I am writing to express my revulsion at the jokes published in the Sep. 25, 2017 issue of The Belltower. As a father of an SMU student, a male SMU employee, and former newspaper writer, I found several jokes to be sexist and unprofessional. The ninth joke relies on the stereotype of the “ditz” which has contributed for many years to women being dismissed and ignored.
The sixth joke, the one about drug dealers and prostitutes, was far more offensive. Because the image of the crack whore is almost always applied to African-American women and is a modernization of images used during throughout American history to justify enslaving, raping, assaulting, and killing women of African descent, it is crass, sexist, classist, and violent.
In legal terms, jokes like these contribute to a hostile environment, a condition of sexual harassment. The jokes, as bad as they were, hint at a serious complaint that many women in the SMU community have voiced. In the last several years, we have lost brilliant and capable women faculty and staff members, many of whom have identified hostile work environment as a contributing factor to their leaving. This was the primary topic of the women’s panel that took place last spring. Participants told about experiences of being talked down to, silenced, discredited, being given unsolicited and condescending advice or unwelcome and inappropriate comments about their looks.
The loss of these women has been keenly felt by students. I have worked with Criminal Justice students who are very upset by the departure of Dr. Diana Falco. Additionally, just last week, I tried to help a communications student with a video project. Because I am just a beginner on Adobe Premier, I could not help very much. She sighed and wished that Dr. Sonia De La Cruz was still here to help her. Both of these talented and charismatic women cited hostile environment as a cause for leaving SMU this summer.
I care deeply about this community. When I finished grad school, I was excited to be offered a position here because SMU hits a number of points in my “fantasy job description.” I want to contribute to SMU’s being a hospitable, peaceful, and dignifying place for each person, thus I cannot ignore the voices of my female colleagues or female students–one of whom is my own daughter–who feel degraded by this kind of humor. I cannot be silent about this. Facing sexism is tough, but I am convinced that by sincerely listening to and grappling with the concerns of women on campus, we can emerge as a stronger, more Benedictine community.