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 .

“How Time Flies: Graduating From UB…20 Years Ago” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

UB President Bill Greiner and I at Commencement, May 1993, Amherst, New York

UB President Bill Greiner and I at Commencement, May 1993, Amherst, New York

Twenty years ago this month (February 2013), I graduated from the University at Buffalo (UB) in Buffalo, New York, having earned two baccaulaureate degrees in psychology and political science.  Unofficially, I also earned a specialization in music performance in voice and clarinet.  And, I completed my studies at this very rigorous university in less than 3.5 consecutive years.   I completed my studies in December 1992, my degrees were conferred in February 1993, and I participated in the Commencement Ceremony in May 1993.

It is so difficult to comprehend that 20 years have already passed since my degrees were conferred!  It seems like such a lifetime ago that I had graduated from my high school in Gowanda, New York, and began my adult journey in life at UB.  How fitting on this President’s Day, February 18, 2013 – 20 years since I completed my undergraduate studies at UB – that I should recall some of the good memories of my younger and more inexperienced days as a college student there.

As a college student at UB, there were so many activities in which I was involved.  Always very outgoing, I wanted to be involved in as much as possible, desiring to get the most and best that life had to offer.  At UB, the world opened up to me and I took it all in – the good, and the bad, too (when I couldn’t avoid it) – like a sponge.  UB was my oyster, and I revelled in all that it had to offer.

Indeed, I am proud of all that I accomplished and all in which I participated and/or had leadership opportunities with at UB.  With all of my classes, activities, and just living in general, there was not enough time in the day to pack everything in!  During my first year, I carried a heavy load of classes, while also performing in the wind ensemble (and being a soloist) and chorus, as well as participating in field events on the women’s track team (and earning a personal best in shot put at the NCAA championships), being involved in student government and yearbook, and going for tutoring on some evenings for my failure in chemistry.  I also immersed myself into intermediate Spanish during my first year, and was happy to be exempt from introductory English composition, however I had to take courses to catch up on my math proficiency.

As time went on, I also found the Polish, Irish, and German Clubs at UB, and was involved in each one, being both the Treasurer and Homecoming representative of two of the groups.  I will always appreciate my Polish Club Homecoming co-rep for showing up and being a gentleman during one particular year because the co-rep from the Irish Club chickened out and forced me to go solo, which I did during another year, however embarassing that was (needless to say, he never showed his face at the Club meetings again after that).

Being a member of these ethnic/language-related clubs opened my world yet further to students of Irish descent from New York City, as well as those of Polish and German descent from right around Buffalo.  The Irish Club, in particular, was a favorite of mine because I could always “let my hair down” and be myself with my friends in that group.  No matter our background or experiences, we always respected and accepted each other, and enjoyed each other’s company.  Additionally, it was my membership in the Polish Club that opened up opportunities to visit Poland as an exchange student to Jagiellonian University – and travel to several European countries, which I did during one summer, and had an absolutely fantastic time!  It was all just as it was described to me – and so much more.

In changing my major from physics to psychology in my second year at UB, I found my life becoming much less stressful.  No longer pursuing studies toward my goal of becoming a veterinarian, I found classes in which I truly excelled and enjoyed, those that “fit” my personality.  Psychology and the social sciences were right up my alley, and I took opportunities to complete independent research in political science, as well as to be a research assistant in a sensitive graduate-level psychology research project.  Also, the more classes that I took in political science, the more I enjoyed them, and became a double major, desiring to go to law school and become an attorney.  I, therefore, became a member of the Democrats Club, as well as the Political Science Club, and traveled with several members during one year to visit Yale University, a very impressive campus, indeed.  And, in my last semester at UB, I was named to the Dean’s List – miracles never cease!

Also during my time at UB, I was involved in other activities such as the Aeronautics Club, Striders Club (and I often went running independently at night under the lights), Recyclers Club (I had responsibility for managing the recycling in my dorm), and I was a regular participant in the religious celebrations of my faith that were held on campus, where I also became a lay Eucharistic Minister.  I also remembered the memory of a slain fellow UB student, Linda Yalem, by attending a memorial service for her, and running in the Memorial Run in her name.  I also worked part-time on campus, and was involved in so many groups and activities that I have difficulty bringing them all to mind.  Further, I took opportunities to attend college sports games, such as volleyball and basketball, even after having attended so many football games as a member of Pep Band.  It was in Pep Band that I met some really great, “real” people with whom I became friends, and with whom I kept in touch for a number of years as a student at UB (see photo to follow).

Me with my Friends, Karyn and Lori from Pep Band, on Graduation Day at UB, May 1993, Amherst, New York

Me with my Friends, Karyn and Lori from Pep Band, on Graduation Day at UB, May 1993, Amherst, New York

Within all of that, I attended many college events that included students, student-athletes, student government representatives, public officials (such as the mayor and governor), and college leaders (such as the president and his family, vice president and his wife, dean of students, and others).  Not only did I know many students, professors, religious leaders, and coaches, but I also met and got to know a few of the college leaders who so often worked behind the scenes to improve the university and try to make it better for everyone.  Of course, there were situations in which they did not always make things better, but I believe that the majority of them tried to the best of their ability to achieve that endeavor.

Particularly in my last year at UB, I got to know UB’s President Bill Greiner (sadly, who is now deceased) and his wife, Carol.  It often seemed that no matter where I was or what event I was attending, they were there, too!  It was great to see Bill and Carol so “involved” in student life at UB.  It was wonderful to observe and experience their commitment – not only to each other as great role models – but also their commitment and dedication to the students, faculty, staff, alumni, and patrons at UB.  I always made a special effort to speak with Carol as she is so intelligent, insightful, and positive, always having something kind and encouraging to share.  I definitely aspired to be more like her as she is such a great female role model and inspiration.

Before leaving UB upon completing my studies in December 1992 to head to New York City for about one year, I asked President Greiner to write a recommendation on my behalf.  Being so proud of myself and all that I accomplished at UB, as well as having some bittersweet memories and having experienced a critically life-changing event in my last semester as a student at UB (and surviving through it in the years to come), I desired something more to take away with me from my UB experience – just some pieces of paper with words written on them about me by others familiar with me.

My First Recommendation Letter, from UB President William Greiner, December 1992

My First Recommendation Letter, from UB President William Greiner, December 1992

My recommendation from President Greiner is the very first formal, written recommendation that I ever received (see document above).  He very eloquently and concisely stated many kind things about me, which I fondly remember and review to this day.  His recommendation is also one that I sent, along with my resume, in my job search to about 100 law firms in Buffalo in 1993-1994.  The piece of paper that I received from him was one that certainly helped to open a few doors for me, and I will always appreciate that, even though I did not pursue a law degree.

In fact, I can look back on it now, and remember a conversation that Bill and I shared one day, during which he inquired about the career I intended to pursue.  When I told him that I was interested in being a lawyer, he actually discouraged me from pursuing a law degree, stating that law firms are like factories.  I believe and warmly recall that he already knew that such a profession would not fit my personality.

There is definitely alot that I miss about UB, and I have fond memories and tearful nostalgia about many of my experiences at and through UB.  UB was a place in which I became an adult, whether I like it or wanted to, or not.  I can remember so many wonderful things about my experience at UB, however one or two critically hurtful things have also colored and clouded my perspective, still, to this day.  However much I would like to remember only the good things, the harmful experiences are also a part of who I am, of who I have become, for whom I advocate, and for whom I support – women (and children) who are victims and survivors of violent crime, trauma survivors.

While I believe that there are reasons for everything, I must be real in remembering my experiences at UB, both good and painful.  While there are many more good things that I experienced as a student at UB, what I experienced that was harmful – I believe – has shaped me into becoming a better, and more insightful, compassionate, sensitive, and understanding individual.  My experience at UB has helped me to become an advocate for and supporter of victims.  And, however painful, I have my experience at UB to recognize for that, too.

I also have that experience in being aware that not all offenders of violent crimes are apprehended, charged, or prosecuted, as well.  Further, such experience taught me that survivors of violent crimes may be revictimized by police and prosecutors.  I would not be who I am today without recognizing and being aware of all of my experiences, and I am now thankful (in a very sad way) for having such an experience because it has helped me to relate more personally with other victims and survivors of similar experiences, including those who are close to me.  While we cannot remove from our consciousness those painful experiences, we can try our best to make them better for ourselves and others.  I, therefore, remember that when I left UB, I intended to change the world, however it has been the world that has changed me.

So, on this President’s Day 2013 – and 20 years to the month that my baccaulaureate degrees were conferred to me – I remember and recall many of my experiences as a college student at the State University of New York at Buffalo (UB).  I had many wonderful experiences there, met many wonderful people there, and have many fond memories of my time there.  However much I would prefer not to remember the painful experiences that I had there, I would deny myself and not be who I am today.

And so, I must also be strong in mind, body, and spirit and integrate all of my UB experiences into my life, God willing.  Hopefully in doing so, I will have also assisted and supported others who have had similar good and/or painful experiences in their lives.  Therefore, I must recognize UB, for giving me the wings to soar into my life – in all experiences.

References:

DellaContrada, J. (2009).  William R. Greiner Dies.  Buffalo, NY: UB – University at Buffalo: News Releases.

Scrivani, Maria (1999).  Bill and Carol Greiner: UB’s Perfect Pair.  Retrieved on February 17, 2013 from http://www.livingprimetime.com/AllCovers/jul1999/workjul1999/bill_and_carol_greiner.htm

State University of New York at Buffalo Graduation, May 1993.  Buffalo, NY.

Special Note:

This article was also published by both the University at Buffalo Alumni and RAINN on LinkedIn (February 2013).  Mountain View, CA: LinkedIn.