HBCU President Who Slut-Shamed Female Students Resigns

Black women are pressured not to report rape to protect Black men from incarceration. And the message isn't just coming from a university leader.
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UPDATE: In the wake of his misogynist and sexist statements to incoming female students during the All Women's Convocation, Lincoln University president Robert R. Jennings announced his resignation on November 24, 2014. This sends the very powerful, very necessary message that rape culture will not be allowed to fester on college campuses. 

 

Robert R. Jennings, the 63-year-old president of Lincoln University, a Historically Black University (HBCU) located in Chester County, Pennsylvania, stood before an auditorium full of Black women in September and preemptively slut-shamed and victim-blamed them at the same damn time.

The occasion was the university’s All Women’s Convocation, held separately from the All Men’s Convocation—got heteronormative?—and while welcoming them to their new academic home, Jennings offered words stunning in their misogynist scope:

“Now let me let you in on a little secret. Men treat you, treat women, the way women allow us to treat them. And let me let you in on another little secret. We will use you up if you allow us to use you up. Well guess what? When it comes time for us to make that final decision, we’re going to go down the hall and marry that girl with the long dress on. That’s the one we’re going to take home to mom. Because there’s something about the way you carry yourself and respect yourself that commands and demands respect from us.

“The other thing I want to tell you about brothers is that we will lead you to believe that you’re the best thing since sliced bread. But we’re slicing your bread and somebody else’s bread, too...if you allow us to do that. We’ll give you our rap; it’ll be the best thing you’ve ever heard, and come the next day, we’ll act like we don’t even know you. Am I right about it? You know I’m right about it.”

The arrogant sexism contained in those words would be unbelievable if it weren’t all too common among men who use beat, smash, hit and cut to describe sex on a regular basis. But they were still shocking coming from a university president in the 21st century. In one fell swoop, Jennings managed to police the attire of Black women—because apparently only fallen women wear skirts that don’t hang down to their ankles like the garments of the Virgin Mary—and assume that the young women in attendance privilege marriage over education.

It apparently has never occurred to Jennings that some Black women like sex (gasp) and seek sex (faint) for the satisfaction of simply having sex (flatline). And considering that statistics compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics show that Black women lead all demographics in college enrollment and half of all Black women ages 18 to 24 earn degrees, the majority of the women who had to listen to him spew his sexist filth probably came to college to receive an education, not find a husband.

But Jennings wasn’t done. He then cautioned the young women against becoming so angry and vindictive after casual sex failed to lead to a marriage proposal that they falsely accuse innocent, young men of rape:

“And let me tell you how I know I’m right about it. I’m right about it because we have had on this campus, three cases of young women, who after having done whatever they did with the young men, and then it didn’t turn out the way they wanted it to turn out, guess what they did? They then went to Public Safety and said, ‘He raped me.’ So then we have to do an investigation. We have to start pulling back all the layers and asking all kinds of questions.

“And when we start trying to collect the data and ask the questions...and why do we do that?  Because we know that possibly somebody’s life is getting ready to change for the rest of their life. Because there’s no more serious accusation. And within the last 30 days, the United States federal government has now issued a new set of regulations that deal with sexual misconduct on colleges and university campuses. And the penalty is jail time.

“What happens when you allege that somebody did something of that nature to you? You go to jail. I don’t care how close they are to finishing their degree. Their whole life changes over night. Because they’re gonna get a record and that record is then gonna follow them for the rest of their life. They’re going to be expelled from the university. It’s gonna be very difficult for them to get into anyone else’s university because they have to explain at the receiving institution why they were expelled from the institution that they were expelled from.

“And we have to send the transcript, we have to note on there the reason for him being expelled. And so when they see that, then they don’t want to take a chance on letting them into their university because they don’t know what they are getting ready to get themselves in for.”

And how can men avoid this fate, according to Jennings? One could easily assume that the answer would be to educate themselves on the rules of consent and not rape women—but one would be wrong:

"Why am I saying all of this, ladies? I’m saying this first and foremost, don’t put yourself in a situation that would cause you to be trying to explain something that really needs no explanation had you not put yourself in that situation."

If his speech at the All Women’s Convocation is any indication, then his speech at the All Men’s Convocation was probably, “These hoes ain’t loyal.” The End.

 

If Jennings possessed even a modicum of respect for the young women who were seated before him, he would have framed his dangerous remarks in a less disingenuous and manipulative way. Perhaps, instead of situating men as both predator and prey tempted by women out to trick them into relationships, he should have mentioned that, according to a recent and on-going survey by Black Women’s Blueprint, 60 percent of Black girls experience sexual abuse before turning 18 years old. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), 18.8 percent of Black women are victims of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime.

Oh, it goes much deeper.

The Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs reports that African-American women have a “tendency to withstand abuse, subordinate feelings and concerns with safety, and make a conscious self-sacrifice for what she perceives as the greater good of the community, but to her own physical, psychological and spiritual detriment” (Ashbury, 1993, Bent-Goodley 2001). For every African-American/Black woman that reports her rape, at least 15 African-American/Black women do not report theirs (Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Hart & Rennison, 2003. U.S. Department of Justice).

According to Black feminists bell hooks and Audre Lorde, Black women have long shouldered the responsibility of protecting Black men from a White supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy, which in its most current configuration has a barely sheathed agenda to commodify Black bodies as slave labor for the Prison Industrial Complex. This holds true even though Black women are the fastest growing prison population. We stay loyal even with guns to our temples and handcuffed behind our backs.

“The sisters don’t want to report the brothers because we know what’s going on in penal institutions,” said Terry L. Stevens in a 2004 L.A. Times article entitled, “For African-American rape victims, a culture of silence.” And that protectiveness, that complicated need to protect Black men even from themselves, is steeped in our history in this country.

On November 10, 1963, human-rights icon Malcolm X delivered his transformative and electrifying speech, “Message to the Grassroots,” in Detroit. In it, he talked about the necessity of keeping issues in the Black community within the Black community so as not to arm White America with weapons that could lead to our further subjugation.

“Don’t let the enemy know that you got a disagreement. Instead of us airing our differences in public, we have to realize we’re all the same family. And when you have a family squabble, you don’t get out on the sidewalk. If you do, everybody calls you uncouth, unrefined, uncivilized, savage. If you don’t make it at home, you settle it at home; you get in the closet—argue it out behind closed doors. And then when you come out on the street, you pose a common front, a united front. And this is what we need to do in the community, and in the city, and in the state. We need to stop airing our differences in front of the White man.”

I employ that excerpt not to accuse or even slightly suggest that El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz wanted Black women not to report rape, rather to show the immense pressure Black women have been under for generations, both purposely and inadvertently, to be well-behaved and to put ourselves last so as not to endanger Black men.

By mentioning Vice-President Biden‘s initiative to reduce sexual assault on college campuses, Jennings purposely played to that pathology, that guilty voice that says, “Don’t get the White man involved in family business.” He used it to justify trafficking in Madonna-Whore rhetoric, presenting a false dichotomy wherein Black women either lead lives devoid of pleasure or risk forfeiture of respect. He did this while leaving space for young, Black heterosexual men to access their pleasure via the Black female bodies of their choice, while simultaneously suggesting that rape allegations are unwelcome because Black women shouldn’t “put [ourselves] in a situation that would cause [us] to be trying to explain something that really needs no explanation had [we] not put [ourselves] in that situation.”

Jennings’s toxic logic is dangerous on many levels. Too many of us have been taught that our bodies are collateral damage in America’s war on Black people. That our bloodied and bruised bodies, violated again and again by men who are supposed to love us are secondary to both revolution and the elevation of Black communities around the nation. We are often manipulated by a religion that has a stranglehold on the African-American collective subconscious to see ourselves as Eve (tainted and untrustworthy) or Lilith (aggressive and rebellious). We are trained to believe that our rapes are but a symptom of Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome and if we could just take the pain a little while longer, once we get this White supremacy thing all worked out, we can focus on demanding that we be allowed to walk streets and campuses in peace.

Last week, when I and several others called out the racism embedded in the Hollaback! street-harassment video, there was some justifiable concern that zeroing in on the bias which painted Black and Brown men as more predatory than White men would somehow deflect from the very real sexist behavior on display. I disagreed. And I did so with the understanding that the racist implications in that video are what lead to thugs like George Zimmerman being found not guilty. They lead to Black boys and young men like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis and John Crawford and Kimani Gray and Oscar Grant being gunned down in cold blood with their perceived criminality being used as a legal defense. 

Equally important, I spoke on it because rendering Black women invisible keeps Black women invisible. It’s the reason why the outcry wasn’t as loud for Rekia Boyd and Renisha McBride and Tarika Wilson and Mary Spears. It’s the reason why the name Daniel Ken Holtzclaw, the Oklahoma City police officer who sexually assaulted seven Black women while on duty, still isn’t as well-known as Darren Wilson.

Any man, regardless of race, who is complicit in the psychic and physical violence perpetuated against any woman must be held accountable—yet that rarely happens. White women are typically cast as damsels in distress; Black men typically hold court as victims of the state, while Black women remain the mules of the world.

While addressing street harassment last year, I wrote that just as Black men are disproportionately targeted for state-sanctioned violence meted out routinely through such policies as Stop-and-Frisk, “Black women are unwillingly stopped and frisked by Black men daily across this country.” To further that point here, Black women are disproportionately stopped, frisked, and raped by Black men daily across this country. That is not opinion; it is fact. Awareness of institutionalized racism cannot, should not and will not protect Black men from being held accountable for sexually assaulting Black women. And I will unapologetically stand in that truth without giving an inch on tackling the racism that affects us all.

Jennings could have used his platform to say to the young women before him, “You are valued. You are respected. And if anyone hurts you, please come straight to my office and we will make sure that they are punished.” But he didn’t. In fact, he suggested the exact opposite. And for that he should be fired immediately. Do not pass go; do not collect $200. Because what that says is, just like far too many public and private spaces, Black women should not expect to be protected on the campus of Lincoln University.

 

 

Kirsten West Savali, a writer and cultural critic currently based in Mississippi, is an editor at NewsOne.com. Her provocative commentary explores the intersectionality of race, religion, gender, politics and culture. You can always find her where the good fight is—or good cookies. Follow her on Twitter: @KWestSavali