While narcissistically perusing The Silhouette last week, I happened upon the front-page teaser for an Opinions article, which read, “Recent Steubenville controversy has reopened dialogue on rape culture.”

I laughed.

Unless I’m mistaken, that dialogue hadn’t been closed. I found this particularly illustrative of the way feminist discussion is ignored by most.

Perhaps this is due in part to the word “feminism” itself having somewhat unsavory associations for many people. I’ve seen people’s faces contort, or their eyes roll, if someone around them utters this particular F-word. Frankly, this shocks and annoys me.

Feminisms of all kinds are dedicated to so much more than burning bras, and certainly contribute to more male-oriented subjects than they’re given credit for. It’s about calling out society on systematic injustices. It’s about power and privilege being used to help, not to hinder.

It’s about treating people the way they should be treated.

Should that be considered so radical?

Now I don’t want to come off as bitter, because I’m not; I like that this conversation is happening on a larger scale. That’s really kind of my point.

I like that people are as aghast as I am about Steubenville. I’ve shaken my head a little at the fact that it took this long, or this blatant an example, to have this many people engage in the dialogue, but I’m pleased that it’s happened. Good conversational space is key, and this event has really opened it up to a lot more people. I haven’t figured out if it’s just the sheer popularity, or some particular aspect of the atrocity, or a combination of those (and some luck), but people seem to be comfortable talking about it.

It reminds me of the way 50 Shades of Grey made BDSM a topic of public discussion, but that’s tangential.

Which is great. But again, for those of us who had been engaging in it all along, it can be a little tiring to wait for something to rouse the general public into awareness. As said, good conversational space is key, so I’ve been thinking a lot about how to create this space.

Blogger/Twitter-user Hilary Bowman-Smart figured out a really neat way to get people talking, using dark humour to engage people. The tag #safetytipsforladies is a scathing collection of tweets offering responsible women advice on how they can avoid being raped. Some of my favourites include:

Remove your vagina. Carry it in your purse

Don’t trust strange men but don’t NOT trust strange men - that’s sexist and may anger them.

Turn just right during a solar eclipse and slip sideways into a parallel dimension where people value consent.

Stop being a woman in public.

(Search #safetytipsforladies for more sage counsel.)

To get talking with my friends, it’s sometimes as simple as linking them to an interesting article (or Twitter feed), inviting them to hear a guest speaker talk about intersectionality or starting a conversation with “So I was thinking about this earlier…”

I haven’t quite yet figured out how to get beyond my circle of friends and acquaintances, but maybe this article is a start.

The annual State of the Academy address is meant to be an opportunity for the Provost’s office to share information with the rest of the university on the school’s progress over the year. But this time, it was supposed to be different.

The 2012 State of the Academy was promoted for its “new format,” a conversation between university administrators and the greater campus community, rather than a speech. According to current Provost David Wilkinson, it was meant to “engage [McMaster] in a cross-campus dialogue.”

Convocation Hall, equipped with two audience microphones, reflected this change. Wilkinson and university president Patrick Deane, who joined him for the presentation, were seated comfortably in armchairs at the front of the room.

In elaborating on talking points offered by moderator Gord Arbeau, Director of Public and Community Relations, the two administrators made it clear that their impression of McMaster’s current situation was positive.

“When you look at the [McMaster University Factbook], what it would show you is that…as an institution we’re doing very well in difficult times,” said Wilkinson.

“There are lots of great things going on, lots of challenges, but the future really looks rosy at McMaster.”

Although a variety of topics were offered for discussion, the speeches from both Deane and Wilkinson circled back to “Forward with Integrity,” the president’s 2011 letter that offered a set of guiding principles for McMaster as it moves forward.

The emphasis of the presentation, in conjunction with “Forward with Integrity,” was to “rephrase” the goals of McMaster, and to reemphasize the “research-focused, student-centred” nature of Mac.

“We’re at a phase in laying out our sense of the institution’s future in which we need to build on what has been strong historically here and that very close connection between teaching and research, which is part of the Mac culture [and] has been since the beginning,” Deane explained. The president was intent on underlining McMaster’s reputation, reaffirming that “we are an institution devoted to learning through inquiry and discovery.” He encouraged students and faculty to “bring...[the] power of the critical and inquiring mind.”

It was broader ideas like these that made up the bulk of the presentation.

In addition to the university’s culture, Deane and Wilkinson also touched on such initiatives as the “learning portfolio,” a new emphasis on experiential education that was encouraged by “Forward with Integrity.”

“[We want] students [to] actually have a portfolio of experiences that extends beyond what shows up on their transcripts,” said Wilkinson.

The most controversial topic of discussion was the internationalization of McMaster, something the president has admitted to not always being comfortable with.

“I am very much averse to what I regard as an exploitative model of higher internationalized higher education,” Deane said, elaborating further to say that he is “not persuaded, either in terms of the long-term benefits or the ethical compulsions of this model which basically sees the world as a market to be drawn on to subsidize our current operations.”

International students now make up roughly five per cent of McMaster’s student body. The recruitment of these students is seen by many universities to be an economic benefit because of the hefty additional fees they pay. Deane emphasized that true internationalization would involve “being changed by the students who are invited to come here.”

It seemed that the audience, made up primarily of faculty and staff, with only a small representation of students, was not moved by this, or any other topics. When the floor was opened to questions, no one in the audience stepped up. Despite the insistence on dialogue, the new townhall format did not result in the high amount of audience participation that was initially envisioned.

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