In honor of Black History Month (February), Women’s History Month (March), Asian Pacific American History Month (May), National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15), Muslim American Heritage month (October), and Native American Heritage Month (November), etc., let’s celebrate and honor people’s heritage and experiences throughout the year. This blog gives some ideas for focusing on Black History Month,but calls for honoring one’s heritage year round, no matter what heritage that might be. I agree.

History Tech

To be honest, I’m a bit torn about the whole idea of Black History Month. The concept started way back in 1926 when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” That particular week was chosen because it marked the birthday of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

The hope was that the week would eventually be eliminated when black history became fundamental to American history teaching. In 1976, the federal government followed the lead of the Black United Students at Kent State and established the entire month as Black History Month. President Ford urged Americans, and especially teachers and schools, to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

The hope was that essential people, events, and places, routinely ignored…

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Climate of Indifference IS Part of Why the Sandusky Sexual Assaults Occurred

This morning, Joe Paterno’s family released their report contradicting much of Judge Louis Freeh’s report on why the child sexual assaults at Penn State University occurred.  In this report, they state that there were essentially no issues within the football program (and, by implication, the Athletics program in general) that would have created what I call the “Climate of Indifference” at The Penn State University towards sexual assault, domestic and acquaintance violence, and stalking.

Whether or not Joe Paterno should be held accountable for his actions or in-actions in the Jerry Sandusky case, I do believe that those within the Athletics department and the Penn State administration contributed to a climate where athletes, staff, and faculty within the Athletics program either felt immune from possible repercussions of their actions OR felt fearful in reporting what they saw or heard.

Since 1994, I along with Ni-Ta-Nee NOW (the local NOW chapter in Centre County, PA), Pennsylvania NOW, and/or National NOW have been calling on the University to take all forms of assault against women—and subsequently children—seriously, to create a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of violence against others, to end the Climate of Indifference within Athletics, and treat all allegations of assault under the same rules and policies that the rest of the University community is held up to.

In November 2011, right after the Sandusky case came to light, The Nation’s Dave Zirin referenced a 2006 comment I had made in an article he titled “The World Joe Paterno Made.”  He first set up the background for my statement:

In 2003, less than one year after Paterno was told that Sandusky was raping children, he allowed a player accused of rape to suit up and play in a bowl game. Widespread criticism of this move was ignored. In 2006, Penn State’s Orange Bowl opponent Florida State, sent home linebacker A.J. Nicholson, after accusations of sexual assault. Paterno’s response, in light of recent events, is jaw-dropping. He said, “There’s so many people gravitating to these kids. He may not have even known what he was getting into, Nicholson. They knock on the door; somebody may knock on the door; a cute girl knocks on the door. What do you do? Geez. I hope—thank God they don’t knock on my door because I’d refer them to a couple of other rooms.”

Zirin then stated,

Joanne Tosti-Vasey, president of Pennsylvania’s National Organization for Women in Pennsylvania, was not amused. With chilling unintentional prescience, Tosti-Vasey responded, “Allegations of sexual assault should never be taken lightly. Making light of sexual assault sends the message that rape is something to be expected and accepted.”

Upon seeing a Tweet by Mr. Zirin calling my statement “prescient,” I contacted him and told him that NOW continued to have concerns over the Climate of Indifference within the Athletics program.  He printed my comments in their entirety in a subsequent blog.  This included the following:

I truly wish that I hadn’t been “prescient” as you stated in your article when you referred to my call in 2006 for Penn State to address campus violence. Due to these newest allegations of child sexual assault and the possible cover-up that may have occurred, I have once again referred to this Climate of Indifference and minimization of abuse towards others, particularly in the Athletics Department….

For almost 20 years, we have challenged Penn State’s dismissive attitude toward violence against women, particularly within the Athletics department. It is time to stop this insular focus.  It is time to make sure that NO form of campus violence – sexual assault, relationship violence, or stalking – is ever again tolerated.   Against any child.  Against any adult.  Against any member of the PSU community or a visitor to any of our campuses (yes, I am alum).

After NOW and many others called for an independent investigation into the Sandusky scandal, Judge Louis Freeh was appointed as the Special Investigative Counsel by the Penn State Board of Trustees.  On July 12, 2012, Judge Freeh released his scathing indictment against the upper administration, the Athletics department, and the Board of Trustees for covering up, failing to protect potential and actual victims of sexual violence, and failing to provide appropriate board oversight.

Regardless of whether or not Joe Paterno was culpable in this alleged cover-up (which I am not commenting on one way or the other), I continue to believe that the Climate of Indifference within the Athletic program contributed to this scandal and needs to be addressed.  It needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner so that no child or adult is ever stalked, physically assaulted, or sexually assaulted again.

Once this report came out, National NOW posted a statement by me as a member of the National NOW Board of Directors regarding the Freeh report.   In light of today’s report by the Paterno family relating to the scandal and this Climate of Indifference at Penn State, I’d like to reiterate the following:

[The] University must step up to the plate and fully implement these recommendations. But they need to go even further to focus on policies to prevent all forms of campus violence — sexual assault, domestic/relationship violence, and stalking — of both children AND adults….

One way Judge Freeh’s recommendations could have additional teeth is if the University also complies with the new Title IX regulations that were created by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). These new Title IX regulations were announced on April 4, 2011, by Vice President Biden, and according to the Women’s Sports Foundation, “The Department of Education issued a policy guidance which made clear that Title IX’s protections against sexual harassment and sexual violence apply to all students, including athletes. It addresses athletics departments in particular when it requires schools to use the same procedures that apply to all students to resolve sexual violence complaints involving student athletes.”

In June of [2012], the Department of Education released its Title IX Enforcement Highlights report. According to this report, OCR provides detailed policy guidance documents to schools and colleges around the country with recommendations on what each school should do to meet these Title IX legal requirements. Since 2009, OCR has issued nine such documents. Three of these documents relate to Title IX, on topics such as “bullying, sexual harassment, sexual violence, and equity in athletics programs.”

Penn State University and every other college, university, and school — both public and private — need to ensure that no child assaults and no assaults or harassment of faculty, staff, students or visitors occur on their campuses. Judge Freeh’s recommendations, particularly those focusing on the campus climate and compliance to school-wide polices within the Athletics department be expanded to all forms of campus violence; additionally, Title IX polices need to be fully reviewed and implemented as well.

And as Lisa Bennett, NOW’s Communications Director said in a blog she wrote on July 12, 2012,

[I]f we can direct the conversation to the role that sexism and patriarchy played in these cover ups, perhaps we can change these systems in a real and profound way. We must not let the reverence our society has for such institutions stand in the way of an honest dialogue — in fact, it is that very reverence that smothers the potential for justice and healing.

Let’s get started now.

We Did It! White House ERA Petition Receives Over 25,000 Signatures

Between 1:30 and 1:54 pm EST today the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ratification petition received the required minimum 25,000 signatures that triggers a response from the White House. This means that White House staff will review it, send it to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response in the very near future.

Luanne J. Smith, one of the organizers for the petition drive, sent out this congratulations announcement as soon as we passed the 25,000 mark:

Yes!!!! We have passed the 25,000-signature mark, and with 3 1/2 days to spare!!!! Congratulations to Tammy Simkins, who initiated the petition and coordinated the petition drive, and to the entire team of ERA supporters who have worked so hard to see us reach this milestone!!! If you haven’t already joined the team by signing and sharing the petition, please do so NOW! Let’s get the Equal Rights Amendment moving forward! ERA NOW!!!

And here’s a screen shot at 1:54 pm EST today, February 6, 2013 showing 34 signatures over the 25,000 signature threshold.

Screenshot of "We the People" website showing more 25,034 signatures on ERA petition.

Screenshot of “We the People” website showing more than 25,000 signatures on ERA petition.

Signature number 25,000 was from Knoxville, TN.  Which by the way is rather neat.  It was Tennessee’s ratification of 19th amendment on August 24 1920 that gave women the right to vote. And that ratification vote was by a majority of one vote. So having signature 25,000 come from someone from Tennessee is appropriate.

The ERA petition to the White House will remain open for signing until 11:59 pm EST February 9, 2013.  Please add your name to the groundswell for this historic petition. For more information on the petition, check out my earlier blogs here and here.

Congratulations everyone for all your hard work!

White House Petition for the Equal Rights Amendment: Deadline to Sign is February 9

Please go to the White House’s “We the People” website & sign the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ratification petition; just 4 days left. Here’s an email I received from NOW and the Feminist Majority indicating that we can make this deadline IF each and every one of us acts now. For more details on why the ERA is needed, check out my earlier blog, “Why We are Pushing for Ratification of the ERA (the Equal Rights Amendment).”

ERA YES antique button

Dear Joanne ,

A petition for Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ratification is currently collecting signatures through the We the People petition process on the White House website.

The ERA petition has over 18,000 signatures. If the petition has 25,000 signatures by 11:59pm on February 9, the White House staff will review it, send it to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response. (Currently, the We the People process requires over 100,000 signatures, but the ERA petition was filed before the increased requirement.)

It is time to get the ERA back high on the national agenda. This petition asks the White House to support lifting the deadline on the original 1972 ERA. Women would only need three more states to get full rights if the deadline was lifted. Thirty-five states have already ratified the ERA. We need you to go to the White House website and sign the petition.

Sign it today. Women have waited long enough for equality.

For equality,

   
Eleanor Smeal
President
Feminist Majority Foundation
  Terry O’Neill
President
National Organization for Women

The  rule related to access to contraception and who pays for this insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act was once again modified by the Obama Administration on February 1, 2012.

Fortunately, this new rule does not cave into the Catholic bishops call to allow businesses to opt-out of paying for family planning but did give them a slight loop-hole. If the business can successfully argue that they are a religious institution that is just like a house of worship, then they can be treated like a house of worship and opt out of the business paying for contraception, leaving the insurance company to pay for it.  This will affect any employee of the business/institution as well as students receiving health care coverage and services at their religiously affiliated school that can meet the requirements for this new exemption.

This blog by Erin Matson does a good job of describing this new change.

 

Erin Matson

Today, the Obama administration issued a new proposed rule regarding the contraceptive mandate under the Affordable Care Act. Many reproductive rights organizations are calling it a victory. Some advocates, not so much.

So what just happened?

1. The new proposed rule spurned lobbying led by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that would have made businesses eligible to opt-out of the contraceptive mandate. 

All along these men have been arguing that the owner of a Taco Bell, a craft store chain or any business should be able to dictate the terms of what private insurance companies will provide to beneficiaries. That didn’t happen today. No ifs, ands or buts. The Obama administration did not cave. This is probably why some reproductive rights organizations are calling the new proposed rule a victory.

2. The new proposed rule did slightly expand the religious exemption, at a minimum creating a new gray area…

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