Triggering, triggered ,tired…harassment in higher education, again, still

By now just about everybody in LA–and I can’t believe the Chron won’t be doing a story–about the latest harassment charge at USC. I won’t link to it because I won’t.

This story, from the NYT, highlights the bullshit that women in Sacramento put up with.

I lost all of Thursday and most of Friday being just confused and upset about the USC story. I didn’t know that I was losing the time; I was just swirling, dealing with thoughts wanting to do something, say something.

Wanting to quit, entirely–hand in my resignation, move on out to whatever is next.

Friday I turned to two of my colleagues, both men, both very good guys. They were not helpful.

I wrote a letter, one I had hoped that my colleagues might support it. I showed the letter to my colleague. His response was along the lines of: “who is, like, the audience for this?”

That response got me caving in on myself. I abandoned the effort and spent the day swimming in depression. I climbed out, slowly.

I figured out my problem Saturday morning when I was trying to write: I had been triggered. Of course. Given that I have been putting up with this crap since forever, it made sense. And yeah, forever: since I was 10 years old and some old perv pinched my butt in front of his friends at a July 4th, and his buddies giggled instead of saying “not cool.”

Interestingly, though I had trouble accepting this conclusion. I can’t be; this emotional reaction can’t be true, I thought. I’m too strong. My mind has always been reassuring logical; nothing happened to me on Thursday. I’m one of those people that other women look to fight back. This isn’t happening.

It was happening, and strength and logic have nothing to do with it. Conservatives who want to belittle triggering are wrong. No, I am not going to break down. Yes, I will survive. No, I am not a snowflake.

But I lost two days of work my male colleagues got to keep for themselves, nonetheless. Just another little gift from the patriarchy.

The individual cases are individual cases. Usual disclaimers: I’m talking for me, and not my employer, and I don’t know what happened in each case, and I don’t know the individuals involved except by arm’s length.

I do know the environment at USC and higher ed, and male privilege manifests in every aspect of university life for our students, staff, and faculty where, too often, we are told by our supervisors and senior faculty that bad behavior among tenured, male, or “star” professors is “no big deal” and “nothing can be done.” At its most egregious, this environment enables extreme cases of violent, predatory sexual harassment among those who have power and institutional protection towards those who do not. In less high-profile instances, however, this male dominance manifests in hundreds of everyday interactions in seminars, unequal pay, hiring bias, and student attitudes towards female instructors and peers. Even seemingly small encounters, such as undermining comments in seminars, leave a damaging impact by silencing women, creating a culture of disrespect, and punishing those who speak out–which only further perpetuates male dominance.

I have learned, coming through this process over the weekend–again–the following things:

1. I may be doing more harm than good as somebody who tries to create safe spaces for women and people of color in higher education. I can only make the university environment safe within the limits of my influence, which is very limited. By being a faculty member who will listen and support and try to help women and students of color stay sane…perhaps I am nothing more than a band-aid that keeps students in an institution that doesn’t deserve them or me.

2. I can’t really protect my students–not really. I can’t even protect myself.

3. My male colleagues have limited capacity to understand why this garbage distracts and hurts me and women like me. They do not understand, and they really aren’t terribly interested in understanding. They want to be supportive, within the limits of their comfort. Pick your battles, the old academic saw goes: most faculty only pick battles in their self-interest, and this is no different. Nobody wants to confront this garbage in seminars, nobody wants to discipline this behavior. The victims are supposed to fix it, by getting used to it and tolerating it.

4. With all the allegations coming out of conferences, the conferences are going to try to shift the disciplinary responsibility onto the universities, and the universities are going to do nothing because that’s, in general, what they do in response to senior male faculty bad behavior. They don’t protect their own employees from harassers; do we really think they are going to discipline harassers for creeping on grad students at other universities? Come on. But that’s what the lawyers will recommend, and these associations will crawl under that legalism like a soft, furry blanket–and leave women where they always are: without institutional support.

5. I find myself thinking about radical women’s collectives, like the Bloodroot Collective, where women share together spaces where they speak uninterrupted, unpatronized, free to grow into the light without all the shadows that men cast. I’m sure these places are not perfect and have their own problems, but I’d sure like to try it at this point.

6. Maybe it’s time to give up on the academy, on USC, on all of it. Perhaps my devotion to research and exploration and teaching has been quixotic. I have cherished these things; they have been the central values and joys of my life. I’ve always resented the trope of the skirt-chasing old git college professor, believing that endeavor of higher educations was a lot more than that. I’m no longer so sure about that belief. It seems lazy to retire. It seems futile to stay.

The environment and all its abuses, these are just bigger than me.

I am a very privileged laborer as a white female academic. I know this. Many women work in much worse, much conditions, but that strikes me as reason to elevate their work conditions rather than tolerate degradation in mine.

But at the same time…if I have this privilege, why can’t I make things better? Am I just incompetent? Too blind to see what I can do? Because it’s all feeling really hopeless.

Planning expertise and epistemic justice

I went on a Twitter rant this weekend about dudes who, when disparaging my idea, start off by saying “this lady thinks…” instead of giving me my due, which is…I’m a professor of urban planning. These are not casual opinions I got just from reading the Sierra Club website. I got a lot of likes and whatnot, but one challenge came from the notion that I seemed to be wedded to my spot in the knowledge hierarchy as a professor and not really suspending hierarchies in favor of treating everybody as a person capable of knowledge in my critique of the way misogyny uses knowledge to dominate.

The answer is: yes…and no. Both-and.

I didn’t pursue it because by the time it came up, I was tired of social media and was on my way to the LA Opera. But it reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to write here anyway about epistemic justice and planning expertise. Yes, I do value my expertise, and no, I don’t think that asking for a little respect for my accomplishments and credentials means that I expect people to defer to my ideas or opinions. It just means that people recognize the work I’ve put in and the accomplishments I’ve attained in a “hey, good on ya” way and the willingness to believe that I might have *some* knowledge about the subject instead of an empty vessel needing somebody to ‘splain things and fill me with Glorious Man-Knowledge.

The fact that my interlocutor can’t conceive of my claim to expertise as anything other than a rigid status hierarchy says more about how people expect knowledge and expertise to work than my investment in it.

Planning students, in their planning theory class, are often confronted with a bewildering set of contradictions: they are paying gobs of cash to be in a planning program where, in the first semester, planning theory seems to spend a lot of time critiquing bad-old rational planning paradigms of the past, where the planner was a godlike expert (the part of the narrative I never bought), and arguing for new, post-modern, post-colonial paradigms in which community members are the experts and planners are not the experts.

This is not right, of course, but I think it’s what a lot of students take away from the discussion, and they wind up asking the legitimate question of: well what the hell am I paying to learn here, and why the hell does anybody pay a planner if they aren’t experts on anything? That is, what happens to the power of the profession if it doesn’t have a monopoly on special-deal knowledge that people must pay for to obtain? Don’t these po-co epistemologies lower the status of the profession?

Yes, but at the same time, not really. Why not? Because de-centering does not really mean discarding. Those are different things, and there’s plenty to do as de-centered expert even if you don’t get to stomp around bossing or having your ego gratified.

The same line I pulled out on Paul Krugman applies: because cities are f**king complicated, that’s why, and you really can’t have too much knowledge or too many perspectives.

You don’t defer to or act on everybody’s opinion or idea, but you’re losing out if you don’t listen and analyze each point as it comes up because people are experts and people know things.What planners know is different. People know their places intimately; they also have strong ideas about their preferences. Here’s one anecdote that my students are STILL quoting weeks after Tamika Butler related it:

There was a street segment where a lot of pedestrians were getting hit. So the the city improved the intersection did All The Things…and it made no difference in the number of people getting hit. So finally, they asked people on the sidewalks, who noted that the only shade to use while waiting for the bus was on the opposite side of the street, and people darted across the street to catch the bus, which is, honestly, one of the most dangerous things we can have people doing.

If we had asked, we could have put in some shade and saved a lot of money. That’s one, valid way to interpret the story–that seems to be how Tamika interpreted it.

For me, though, when you combine both sets of knowledge, you get a much nicer place in general. Go with the planners’ ideas, you just get a nicer intersection, which is, in itself, a good thing even if it isn’t the strategy for the specific problem at hand. Go with the residents’ perceptions, and you fix the specific problem, but you maybe miss out on getting them some additional nice things at the intersection even though nobody thought to ask for them. Part of planning expertise is to diffuse and spread nice things in urban environments, things that people don’t necessarily know to ask for/demand.

See? You get more when both types of knowledge become applied. Expertise and knowledge treated this way become more like a jazz collaboration or a dance where people take turns leading, building off what others contribute, leaving some ideas, picking up and developing others, all in tandem.

Little kids are experts, too. They know where the bully lives; they know why some fountains are cool and fun and others are boring, just to cite two examples.

It’s only if you think of knowledge=control=domination that this model takes something from you as an expert. Otherwise, experts can do what they always did, when they did their jobs well: use their years of study and focus on a content area to resource decision-making, contribute possibilities for directions and choices, and help think through the likely consequences of various choices.

How to treat an expert? Well, honestly, it’s subversive in the patriarchy for a woman to be an expert, and it’s even more subversive for people of color to be experts. I am pretty relaxed about being called “Dr” or “Professor”, and I started out that way. But I was also older than most assistant professors were. At Virginia Tech I noticed that Casey Dawkins was always Dr. Dawkins and Heike Mayer was, more often than not, called “Miss Mayer.” When that’s the default, you goddamn right I’m *always* going to call Heike “Dr. Mayer” in front of students.

For years, Dr. Ilene Payne, an African American woman, ran the Eisenhower program, and she was Dr. Ilene Payne, always. Always. And damn rightly so, too.

Because the road women and people of color take to obtaining these credentials and existing in institutions is hard, usually humiliating, rotten, horrible, and invalidating, and the institution of higher education is similarly humiliating, rotten, horrible and invalidating to us on a daily basis, we deserve to have our credentials treated with the same respect–at the very least–that is the default for the white dudes. Nobody forwards Richard Florida’s tweets with “This dude thinks a thing” when people are going to rag on him. He still gets to be himself. I’m not asking people not to rag on me (although, it’s perfectly possible to disagree without going immediately to sarcastic flouncing). I am asking not be erased as a person.

I don’t think that’s asking a lot.

When absolutely positively no black professor is mistaken for the janitor or hassled by security, we can stop with Dr./Professor title, but not before. Using the title and having the title is very, very different for different people, and pretending that isn’t the case by rejecting all titles or credentials as markers of expertise doesn’t do diddly to eradicate that in everyday life.

Epistemic justice, for me, centers on the idea that since knowledge and information have big consequences for individuals and communities, they should be engaged in the framing and formulation of that knowledge. That doesn’t mean science is invalid or anything of the kind, or that we all pretend gravity doesn’t work (the way people who don’t understand critiques of science/Sokal Hoax lovers think it works.) It just means that individuals and community groups’ questions and problems take priority, and they are making crucial decisions about what knowledge they need, how they are going to get it, and what they are going to use it for. Is that *really* so corrosive of science as an endeavor…or just corrosive to the modernist, individualistic, great-man models that serve the human ego?

Augustine of Hippo on choosing power over righteousness (and a bonus proto-YIMBY quote)

Augustine is quite tangential to my world of theory, but I am having so much fun reading him that I am having trouble sticking with the parts I selected out having to do with politics. And that’s bad because there is a lot of Augustine, and I’m supposed to be doing other things.

Nonetheless, he has offered quite a bit of solace in just about all his writings. His Confessions was a life-changing book for me, not because I really came to have any faith, but because of the way he scrutinized his life’s petty wrongs to find meaning. You think about some of the willfully dumbass shit you’ve done and you cringe when you think about it. Augustine understood that very well and helps to point you towards heaven anyway.

City of God is obviously a much more significant work, and while I’ve dipped into it now and then for Latin practice, I’ve never sat down and read the entire thing. I’m two books in, and it’s so good that is beguiling me.

The other day I happened upon this paragraph (this is part of it; the whole is loooong) here in Book II section 20:

Verum tales cultores et dilectores deorum istorum, quorum etiam imitatores in sceleribus et flagitiis se esse laetantur, nullo modo curant pessimam ac flagitiosissimam non1 esse rem publicam. “Tantum stet, inquiunt, tantum floreat copiis referta, victoriis gloriosa, vel, quod est felicius, pace secura sit. Et quid ad nos? Immo id ad nos magis pertinet, si divitias quisque augeat semper, quae cotidianis effusionibus suppetant, per quas sibi etiam infirmiores subdat quisque potentior. Obsequantur divitibus pauperes causa saturitatis atque ut eorum patrociniis quieta inertia perfruantur, divites pauperibus ad clientelas et ad ministerium sui fastus abutantur. Populi plaudant, non consultoribus utilitatum suarum, sed largitoribus voluptatum. Non dura iubeantur, non prohibeantur inpura. Reges non curent quam bonis, sed quam subditis regnent. Provinciae regibus non tamquam rectoribus morum, sed tamquam rerum dominatoribus et deliciarum suarum provisoribus serviant, eosque non sinceriter honorent, sed2 serviliter timeant. Quid alienae vineae potius quam quid suae vitae quisque noceat, legibus advertatur.

My translation:

But the worshippers and admirers of pagen gods delight in imitating their sins, and are no not concerned that the republic be less depraved and licentious. (SO MUCH SUBJECTIVE FORTHCOMING:) “Let it remain undefeated,” they say, “only let it expand and abound in resources; let it be glorious with its victories, or still better, secure in peace; and what matters to us? This is our concern, that every man is able to increase his wealth so as to supply his daily luxury, and so that the powerful may subject the week for their own ends. Let the poor court the rich for a living, and that under their protection they may enjoy idleness; and let the rich abuse the poor as their dependents, to minister to their pride. Let the people applaud not those who protect their interests, but those who provide them with diversions. Let no severe duty be commanded, no impiety forbidden. Let kings estimate their success not by the righteousness, but by the servility, of their subjects. Let the provinces stand loyal to the king, not as a moral leader, but as lords of their possessions and purveyors of their pleasures; not with reverence, but a servile cravenness. Let the laws punish damage that a man does to his neighbor’s property but not the damage he does to his soul.

This is George McCracken’s translation for Loeb:

But the worshippers and the lovers of those gods, whom they are even delighted to copy in their evil deeds, are not concerned to prevent the republic from sinking to the lowest level of wickedness and profligacy. “Only let it stand,” they say, “only let it flourish with abundant resources, glorious in victory or, and that is better, secure in peace. And how does it concern us? No, no! it interests us more that the individual should constantly increase his wealth to support his daily extravagance, and to enable the more powerful individual thereby to make weaker men his subjects. Let the poor court the rich to fill their bellies and to enjoy under their patronage an undisturbed idleness; let the rich misuse the poor as clients and to minister to their pride. Let the people hail with applause, not those who have their interests at heart, but those who are lavish with pleasures. Let no hard task be assigned, let no foulness be forbidden. Let kings care not how good their subjects are but how abject. Let provinces be subservient to kings not as directors of morals but as lords of their lives and providers of their pleasures; and let them not honour them in sincerity but fear them in servility. Let the laws penalize the damage a man does to his neighbour’s vineyard rather than the damage he does to his own soul.

There’s a lot more coming, but you get the idea, and a few sentences following, we get St. A’s proto-YIMBY sentiment:

Exstruantur amplissimae atque ornatissimae; domus, opipara convivia frequententur, ubi cuique libuerit et potuerit, diu noctuque ludatur, bibatur, vomatur, diffluatur.

I can’t really improve on McCracken’s, so here it is.

Let huge and ornate houses be built; let lavish banquets be largely attended where for anyone who has the desire and the power there may be by day and by night indulgence in sport, drinking, vomiting, dissipation.

Stupid powerful people with their big houses and big food and drink and vomit.

Design and multi-family anything

So again, usual disclaimer: building new units in good locations is really important in cities, so please don’t feel any need to ‘splain supply and demand to me on Twitter. Save your wisdom for unsuspecting passersby. Oh, and as long as we are at a point where I am saying something I have to say everyday, we should remove parking minimums because they are terrible.

I stirred up the pot on Twitter by getting grumpy about design and the tendency treat citizen design concerns as pretext for saying no. I’m not an idiot: I know that. I’m also sure that the more planners act like that is the case, the more it will be true.

The point of planning is to open up possibilities in place, and if you shut down people’s ideas just because they don’t have design knowledge just because they are looking for reasons to say no, you’ve done nothing to shift them or the dialogue fundamentally–a slow, incremental task. Developers are not social workers; nor are YIMBY advocates who want to win legislative rule changes. But planners do have a job in maintaining local civic relationships, in helping people see their cities and spaces in different ways, and in fostering more capable resident engagement around design and everything else.

One point of contention concerned whether multi-family was zoned out because it was poorly designed or because it was associated with poor people, immigrants, black Americans, etc. Everybody (but me) had the right, simple answer: the latter, or the desire to exclude.

Yes, but no.

In life, you can’t separate the two. You can’t. By design, multi-family is different to begin with–it’s multi-family–and at a fundamental level, the issue has nothing to do with veneers or forms or setbacks. It has to do with the systematic elevation of the white nuclear family and the attendant zoning and housing practices that both grew from that and came to reinforce it. Our social and material (built environment) lives are of a piece. One way to read more about it might be to look up this criminally undercited collection of essays:

Urban Planning and the African American Community In the Shadows June Manning Thomas Marsha Ritzdorf 9780803972346 Amazon com Books

And in it, this piece here: Silver, Christopher. “The Racial Origins of Zoning in American Cities.”

You also want to look at some Dolores Hayden, Gail Dubrow. I’m missing some younger scholars of color here. Wake me up and send me some to read and highlight here if you have time.

As structures like race, class, and gender took specific spatial forms and ideologies in the US, the single family home–and increased, mass production of them that allowed greater access to prestige goods–zoning helped codify exclusion that was already well-established in American society.

So yeah, it wouldn’t have mattered if the multi-family buildings were nice to begin with because by definition: those people live like that, and those people are bad, and thus we should keep them over there, and over there is where they are so those places are ugly and bad, no matter what those places actually look like.

The story, however, does not end there, and we in 21st century Trump America have to deal with the next 70+ years of that cycle of stigmatization becoming even more entrenched in the cultural psyche, and in the built environment as the cycle of thinking above led to another cycle:

those people are bad and poor; bad and poor people live in bad and poor and ugly places, and oh, we’re building something for the poor so they’ll just ruin it/it will be bad anyway/if they get better they won’t work their way out to better so let’s just build/approve any clapped up shit because it doesn’t matter but I guess they have to live somewhere so there

So to recap, there are a) great multi-family buildings out there, in lots of places, not just Manhattan, that are ascribed with stigmatized characteristics and thus judged through racist and classist aesthetic lenses, as well as b) individuals relegated to low-quality buildings because of the same stigma becoming reality over time.

Breaking that cycle of stigma has not proven easy, but it strikes me as really, really important. First of all, people who are impoverished or oppressed deserve good, comfortable city spaces, too, and they deserve to have the spaces they create treated with respect both culturally and aesthetically. And second of all, anything less than building pretty darn nice with multifamily infill now adds fuel to the NIMBY fire, aided and abetted by American racial and class biases to begin with.

And all bad design contributes to uncomfortable, unpleasant city spaces we don’t want and can’t afford if we want infill to accomplish what we say it’s going to (environmental changes). Not every place has to be uniquely beautifully and preciously wrought. It just has to be comfortable, something that will grow and stitch into a place over time as it changes the place and the place changes it. That doesn’t sound very ambitious, but it’s hard enough.

Way to go, TRB leadership

I mentioned in my post on harassment that I abandoned going to TRB (Transportation Research Board) because for me, it felt like open season on harassment. I neglected to point out when I did so. I got a Twitter response from a woman I do not know saying that wasn’t her experience at TRB, but she didn’t respond when I said I was glad she was made to feel more welcome. I wasn’t crazy about the tone of the original response; women shouldn’t have to deal with other people basically hinting that they are wrong/oversensitive/dishonest in discussing their experiences because the questioning person hasn’t had the same experiences in the same spaces. They may have, simply, been fortunate. But with Twitter, who knows if that was what she meant at all, so whatevs.

In any case, a few hours later, I got a very nice email from a member of TRB’s current leadership asking about my experiences and what they might do. It was a really positive and effective thing to do, and it makes me very hopeful. It drew my attention to a problem in my original post–a problem of accuracy on my part, but still a problem for TRB, too, nonetheless.

I didn’t point out in the original post that I gave up on TRB in 2000–nearly 20 years ago. I am sure that much about the conference is different now, but I am still pretty sure that there is still harassment because when I say harassment happens everywhere, I mean, it happens everywhere. But still; back when I first started attending TRB (1993), there were some years where there were only about 7 to 10 women on the entire conference program for the policy groups in TRB. It was manel after manel of depressing grey and navy suits and polyester ties. There was so much condescension towards women, it was often palpable, and I was a PYT back then. Don’t get me wrong: women of all ages, sizes, and appearances face this crap all the time, but youth is a marker of potential vulnerability, and harassment is about power and domination.

And even with the wonderful leadership that TRB reps showed towards the issue with me this week, and even though transportation has changed as a profession, a lot (and thank heaven), TRB’s losing me at a young age is a genuine and unrecoverable loss. There’s not much TRB can do about it now. By failing to look after me as a young professional, the dudes back then squandered an opportunity to capture a potential lifelong contributor: I now have a much bigger voice and platform, and I still never think to direct young people there, and I have little reason to attend myself at this point in my career.

I’ve heard again and again among transportations scholars that TRB is an important conference, that I should want to be on the various committees, and so forth. I’m sure they are right. I can’t know for sure what my career or research would have been had I stayed engaged. I do know that a) lots and lots of people want my time and human capital now, b) TRB isn’t getting any of it*, and c) I haven’t missed going one bit. The thing is: when you stop going to conferences, it can be very easy to discover that you don’t really benefit from them all that much, especially if you, like me, tend to be a relatively introverted scholar anyway. I have wonderful relationships with scholars I have only met through their books, and sometimes, it’s good to maintain the mystery.

The idea that conferences are all just fabulouso-networking-jams might be true for people capable of myriad social interactions, but it is not the case, no matter what, for those of who us die tiny deaths during small talk and thus hide in our friend’s Georgetown home binge-reading Harry Potter, which is what I did after I walked out of TRB the last time in 2000, on the first day of the conference, having been called “cute” by a senior male scholar, now dead. (That was my first Harry Potter book; it was a wonderful experience, and I left the house the next day to get the next two books and pie, at Kramer Books, four blocks from the the Hilton where TRB was, which I rode by on the bus feeling not one twinge of obligation to go back.)

That isn’t the outcome that these organizations want. And that’s what I mean when I urge leaders to do what TRB leadership attempted this week: listen, work for change, and cultivate young people and difference in an environment of genuine goodwill, free exchange, and safety for vulnerable members. Young people will be the ones paying conference fees and contributing human capital (or not) long after the old guard fade away.

*Whatever marginal contribution I might have made to TRB, eh, there are plenty of great scholars and practitioners who do go. But still: too many youngsters dropping out the way I did is not good.

How to help people being doxxed and cyberbullied?

I have been following Rose McGowan-Twitter dispute since it happened, with with some of her supporters calling for Twitter boycott. There were generally criticisms of this suggestion. The first came from women who rejected the idea that women should silence themselves as a form of protest to protest…women’s silencing.

The second came from women of color who rejected the idea that they should undertake activist work to protect white women when white women do not do similar work for them.

And this is where I got stuck. This response is, naturally, reasonable and we’ve seen it before. The point that I got stuck on was one particular example: one writer used Jemele Hill and Leslie Jones as examples.

I spoke out about both these women and the injustices they faced, but I have to say, that doesn’t feel like very much. Boycotting ESPN would be fine, but in my instance it’s useless since I already don’t consume their channel. So I doubt they care very much about my opinion at all, let alone my plan to continue not consuming their brand.

With Ms. Jones, I did join in an organized online effort to support her directly and draw Twitter’s attention to those subjecting her to abuse. From what I can tell, they banned Milos Yiannopoulos, but I don’t think they went after his little troll army. Should white hats go after them behind their screen names? Doxx them out to their employers and media? I’ve flooded people’s feed with positive messages when I see that starting in and I’m aware of it, but that doesn’t feel like much, either.

When I joined the Leslie Jones donnybrook, I got plenty of hate-tweets in response, with comments about my weight, threats, etc. I wasn’t doxxed, but honestly, I tweet as myself. If you go to my office at USC, you’ll find me. (I’m pretty sweet in real life, or so people tell me.)

Cyberbullying women with opinions is pretty much constant, and the only way to avoid it is, I’ve found, to avoid having an opinion, and well, screw that. I tend to just stop responding to people on Twitter when I decide they are bullies, and since I wrote the Smartest Boy Urbanist thing (what I’ll probably die being known for despite killing myself to do good research), I have plenty of dudes looking to take me down a peg. But that’s what Smartest Dude Urbanists are: bullies. They don’t actually care about cities. They care about being right about cities, and getting people to submit to their rightness–winning arguments, the jousting, the coming-out-on-top. If they did care about cities, they’d want to work through dissent and difference–in addition to just winning policy change–in cities instead of just trying silence it and conflate it all with the worst aspects of NIMBYism. To some degree, that “win win win” stuff is just politics. But when it’s combined with white maleness, it’s power-down crap that the rest of us shouldn’t have to put up with.

I generally just ignore the dudes doing that; I’m in a position where me going off on a feminist rant on my own blog can’t really get me fired. Yet. But I am in a very privileged space to be able to do that–which is one reason why I do it–but I don’t feel as though I’m using the power I have to respond in particularly effective ways to women getting cyberbullied and doxxed. I often just don’t notice it. I tweet at the beginning and the end of the workday and just don’t see stuff. In addition, I really don’t know what works as intervening versus what has the potential to make it all worse. I do the positive social media things to support women & people of color, such as promoting their work, etc. But I don’t really feel like I have any strategies to help in the instances where things have turned negative.


Male dominance is everywhere, and thus, so is sexual predation: Miramax, FoxNews, USC, ACSP…everywhere

The week has been another terrible one, with the Rohingya, Puerto Rican Americans still suffering, fires destroying so much in northern California, and all actions on gun control are likely to go paff into the void.

But I want to talk about sexual harassment because I have to, apparently, otherwise I am a faux feminist. It’s not my role to discuss my employer, USC, and this is not a post sanctioned by the university. I don’t speak for USC, obviously. But I have spent the entire week listening to people yell at ‘FAUX FEMINIST HILLARY CLINTON FOR NOT SPEAKING OUT ABOUT HARVEY WEINSTEIN” because you know, it’s feminists’ job to fix the problems they point out but didn’t create. And you know, women are in the best position to stop abuses of power because they hold so much power in all these institutions…oh wait.

I suppose conservatives are having a heyday with Weinstein because they feel they were picked on, horribly picked on, when Bill O’Reilly and (insert long list of conservatives) were outed as domestic abusers and sexual predators. This flouncing around about how “liberals aren’t denouncing Weinstein, the hypocrites!”…yeah, ok, that’s politics, but it does seem like there is plenty of denouncing such that things have come home to roost on Weinstein, insofar that rich privileged predators retire into their luxurious private lives with their status moderately lowered. Goodness, such consequences.

The problem with denouncing these guys, without more reflection, is that it tends to create the impression that they are the exceptions instead of the rule in the world. Like denouncing the jerks in Charlottesville without accepting the everydayness of white supremacy, all this lather about Weinstein seems to leave the impression that it undoes all the wrongs he committed over the very long period in which he was rewarded and his behavior tolerated because he was, supposedly, a rainmaker, the one guy who could do the one thing that nobody else could ever do for the organization he’s supposedly working for.

That’s the story. A misunderstood genius. A Dr. House. A boy so exceptionally wonderful that we all just tolerate his shitty behavior because he’s just so darn special. Their benefits to the organization supposedly outweigh their costs.

Horseshit. These Dudes don’t work for the organization. The organizations work for them. These Dudes please higher-ups, and because higher-ups only care about money and status, the people that these dudes hurt become the eggs broken in making an omelet to the people at the top. Because the “rain” that these dudes make flows upwards, not downwards, and those at the top have bought into the “hey, the exceptional individual is what changes the game.”

Do you see how my language has become general, moved away from Weinstein and/or USC? Because this stuff is everywhere. I said in class the other day “Every single one of your female colleagues has a story, if not many stories, to tell you about dudes like Weinstein.” The women in the class were nodding their heads; the guys were looking at their phones, laptops, or out the windows.

The LA Times has smelled blood in the water at USC, and it looks like people have decided to go straight to informing the Times about what has gone on. I honestly do not know if we are worse than other places. I just don’t have the evidence one way or the other. With the Times scrutinizing us, the proliferation of stories could be scrutiny bias. Or USC could be worse than other universities. I honestly do not know.

But Penn State. But Berkeley. But Yale.

Even though the LA Times isn’t running stories about them, I’d bet real money the same thing, in various shades of egregiousness, is happening right now in various departments at UCLA, Loyola, Pepperdine, Irvine, Cal Tech, Occidental….LA Trade Tech.

Why? Because it’s everywhere. There was That Dude in the substance abuse rehab I worked in. There was That Dude in the Econ department at the University of Iowa. And so on, and so forth.

That Dude is everywhere, protecting That Dude is something male privilege does…until that dude somehow gets outed, and then errrbody shocked that That Dude was allowed to be That Dude for so long.

Dr. House gets to make openly racist comments to Dr. Foreman, a very accomplished man who deserves better, and who puts up with it and handles it, “because it’s worth it.”

Nobody ever thinks that there are decent men who can do the exact same thing that the Stars do if they were given the same institutional support and attention–and who wouldn’t abuse the people around them.

I no longer attend TRB because it just wasn’t worth the constant propositioning.


The mindset of US society is dominating, exploitive; it’s about taking, controlling, winning. And among spoils of that winning is the ability to abuse power. Bare-knuckles winning. Or abject losing. That’s the world, deal with it. Supposedly.

Our sitting president.

Some fiddling about with text mining comments from Metro survey former transit riders, non-riders, and infrequent riders

So Twitter Smarty Henry Fung (@calwatch) let me have some data from LA Metro’s 2016 survey. I’m going to have my students learn a little text mining on it; there aren’t a huge amount of comments, but I find it can be good to learn to mine text on smaller files, just to avoid over-plotting and shorten the run times. Some of these are interesting:


Sad word cloud.


If work requires people to use a car, people use the car. Sigh. I sit through a lot of lectures from very smart people who tell me that nonwork travel is important, and it is, but paying your rent and eating are also important, and if people get cars because of work, then they have invested a lot of money in that mode of travel and it’s just hard to get them on to transit. As long we are talking about MOAR SUPPLY, more work destinations served by transit would probably help us out here.


“Long” and “expensive” do not reassure us much, either, and neither does the frequency with which parking gets mentioned. I often say to my students that Metro does not have an easy job. Even this little bit of fiddling backs that up pretty well.

Good study on drivers’ poor behavior toward black male pedestrians from Dr. Kimberly Kahn , Tara Goddard @GoddardTara @TRECpdx

On the Black Lives Matter themes in the world a new report from PSU’s TREC shows that, like Donald Trump, drivers are nasty to black men, too. Here’s the report–it’s free, but you will have to register with TREC, which you should do so that you can get their updates and serve as a reviewer for them.

Nice little field experiment done here. Here’s the summary from the abstract:

Specifically, this study investigates the roles of 1) pedestrian race, 2) pedestrian gender, 3) crosswalk design (unmarked intersection crosswalk vs. marked crosswalk), and 4) drivers’ identity characteristics (male vs. female, White vs. minority) on drivers’ yielding behavior with pedestrians. A controlled field experiment in which Black and White male and female pedestrians crossed the street at two different types of crosswalks (unmarked vs. marked) was conducted, while trained coders marked drivers’ yielding behavior. Results indicated that overall stopping rates were very low at the unmarked crosswalk, and few differences emerged based on pedestrian race and gender. When the crosswalk became marked, stopping rates greatly increased; however, treatment was less equitable. Drivers were less likely to stop for Black and male pedestrians, and when they did stop, they were more likely to stop closer to Black male and Black female pedestrians. These effects occurred regardless of drivers’ race and gender.

So basically, drivers are rude and trying to kill everybody relatively equally at unmarked crosswalks.

Well done, drivers. Jeez.

Marked crosswalks have, as we know, a positive effect on drivers’ yielding behavior, but drivers treated black male pedestrians with less care than everybody else in the experiment:

Ppms trec pdx edu media project files NITC 869 Racial Bias in Drivers Yielding Behavior 5YnmTku pdf

It’s hard to assign race based on visuals in studies, and yet people do it all the time in everyday life.

So yeah, this sucks. It’s a nice study; go read it. The follow up with focus groups, too. This is just a report on a small grant so the publications will have more detail. It would be nice to see this study scaled up through funding via NIH. The exercise of observing crosswalk behavior would be nice for a class exercise.

What do we gain from calling the Vegas shooting a terrorist act?

I had a good comment from one of my students about framing mental illness in the aftermath of mass violence, and I did a bad job in class of responding to it. (I sucked in class in general this week.) Her point: people who have mental illnesses are much more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence. That gets drowned out in the narrative around shooters: he snapped, he was mentally ill, he was crazy. I pointed out that Republicans at least pretend to care about mental illness in the aftermath of mass shootings as a way to deflect responsibility doing anything rational on gun policy, and I always hope we might get some gains there even if it’s from the wrong reasoning. She persisted on her point; she was right and I wrong. One of the problems with age, I suspect, is too much willingness to gain policy ground even on specious assumptions. Ends-means stuff.

In that vein, I’ve been following the discussions around the Vegas shooter, and the inevitable critiques that arise over the way white and male privilege creates cover for white male violence: he was a “lone wolf” instead of a terrorist. The resistance to this narrative makes sense to me: the double standards of privilege don’t deserve to stand, and every group has its violent-minded discontents with grievances against the world who, unfortunately, can hurt many people. Denying that part of whiteness, let alone the systemic violence of white supremacist institutions, perpetuates dangerous illusions about who is violent and who isn’t.

So equality in term usage makes sense to me, but there are to me some useful conceptual distinctions between terrorism and mass shootings. In terms of damage done, I doubt it really matters much about whether the shooter is an “individual malcontent” or part of an organized group, non-state-sponosered with an articulated political goal, but I think it does matter in terms of policy (as opposed to state-sponsored acts of violence.) I remember reading a very thoughtful piece from a woman of color (and I can’t freaking find it now, damn it) challenging the terrorist label with Dylan Roof and questioning the demands that he be labeled a terrorist: given how unreflective Americans are when that label comes out, why would we want to promulgate it in any context?

I don’t know. I don’t buy that somebody like the Vegas shooter “isn’t political” even if he didn’t issue some creepy manifesto. Mass shootings are attacks on the body politic. And just because he’s not with some organization that has a name and a manifesto, he is supported by an encompassing ecology of violence for white men in the US.

The reason I am thinking about this problem and how badly I handled my student’s point is that I think they are outgrowths of the same problems with the individualistic narratives that Americans indulge in. Whatever the problem, whether it’s mental illness or white violence, whatever attempt we might make to resource and address the problem, it’s always possible for people to discount systematic interventions by laying blame on individual moral turpitude. “Evil” says Donald Trump, not “evil” enabled and made infinitely worse with excruciatingly poor gun policies and a culture of male violence so thick you can’t turn away from it.

Again, I dunno. I’d love to hear answers either way.