Sexual Misconduct in Media Creates Conversations in Classrooms
UCO Professor and Chair of Mass Communication Department Mary Carver, speaks during her Communication and Gender class on Monday, Dec. 4. The class covers several hot-button topics and has recently addressed several national sexual misconduct stories in class discussions. (Kateleigh Mills/The Vista)
Allegations of sexual misconduct have dominated headlines – from accusing Hollywood stars, lawmakers and journalists – which have sparked conversations over social media outlets, but the conversation has extended to college campuses like the University of Central Oklahoma.
Chair of the Mass Communication Department, Mary Carver teaches several classes that discuss sexuality and gender, such as Communication and Gender, and has made a focus in women’s rhetoric in her research.
Carver said during the current events discussion portion of her classes, students seem to want to talk about sexual misconduct. She said although she has seen a definite shift in the dialogue surrounding the topic, she thinks there is a long way to go before we see change in the way sexual misconduct is handled.
“The main thing that it has affected is the prevalence of harassment and that no matter what industry you’re in, that you are not necessarily immune,” Carver said. “Until we address harassment everywhere, nothing is going to change.”
UCO student Tia Rhodes is in Carver’s Communication and Gender class this semester. She said she thinks discussing the current events in class helps bring attention to the topic and that both men and women should feel free to speak out.
“It also brings that light into people like, ‘hey, all this crappy stuff is happening and we won’t stand for it anymore,'” Rhodes said.
Rhodes said discussing sexual misconduct in class has also encouraged her to spark conversations in her private life with her family and friends.
“One of my best friends was sexually assaulted and so that kind of is a sore topic for her because she hasn’t really gotten over it,” Rhodes said. “So, the fact that people are coming out more and talking about it has really helped her accept it and realize it wasn’t her fault.”
College campuses are no strangers to sexual misconduct claims. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.
UCO also participates every two years in the American College Health Association’s (ACHA) National College Health Assessment (NCHA). The health assessment is used to track changes in health issues and determine factors that affect academic performances. The data that is collected is meant to be used to develop a means to address health concerns and improve the health and welfare of students.
In 2016, about 650 UCO students took the ACHA National College Health Assessment. The data found 6.5 percent of students had experienced sexual touching without their consent and 7.5 percent had experienced stalking.
As for allegations in statehouses, Oklahoma is not exempt. USA Today reported that since last year at least 40 lawmakers in 20 states have been publicly accused by more than 100 people for sexual misconduct, most of them men. Recent allegations made against lawmakers include U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), former Alabama state judge Roy Moore and four lawmakers from Oklahoma – Sen. Ralph Shortey (R), Rep. Dan Kirby (R), Rep. Will Fourkiller (D) and Sen. Bryce Marlatt (R).
Oklahoma Rep. Cyndi Munson (D) said sexual misconduct is an issue that she sees at the Capitol. She said her own personal experience at the Capitol has dealt with her age, as one of the youngest representatives, and gender. She said she has been treated like a little girl, has been asked about her marital status and when she was going to have children.
“I try my best to speak up when inappropriate language and words and conversations are happening,” Munson said. “There is a reason why women don’t speak up when it happens because when you do, you are shamed and you’re told that you are just overreacting. It is no different at the Capitol than it is anywhere else.”
Munson said the allegations against Sen. Shortey had many of her constituents calling for the issue of sexual misconduct to be taken more seriously. Shortey, who was charged with engaging in child prostitution and faced felony child prostitution charges earlier this year, pleaded guilty to the federal charge of child sex trafficking last week, according to CBS News. His plea was reported to be in exchange for federal prosecutors to drop three child pornography charges against him.
“I think that there is desire to correct what goes on at the Capitol,” Munson said. “I think most people are not blind to it.”
She said there are 21 women in both houses of Oklahoma’s Congress. She said although Oklahoma ranks fairly low on female representation, there are two caucus chairs held by young women, the senate has women who hold high leadership positions and there is a female governor.
“One thing I have noticed that boils my blood is that when we are recruiting candidates, we rarely talk about women. It is always a ‘he’ or a ‘young man,'” Munson said. “There are plenty of women who hold wonderful leadership positions, who have done great things for their communities that need to be at the Capitol.”