In starting this blog I felt the need to address one of the foremost issues in the national news today—that being sexual assault—but I debated over whether or not to start out the blog with a topic of gravitas or if this new beginning should be marked more by levity. Then I reflected on why I wrote The First Turning.
I wanted to call attention to significant moments in our recent history, to the people involved, and to the modern infrastructure that connects it all as a means of capturing the march forward to a new time… to a new First Turning. Ultimately, the book outlines a story of hope and change for a better, brighter future. It indicates a world more attuned in its relationships, whether they be among people or between nations or with the environment. And, as it goes with such an outlook, it’s important to realize that, often, good comes from bad, peace follows war, success is born from hardship, and so on.
With that in mind, I think it would be remiss not to mention the current issues of sexual assault on college campuses across the nation. As of May 1, 2014, there were 55 U.S. colleges and universities under investigation for potential violations of Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination at colleges receiving federal funds. This marks the first time that such a list has been made public by the Department of Education, which in and of itself marks a significant change from the past.
As a New York Times article published on May 3, 2014 asserted, “there is scant evidence that sexual assault is more or less prevalent than in the past.” But clearly there’s been a shift in terms of people feeling a responsibility to bring the topic forth. That is not to say there aren’t still barriers preventing people from feeling able to share such difficult and disturbing personal accounts; there are deeply entrenched cultural perceptions and misperceptions regarding sexual assault that are hurtful and dismissive to those who have been affected by such acts. But as the same article points out, individuals are now asking for aid and justice from the institutions meant to protect and serve them. There is a boldness that has emerged, with brave individuals inspiring each other and giving a collective voice to such a serious issue.
Views of sexual assault and how it should be accounted for and handled differ—specifically in the context of college campuses and the drinking culture that surrounds college students—but no difference in opinion can ignore the fact that it occurs with more frequency than ever acknowledged or realized, and that it warrants the attention of institutions and their administrators, of the public and the government.
One of the chapters in The First Turning focuses on The Velvet Armada—the group of women senators in the U.S. who have been forging ahead as their own critical mass in an attempt to reform federal legislation across a variety of issues. These women senators are bridging partisan lines to do what is right for the nation, as opposed to what each side deems is right for the party. Sexual assault—not just on college campuses, but in the military and elsewhere—has become one of their primary focuses.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D – NY) has been at the forefront of the effort to combat sexual assault on college campuses. In April 2014 she penned a letter with a bipartisan coalition of seven U.S. senators encouraging the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault to consider three proposals that outlined immediate ways to address the prevalence of the issue. Gillibrand has teamed up with Senator Claire McCaskill—fellow Democrat but former adversary on plans to address military sexual assault—to lead the charge advocating for greater protections for victims. The fact that these two women can work together less than two months after divisive work on another major issue illustrates what a First Turning represents: collective strength emerging from crisis.
Though the story is yet to play out fully, the tenacity with which these senators are pursuing change—alongside sexual assault victims and advocacy groups—is giving a glimmer of light to a shadowed arena. In considering what it means to find ourselves on the brink of a better, brighter future, their work is a sure mark of the next First Turning.