly, people must not invite tragedy to occur.  The boy in Cleveland who was holding what appeared to be a real gun, but which was not real, lost his life because of his actions.  This boy was wronged by a society and culture that either did not teach him that holding what appeared to be a gun was extremely risky and dangerous, or it was not instilled in him enough that he not do such a thing.  While the boy should have been old enough to understand some consequences and risks regarding his actions, parents must also do more to educate and instill in children not to do such things that invite escalating repercussions that might involve loss of life, regardless of whether the person taking the life was a police officer.

May all who have died in these situations rest in peace, and may society learn from these situations so that they do not continue to occur.

References:

Ahmed, B. (January 8, 2015). Charlie Hebdo and the alarming evolution of terrorism.  ThinkProgress.  Retrieved on January 23, 2015 from http://thinkprogress.org/world/2015/01/08/3609528/paris-terrorism-evolution/

Cleveland boy, 12, shot and killed over fake gun (January 23, 2015).  CBS News.  Retrieved on January 23, 2015 from  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cleveland-boy-12-shot-and-killed-by-police-over-fake-gun/

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 – the University at Buffalo – as a Sexist Institution (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

When I first entered the University at Buffalo as an undergraduate student in 1989, I felt included. For me, as a woman, it is important to me to feel and be a part of any group or institution that truly “includes” women, both appreciating and respecting women. The atmosphere that is present at UB today, in 2014, however, has changed. UB has become a sexist institution that promotes a perspective and images that make men the priority. Women’s concerns and interests have taken a backseat to those of men, sometimes being entirely excluded. What happened?

The University at Buffalo (UB) is one of the four university centers within the State University of New York (SUNY) system. Being born and raised in Western New York State, I was aware of UB as an institution that was prestigious, with a reputation for educational excellence. As a high school senior, I was accepted at all of the eight or ten colleges and universities to which I applied. UB was actually my second choice behind Ithaca College, though I chose to attend UB because of the lesser cost, closer proximity to home, and excellent reputation as a research institution. I had been interested in pursuing a medically-related career at that time, and I am an individual who gets much enjoyment from completing research, so UB seemed the perfect place for me to go after high school.

After arriving at UB, I quickly gained the feeling that it was a place in which I could soar, and I was correct. In my first year there, I became a member of several student organizations in which I was interested; studied a science-related curriculum to prepare for a medical career; worked part-time in my dormitory complex; was active in the university wind ensemble and chorus; and was a member of both the indoor and outdoor women’s track and field teams. I was not, nor have ever been a “partier;” and I never put on the “freshman 15.” In fact, I became more busy and active at UB, getting into better shape, and structuring my life and managing my time so that I would be as successful as possible. While doing this, I also met new people, made new friends, tried out different avenues of interests and enjoyment, and stayed as focused on my studies as possible.

As a member of the women’s track and field team at UB, I was one of the Royals. The men were the Bulls, and the women were the Royals. My specialty areas were in field events, including shot put, discus, and javelin. In my last two years of high school, I was recognized as one of the top competitors in shot put and discus throughout Western New York State. While I also competed in nearly every other event throughout the six years that I was a member of my varsity high school team, those two were my top events. As a Royal, I was a proud member of the women’s team at UB. Today, women’s sports teams are only known as Bulls, a masculine term that excludes, overlooks, and denies the “femaleness” of women. As such and in the manner that it is used at UB, the term ‘Bulls’ has become a sexist word that excludes women, and in turn, prioritizes only the gender, concerns, and interests of men.

Throughout most of my time spent at UB as an undergraduate, I was also a member of the university’s pep band. The Pep Band was a group that played songs during men’s home football and basketball games to liven up the crowd. The Pep Band also played at one away football game per semester. In my schooling prior to attending UB, I had been a member of the band and marching band for eight years. Included as a requirement for being a band member in high school was participating in both the marching band and pep band. Therefore, while UB did not have a marching band at that time, I was quite familiar with what was expected and required of musicians, whether they were extremely serious or playing just for fun. The Pep Band provided an outlet for students to play their instruments socially and recreationally.

Thunder of the East Logo (Retrieved on June 16, 2014 fromhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunder_of_the_East)

Thunder of the East Logo (Retrieved on June 16, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunder_of_the_East)

At UB today, there is the Thunder of the East Marching Band. The main logo that promotes the image of the group reflects a man playing a trumpet. Inequality and sexism are represented in the image because of this. There is no woman who is reflected in the logo. Women are completely excluded from being portrayed in the logo, though the marching band is not a group that is exclusively male. This reflects another situation in which men’s gender, interests, and concerns take priority over women, excluding women.

At UB, I never had a boyfriend. As a heterosexual woman, that was a part of my life that was lacking. At more than half way through my senior year, I was still a virgin, and was quite proud of it. I had prided myself in trying remain chaste for the “right” person. Certainly, I dated and always had many male friends, with many who were very good friends – respectful, caring, protective, and gentlemanly, more like good brothers. But, there was never one who could adjust to my busy and focused lifestyle; perhaps there was never a man who wanted to work as hard as it would be required to maintain an intimate relationship with me. My focus was on my studies and activities, ending up with completing two degrees in the less than 3.5 years, less than the amount of time that it takes most students to complete one degree. And, perhaps I was not willing to “make” the time necessary for which an intimate relationship would have required to be successful. Through all of this, it was still okay at UB for me to make my own decision in regard to the types and levels of intensity of my relationships with others.

In the latter part of 1992, in my last semester at UB as an undergraduate, a peer raped me. The rape occurred on a blind date with him that had been arranged by two mutual friends, one of whom was a fraternity member. This man was a fellow UB student, two years younger than me, from Downstate New York who was also a member of the same fraternity as our mutual friend. The morning following the violent and hurtful rape that I experienced, I informed my two friends about it, and one friend encouraged me to confront the rapist about it by phone, another hurtful experience for me. While four people knew of the rape, it was not reported until I reported it to UB campus police a few years later, having caused all those involved to protect the rapist so that he cleanly got away with his crime, as well as creating accomplices out of our mutual “friends.”

In later reporting the crime to public safety at UB, one of the police chiefs laughed about it, dismissing it and minimizing it. The case went through the legal system, but the perpetrator was never charged, nor prosecuted. He got away with a violent rape in which I was harmed and injured in many ways. No one at UB provided me with any support in coping with what had occurred. No one told me that women at college and university campuses may have a chance of being raped. No one told me that men who are members of many college and university fraternities believe rape is sex. No one told me that the assistant district attorney in Buffalo would deny that I was raped, telling me that I had not been raped. No one told me that my life would be forever altered by being trusting of a man who was twisted in his thoughts and actions, violently raping and harming me, and getting away with it. No one asks to be raped. And, when it happens, I have experienced that it is the victim or survivor who is blamed, revictimized, and punished by many in society who do not hold the offender responsible or accountable for his actions.

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/)

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/)

Colleges and universities in which there is a rape culture present within their fraternities are not only sexist and harmful, but criminal. When all those who are supposed to protect women from harm, and support them in their reporting and recovery, but do not do so, and instead, support the actions of the rapist, they embolden and enable such men to continue their criminal actions, believing they can get away with it, because they have gotten away with it. It has been my experience that this hidden rape culture within certain fraternities at UB has continued and has been perpetuated. The annual tradition of fraternity men creating snow sculptures of ejaculating penises is only one reflection that this hidden rape culture within UB’s fraternities still exists, and is very much alive and well.

Lastly, when I completed my studies at UB in 1992, and returned to attend the graduation ceremony in 1993, it was a Division III institution. There had been a lot of talk and news about the possibility of UB going to Division I. Many students did not think it would happen; in fact, many hoped that it would not happen, including myself. This is because there was a belief among students that football would detract from UB’s reputation as a renowned research university in the Northeastern United States. My experience, as well as that of many students and faculty, was to observe that to occur.

In 1994 and 1995, I returned to UB and took several classes as an open student. I completed undergraduate courses, a graduate course, and a post-graduate class. It was during that time that I realized that the atmosphere and mood at UB had changed. Football became the “all important” aspect of UB. An example of that occurred in my sociology class. In my class were three football players who had extremely disrespectful attitudes and toilet mouths. They were disrespectful to the instructor, resistant and angry about having to attend class (and often, did not do so), and sat in the back of the class, swearing and causing disruption. Unfortunately, because they were football players, they were “untouchable.” They got away with all of these behaviors, and appeared to have the support of the heads of the athletics department in their unruliness. They acted abominably and they got away with it. Professors were afraid to speak out and express themselves about the manner in which education was deteriorating at UB, having been replaced with football, so lauded and supported by the institution’s president.

Women who enter UB, as well as other colleges and universities, must be informed and educated about these types of issues that are present in institutions of higher education so that we can better empower, bond with, and protect ourselves. Our society so often teaches girls and women that we must sacrifice ourselves, our identities, our safety, our intelligence, our feelings, our bodies to men. In order to survive and even prosper, women have often learned that it is a man’s world, and that we must be submissive and/or subservient to men. There are men and women who perpetuate this societal standard when they promote issues such as sexism and inequality toward women, as well as issues including sexual assault and rape. Denying and turning a blind eye to resolving these issues only promotes a culture that becomes even more sexist, unequal, harmful, and violent toward women and girls.

Prestigious universities such as UB have an opportunity to get back on the right track. College and university leaders must remain open-minded when faced with issues such as sexism, inequality, and sexual assault on campus, including rapes experienced by both women and men. They must not attempt to hide, cover up, ridicule, deny, or minimize these situations. Doing so only worsens and perpetuates them. College and university leaders must promote environments on campus that are fair and equal, respectful and appreciative, caring and sensitive.

I went to UB to gain an excellent education. While I, indeed, obtained a great education from an outstanding institution, I also graduated from UB, unnecessarily, as a rape victim and survivor. 😦 No one did anything to prevent or stop it from happening then, and to my knowledge, the culture there has not changed for the better for women, thus still perpetuating its continuance now.  UB did not make it better for me, but it can still make things better for others.

Author’s Note: This post – along with dozens of others regarding campus sexual assault – is listed on the National Center for Domestic and Sexual Violence website as of January 1, 2015 at: http://www.ncdsv.org/publications_sa-campus.html .

Bullying, Abuse, and Suicide Risk Among Students: Ignorance is Bliss for Disbelievers (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Recently, a man commented on one of my blog posts that I made last year regarding a particular school in which bullying (and worse) occurred by children and adults toward other children.  What was so shocking to me was that the man basically stated that he was physically abused by religious at a parochial school during his childhood, and he inferred that children should currently be treated more harshly (infer more abuse and violence) than what they already endure in many schools.  In responding to the man – and seeking to provide information for his understanding of the seriousness of the issue – I stated to him that bullying, abuse, and violence is extremely serious in the United States.  The United States has the highest child mortality rate of any Western country.  And, in the United States, Texas is the state with the highest single mortality rate (about 4%) of any state.

Why isn’t the American public outraged about that?!  Why do more people not stand up for and protect children, nor seek to listen to, hear, and understand them?  Why is it so easy for so many people to minimize, overlook, ignore, and discredit children?  It is no wonder that so many children and youth commit suicide when they do not receive the assistance and/or protection that they need from their families – or other adults, and then, experience bullying, abuse, and/or violence at school.  Children and youth are so vulnerable.  They are growing and developing, and are going through stages of their lives in which they are most fragile.

Too many people believe that children and youth should be harmed – and then, they call it discipline or disciplinary action.  Children and youth need support, care, kindness, understanding, and compassion.  How does American society expect children to grow and develop in a healthy manner when many of their role models, teachers, coaches, and/or other adults bully and harm them?  What is worse in a Catholic or religious faith-based school is when the expectation is that children are to be valued and appreciated, but are bullied and harmed by many of the very adults who are charged with protecting them.  The situation is not restricted to faith-based schools, but is present in all too many schools in the United States, both public and private.

I believe that much of the issue relates to the toleration, acceptance, encouragement, and promotion of violence – particularly media violence – within our culture.  So many television shows, movies, and other programs that have been deemed “entertainment” are so horrific that I have rarely watched them, now, over a period of many years.  Yet, for many people, the more violence they view, the more they want.  It is as if there is a competition in the United States in media and entertainment to produce more and more violent shows and movies.  That would not occur if people did not spend so much money to view violence, to play violent video games, to participate in sports that are violent, etc.

Thus, I have broached a few more topics about which most people do not want to contemplate, talk about, or take action to prevent or eliminate.  These are, however, issues that must be brought into the open and discussed if there is any hope for improvement in regard to them within our culture.  One person who takes his or her life due to bullying and abuse is too many.  Yet, there are dozens of children and youth who commit suicide in the United States, with such deaths continually on the rise.  Last I knew, there were about 135 reported deaths due to suicide in the United States in one recent year.  There are likely many more that are not reported.  And, many of these children and youth who commit suicide have been bullied and harmed at school, by their peers and/or teachers.

I have taken the liberty to post several links regarding children and youth who have committed suicide in such circumstances so that the man who posted his comment, saying that my article was “stupid” can have a better understanding that when someone is dead, the situation is too late to improve – and is far from “stupid.”  For this man, ignorance is bliss.  Following, therefore, are just a few of the 100s of links on the Internet (in no particular order), all of which I retrieved on April 30, 2014, related to children and youth who have committed suicide due to bullying and/or abuse experienced at school from their peers and/or teachers:

“Bullied 10-year-old girl commits suicide.” http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Girl+Commits+Suicide+On+Camera&Form=VQFRVP#view=detail&mid=7A9D5FDFA0071FC8A1657A9D5FDFA0071FC8A165

“Suicide of Amanda Todd.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_of_Amanda_Todd

“Suicide of Phoebe Prince.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_of_Phoebe_Prince

“Suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamey_Rodemeyer  (One of my student teaching experiences was at a school that he attended, Heim Middle School, in the Williamsville (New York) Central School District.)

“Gay Ottawa teen who killed himself was bullied: Jamie Hubley was a figure skater and the only openly gay boy in his school.”  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/gay-ottawa-teen-who-killed-himself-was-bullied-1.1009474

“Suicide of Kelly Yeomans.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelly_Yeomans

“Girl commits suicide after boyfriend sends her naked photos to fellow students, Family receives $154K from school.” http://news.asiantown.net/r/26323/Girl-commits-suici–100-e-after-boyfriend-sends-her-nak–101-d-photos-to-fellow-students–Family-receives–154K-from-school

“Girls, 12 and 14, arrested in death of bullied Florida girl who killed herself.”  http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/10/15/girls-12-and-14-arrested-in-death-bullied-florida-girl-police-say/

“How a cell phone picture led to a girl’s suicide.”  http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/10/07/hope.witsells.story/index.html

“Georgia middle-schooler commits suicide after bullying, being called ‘snitch,’ dad says.”  http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/05/17616979-georgia-middle-schooler-commits-suicide-after-bullying-being-called-snitch-dad-says?lite

“Bullying allegations probed after boy, 15, commits suicide after first day of school.”  http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/08/29/bullying-allegations-probed-after-boy-15-commits-suicide-after-first-day-school/

“Anti-gay bullying cited in Georgia teen’s suicide.”  http://www.projectqatlanta.com/news_articles/view/anti-gay_bullying_cited_in_georgia_teens_suicide

“My bullied son’s last day on Earth.”  http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/04/23/bullying.suicide/  (It is difficult to believe this already happened five years ago; I remember the news about it.)

“Ex-teacher gets 30 days for rape of girl, 14; judge says she was ‘older than her chronological age.’ ”  http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/ex-teacher_gets_30_days_for_sex_with_student_14_judge_says_she_was_older_th/  (I am aware that the National Organization for Women made a formal complaint against the judge in this case, desiring his removal as a result of the sentence that he gave this man.  The girl committed suicide.)

“Teacher Kidnaps, Rapes Boy.”  http://abcnews.go.com/US/video?id=7390696

“Mary Kay Letourneau.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Kay_Letourneau

“Columbine High School massacre.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbine_High_School_massacre

These 17 articles represent at least 29 people who died, either by suicide or homicide, in relation to bullying and/or abuse by peers, or abuse by teachers.  The articles also represent at least two other survivors of abuse who remain living.  The victims and survivors in each of these articles are reason enough why bullying and abuse must be taken more seriously, and be prevented and eliminated, especially in our schools.  Hopefully, the man who commented on a different one of my blog posts in relation to this issue no longer views it as “stupid.” 😦

As a result of the comments made by the particular man in regard to a prior post relating to these issues, I have been inspired to create a new LinkedIn group, “Stop Youth Suicide.”  I created the group today, and promoted it within 30 LinkedIn groups, and invited 70 people on LinkedIn from around the world to join.  Six fellow LinkedIn members – most of whom are mental health professionals – have already joined the group as of 5:30 PM Eastern Time today.  I have also promoted the group on Twitter, and will continue to do so.  Today, I have also gained additional followers and “likes” on Twitter as a result of creating this group.  (As of 1:30 PM Eastern Time on May 4, 2014, there are 55 members of the group!)

The comments made by the particular man – and the thoughts and attitudes of so many regarding these issues – definitely reflect the need for increased understanding, sensitivity, compassion, and support toward children and youth, especially those who are contemplate, attempt, and/or commit suicide as a result of bullying and abuse, that which is especially experienced at school from peers and adults.

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

“On Being a Reluctant Catholic” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Female Praying Hands with Rosary (Retrieved from http://rachelhelie.com/?p=404 , December 23, 2013)

Female Praying Hands with Rosary (Retrieved from http://rachelhelie.com/?p=404 , December 23, 2013)

For the past few years, especially, I have been and would consider myself a reluctant Roman Catholic.  There are many reasons for this, as I will reflect upon herein; and these are thoughts and feelings that I have personally encountered and coped with in the past, as well.  While I do have my own internal, personal struggles with being Roman Catholic, I have always returned to the same realization after much introspection and contemplation – to remain Roman Catholic.  I am sure that the internal struggles that I feel about being Roman Catholic will not just go away, and in fact, they seem to increase with time.  However, for now, I continue to remain Roman Catholic, whether more or less involved as I have been in the past.  My religion and spirituality are a strong part of who I am as a person, and are not things about myself that I take lightly.  And so, serious understanding, thought, awareness, introspection, and consideration are concerns that I bring to my own table in contemplating what being Roman Catholic means for me.

I was born, baptized, and raised Roman Catholic in the Greater Buffalo Area of New York State.  My mother is of purely Polish descent, and was born and raised Roman Catholic.  When my parents married, my dad converted from being a nonpracticing Quaker to Roman Catholicism.  My mother, especially, and my dad, often, attended weekly mass on a regular basis even before I was born.  Therefore, it was a sure thing that I would become Roman Catholic, being indoctrinated in the ways of Roman Catholicism.  It was an expectation that, as the offspring of my parents, I would be Roman Catholic.  My mother made sure that my brother and I received religious education.  We attended public school, and so, took religious education classes every Sunday before going to mass since religion is not taught in public schools.  We both attended religion classes at my hometown church and school from our ages of 5-16.

Even at a young age, the thing that struck me the most about Roman Catholicism was that there were few female role models in my church, and even fewer who were visible, appreciated, or recognized in any way.  Certainly, in the parochial school in my hometown, there were nuns who were principals and teachers, however I did not attend Catholic school and did not regularly experience women’s leadership involvement in my religion.  I attended religious education classes for one hour each Sunday, and went to mass for one hour each Sunday.  Therefore, it was the men in the leadership positions of the church whom I always saw, and who were always prominent in speaking, performing mass, and being at the forefront of the faith.

As a young girl, these experiences caused me to feel that the male leaders of the church were out-of-touch with children.  Of course, they spoke about God, Jesus, His family, and His followers, and how we should love Jesus, however their words always seemed so far away.  They seemed to preach about what they did not practice.  Jesus showed the example of being caring and compassionate for children, but I did not observe any of them being that way.  They did not know how to interact with children, how to appreciate children, how to respect children, how to relate with or reach children.  They were – and, often, still are – out-of-touch.  There was alot more spiritual need that I had as a child that went unrecognized, unnurtured, ignored.  As a result, I felt invisible and unappreciated by the male leadership of the church when I was a child.  They did not know, understand, or care about me.  They preached what they did not practice.  How is a young girl supposed to gain respect for those who are so distinctly separate from her?

When I was five or six, I had my weekly religion class with Sister Mary.  Sister Mary was a very young nun who always dressed in her habit, and who was a role model for me.  She was kind and caring to children, especially to me.  I was one who wanted to stay after class and help Sister Mary clean the chalk boards.  I had alot of questions for Sister Mary who probably thought I was more of a chatterbox.  She seemed to look for reasons for me not to remain after class to talk with her, however I ignored and overlooked her hints, and asked more questions.  Always, she was very kind, compassionate, and understanding.  To me, she always had the right answers, could relate with me, and placed me at ease and at peace.  The next fall, it broke my heart to learn that Sister Mary had been relocated.  I never saw her again.  Sister Mary was like an angel to me – and worse, an angel who had been ripped away from me.  I cried over the loss of my relationship with Sister Mary.  I needed a female role model to look up to, and to whom to ask all of my curious questions, and she was gone.

I never got that feeling back about anyone in a leadership position in the church even coming close to understanding me, as a person, until I took my Confirmation classes with the deacon of my hometown church.  Deacon Louis was extremely knowledgeable, and also very upbeat and enthusiastic about Roman Catholicism and people’s individual spirituality.  I told Deacon Louis that I was interested to learn more about the Rosary, and that I wanted to pray the Rosary but did not know how.  Deacon Louis provided me with a beautifully-pictured and colored pamphlet about how to pray the Rosary.  Wow!  For once, someone who actually listened to me – amazing!  As time progressed, I learned that Deacon Louis was very understanding and respectful about individuals’ faith and spiritual development.  Again, I privately spoke with Deacon Louis and let him know that I was contemplating a few saints to be my patron saint at Confirmation.  He made photocopies of a few pages of a book for me that he had about the saints that I had identified to him.  Based on that information that he provided to me, I chose my patron saint, St. Joan of Arc.  I had a great respect for Deacon Louis.  He was a man who was married and who had three daughters; he understood me and my need for faith and spiritual fulfillment in my religion.

Throughout my life, I have always tried to reach out to priests in the churches that I have attended and/or those in which I have been a member.  In most cases, I have not had good experiences in that the men seem unable to relate with or understand my experiences as a woman.  Most priests are extremely uncomfortable in speaking with me, as a woman, about women’s issues and traumatic life experiences, for examples.  Even less so, most are unable to understand and relate with me about relationship, marital, divorce, children’s, and even career and financial issues.  They often seem to feel threatened by or unable to cope with such topics.  One expects to go to a priest for support and guidance, and when it is not received, it may lead to one questioning his or her faith.  It makes me wonder if they are simply like most men who, when faced with a problem, want to “fix” it; or if they are truly unable to relate with or understand the issues that women, children, and families face.  Certainly, fixing problems is good, however there are often times when women simply want to talk out and vent their concerns, seeking emotional support; most priests seem to be unable to understand and provide that.  For these reasons, I have learned that it is often better not to approach priests with such issues because they are typically unable to understand about and relate to them with me, at least on a personal level.

In my mid to late 20’s, I seriously contemplated becoming a nun in the Roman Catholic Church.  As a person with a strong religious faith and who was single with no committed intimate partner in sight, I thought that religious life might be suitable for me.  I sought to understand whether or not I had “received a call” from God to become a religious.  I was a member of two Roman Catholic Singles groups in Western New York State, and had opportunities for interactions with many religious, both women and men.  In this capacity, I also learned more about religious life and took several opportunities to go on religious retreats with my peers.  I participated in one weekend retreat at a convent in Cheektowaga, New York.  I also personally interviewed with a nun at the convent in Athol Springs, New York.

While both of these experiences increased my faith and spirituality, they did not convince me to pursue religious life.  In fact, they did the opposite.  At the first convent that I went to, I saw women who appeared to do much praying and sitting.  Most of the women were older or elderly, and many did not have the medical assistance they needed.  It seemed that the convent was more like one big dormitory building for women of the same faith who prayed alot.  I did not see their good works, but only saw them living amongst each other in lives that caused them to be excluded from society at large.  I similarly observed and felt this at the second convent where I interviewed.  The elderly woman who interviewed me did so in her small bedroom.  She appeared to have no family, no nothing.  To me, she appeared to have lived an empty and solitary life, and was very much unappreciated.

After more thought, I realized that I did not want any of what I observed at the convents.  I felt sorry for these women, and angry at the Roman Catholic Church for requiring them to make such huge sacrifices in their lives.  I was also upset that the Church required priests to be single.  I did not believe that was fair, or took basic human nature into serious consideration.  It seemed to me that the Church wanted fewer people for which to pay simply by requiring that religious did not have families.  Conversely, I desired the opportunity to be married and have a family.  I also realized, after more thought, that I was pursuing religious life for some of the wrong reasons.  I had experienced a traumatic experience at college as an undergraduate, and pursuing religious life was a way of escaping from it.  I realized that, and decided to deal with it – and did.

As a woman in the Roman Catholic Church, I also realized all of the limitations on and misjudgments about women that it practices.  The Roman Catholic Church is often extremely rigid and insensitive toward people and understanding the basic needs of people.  Certainly, there are many wonderful things that the Catholic Church does in helping and supporting people throughout the world.  I have also received assistance and support from the Roman Catholic Church, but this has only begun being received after having been a member of the faithful for 41 years.  Most people cannot wait 41 or more years before some of their basic needs are met; they would be dead, otherwise.

The Roman Catholic Church is also extremely patriarchal.  Women are excluded from high-ranking positions in the church.  Women are not allowed to be priests or deacons, bishops or cardinals, or popes.  Even if a Roman Catholic woman becomes a priest, she is often not recognized or supported by her followers.  Women – often but for the Virgin Mary – are viewed in a negative light in Roman Catholicism.  After all, followers are typically taught that it was Eve who led to Adam’s downfall, and the resulting exit from Paradise.  There are different versions of this story that place equal responsibility on both Adam and Eve for being removed from Paradise, though those are the stories that one does not hear and that are not taught in the faith.  Whether consciously or unconsciously women are, therefore, blamed and condemned by the Roman Catholic Church.

Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church is also sexist.  In viewing Jesus’ mother, Mary, as a virgin and placing her virginity on a pedestal, the Roman Catholic Church has elevated a woman to a position in the natural world that is unrealistic for all other women.  Certainly, virginity and chastity are important for women, however they are also ideals that are not realistic.  Often, for example, the Roman Catholic Church does not hold the same ideals for men, and this leads to a sexist double standard.  Such standards are biased and unfair.  Further, the many prayers and recitations in the Roman Catholic Church are sexist because they are not gender neutral, therefore excluding and purposely ignoring the need for increased rights, equality, and freedoms of women within the Church.

The Roman Catholic Church is also sexist in regard to its views regarding abortion.  I am a Roman Catholic for whom the choice for life is extremely important, however I also understand that it is important to provide choice, as well.  As a person who has only had one pregnancy, and who has never had any abortions or miscarriages, I believe in the value or life, though I also support the importance of choice.  It must be understood that there are situations and experiences that girls and women have that may be traumatic, out of their control, and/or life-threatening.  The are other situations in which females simply decide against continuing their pregnancy.  Women and girls must have opportunities for choice in whether or not to give birth to children.  It is wrong when the Roman Catholic Church preaches about life, but then, does not provide support or assistance to girls or women who are in need of it.  And, what about the male who has caused a pregnancy to occur?  Typically, the Roman Catholic Church does not hold males accountable to a role of responsibility when women and/or girls whom they impregnate obtain abortions.  Again, the responsibility is usually all upon the female, and the male is absolved of responsibility.  The female, again, is often blamed, stigmatized, and lacks support she needs in the very place that should provide it.

In marriages in which there is difficulty, abuse, or domestic violence, Roman Catholic priests are not consistent in their views regarding what steps should be taken to either maintain or dissolve the marriage.  Such views contribute to confusion and increased sexism in the Roman Catholic Church.  Some priests maintain the view that the wife and children must be subservient to the male, whom they view as the head of the household and the absolute, all-powerful leader of the family.  Such a view is harmfully patriarchal, and in fact, can contribute to a worsening of the situation in which the victims continue to be victimized, blamed, and unsupported.  Men should not necessarily be believed or obeyed at all costs, or it could cost one her life.  (Then, of course, people will ask why she did not just leave the marriage.)   On the other hand, there are priests who encourage marital counseling for a couple who is in trouble, however none of those with whom I have ever interacted are qualified to provide it.  First, they are not licensed counselors, nor do they have experience in marriage, or in having a wife and family of their own.  Then, there are those priests who say that if counseling does not help and if the situation is so bad, then divorce is the best option.  Wait, I thought marriage was supposed to be forever.  Sometimes, however, no matter how much a woman may try to improve and maintain her marriage, divorce is the only viable alternative that remains, whether it is initiated by her spouse or herself.

There is also the issue of homosexuals in the Roman Catholic Church.  I am an individual who is and who always has been heterosexual, though I recognize that there is a need in the Roman Catholic Church to provide support and equality to all peoples, including those who are homosexual.  I am also one who believes that marriage should be – notice that I said “should be” – between a man and woman, though I recognize this as one of my values because this is what I was taught.  I also take care not to impose my values about this issue onto others.  Therefore, I maintain the view that marriage should be between two partners who love and are fully committed to each other, for the benefit of themselves and their families, if they have them.  Therefore, I believe that the Roman Catholic Church should not exclude or condemn individuals who are homosexual, nor create guilt in them or cause them to feel sinful simply because of their sexual orientation.

Further, there are many experiences that I have had in the Roman Catholic Church – a church that promotes Jesus and Christianity – that have been extremely unchristian.  Within individual Roman Catholic churches, schools, groups, and/or organizations affiliated with it, there have been a great number of situations I have had in which people who contend to be Catholic and Christian behave in decidedly unchristian ways, in ways of which Jesus would not approve.  There are many Roman Catholics who are basically hypocrites because they preach about and say they believe what they actually do not practice.

As an example of such hypocrisy, a number of Roman Catholic men throughout my life (both as a child and as a woman) have been sexually harassing (or worse) of me, and have outright wanted to have an affair with me, even though they are married and/or we were both married to other spouses at those times.  I am a person who has never – I repeat, never – had an affair with any man.  Even in a difficult (to say the least) marriage in which there were temptations to be unfaithful, I remained faithful to my then-spouse.  I have also turned down every man who has wanted to have an affair with me.  I understand that he is seeking something temporary and for his own gratification, and does not understand the seriousness or implications that having an affair would create on himself, his wife, and his children.  The Roman Catholic Church and society must teach men to be faithful to their wives and families, even when times are tough.  When times are tough, it is taking the easy way out to throw in the towel regarding one’s marriage and commitment.  More instruction and better role models are needed for Roman Catholic men (and all men) in regard to maintaining and developing healthy marriages, at least from my perspective.

Another major issue in the Roman Catholic Church is abuse and sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and/or harassment by priests toward female and male congregants, particularly those who are younger and/or who are in positions of vulnerability.  In churches and dioceses throughout the United States, in Ireland, and elsewhere, there have been numerous instances of sexual abuse by priests.  While I have not personally experienced sexual abuse by any priests in the Roman Catholic Church, I do know of those who have and those who have perpetrated abuse that was unrecognized by the greater congregation and not at all addressed, corrected, or resolved by higher level diocesan church leaders.  Such abuses have ripe ground to occur in such a closed, structured, hierarchical organization of men who all too often have ignored, overlooked, and not considered the seriousness of the situations.  Instead, and all too often again, abusive priests are ushered along to different parishes where they continue and/or escalate their abuses, and/or continue them unrecognized.  Certainly, there are many good priests, and those who perpetrate abuses give a bad name to those who do not.  And, the Roman Catholic Church has implemented serious steps at preventing future abuses, as one good thing that has come from these situations, however they do continue to occur.  Such abuses by priests have caused many followers to leave the faith, and to lose hope in the very people who are supposed to be Christ-like.  I personally know of several people who have left Roman Catholicism because of these issues – such issues that should never occur.

Because of all of these experiences that I have had as a Roman Catholic, and more, I have become a reluctant Roman Catholic.  In the past couple of years, I have actively sought out and have considered other faiths.  All of the faiths that I have considered are still within Christianity, though they have been either less Catholic or more Protestant than Roman Catholicism.  In these faiths, however, I have found many issues that are similar to those I have encountered in the Roman Catholic Church.  Certainly, in some faiths, women have higher positions of power and might actually be the highest leader of their faith, however I observe that being practiced to the most minimal extent in the area where I live around Atlanta, an area that is mostly Baptist and thus, also highly patriarchal based on related religious and cultural views.  Also, in other faiths, the Virgin Mary is not held in nearly the same regard as she is in Roman Catholicism.  While Roman Catholics may place her on a pedestal and view her unrealistically in regard to virginal expectations of women in society, she is completely absent in some other faiths, leaving me with a feeling that I could become a member of such a faith, but that is the only thing holding me back – that faith’s exclusion of Mary as the Mother of Jesus.

So, I always return to the same crossroads – do I remain Roman Catholic or do I convert to another faith?  While there are many things in Roman Catholicism with which I disagree and do not support, I always reach the same answer – to remain Roman Catholic.  The most important part of my decision always includes that I am a faithful follower and believer in Jesus.  I might not agree with many of the practices of Roman Catholicism, however I do believe in the teachings of Jesus.  I have always come to the conclusion that I can pray for myself, and my friends and enemies.  I can pray that the eyes of those who have sight but who are blind can be opened.  I can work to do more to bring awareness about the importance and value of women and children in the Church, rather than support the male leadership’s exclusion of them.

I recognize that I am one who is not content to simply accept the rigid, patriarchal, and sexist nature of the Roman Catholic Church, but who is one who strives to bring increased equality and support to marginalized groups, including women and children.  While Blessed Teresa and Pope Francis, for examples, are excellent role models within the Roman Catholic Church, and have brought much compassion and support to people around the world, I, personally, continue to experience much rigidity, patriarchy, sexism, and inequality in my faith.  I doubt that the Roman Catholic Church will ever provide full equality, understanding, or acceptance in the Church for women, and while I am intolerant of that, I do accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior.  Thus, I continue to remain a reluctant Roman Catholic, and will likely revisit this issue at many points throughout the remainder of my life.  I place my faith in God that He will continue to guide me on the path that is right for me.