Sexism and Misconduct

At the annual UU Campus Ministry Advisory Committee meeting, which met jointly with the Young Adult & Campus Ministry Regional Organizing Consultants, District Staff, and special guests from C*UUYAN (Facilitator ConCentric Facilitator), we engaged deeply with issues of sexual misconduct, boundaries, ethics, sexism, and the intersections of oppression.  It wasn’t on the agenda, yet it was a healthy and important dialogue, triggered by several incidents this year that were close to the surface personally and professionally for some in the room.

Each year I’ve shared and listened to the ongoing dialogue about Sexism and Misconduct in the young adult community, and in the UUA at-large.  It is a serious issue.  Even in a community where around 70% of our leaders and participants are female-identified, and in an association where a majority of religious professionals and probably even congregants are women, sexism is a critical issue that calls us to attention again and again.  I don’t think there is a holy grail of the perfect analysis and perfect action to end all sexism, just as I don’t think this is possible for racism (i.e., it is all about class smoke screen).

What is needed is what we’ve been working hard to provide, and more.  Since I started with young adults, sexual ethics has been a huge issue.  It was probably the most common thing I talked about when I was first organizing in C*UUYAN.  In those days, 1997-99, there was just no acknowledgment of the problem.  Today we are in a more progressive place, but we’re still struggling to be a welcoming and justice-centered place with respect to these issues.

We have a strong Code of Ethics for Young Adult Peer Leaders initiated from years of sexual ethical concerns and visions of right relationship.  This has yet to saturate into our local and distict communities, but it will be over the years.  The YACM Office, consultants and C*UUYAN have made it a requirement.  Amen.  It is a wonderful teaching tool, and community building and covenanting resource.  Check it out.

We are intentional about making space for processing and for new ideas around how we address misconduct, foster right relationship, set leadership boundaries, and manage conflict.  While at the North American level we have limited time together, I have experienced the most institutional movement from these conversations over the last decade.  We’ve had gender caucusing as staff, at conferences, we’ve established stronger chaplaincy and mediation services for our programs, and we continually expand space to learn and listen with one another.

We don’t work as closely with the UU Women’s Federation as we used to, we had a surge of energy when several of our C*UUYAN members, ex-leaders, were heavily in their Triennial Conference before GA several years back.  That gave us a lot of new perspective, including encountering in a religious setting the 3rd wave feminist movement ideas from young women speakers they organized.  We don’t have GA gender caucusing as we used to from 1999 to 2003, those five years really changed the tone of C*UUYAN.  Still these things could be resurrected, and new ideas from new C*UUYAN leadership will emerge I believe.

There are so many parallels in the sexual ethics and misconduct issues we discussed to racism.  One thing that was underlined for me is that we really have a high expectation that sexism be unwelcome and addressed in our communities.  Breaking that down, folks were in consensus around developing strong gender equality, and a sensitivity to marginalizing, tokenizing, and traumatizing effects of sexism in the community.  I believe this is essential.  And I believe that in dealing with race and racism there is a lot we can learn from how we are dealing with sexism.


3 responses to “Sexism and Misconduct

  1. Joseph, what do you mean that there was “no acknowledgment of the problem” before the late 1990s?

  2. Among the C*UUYAN leaders I met with in my first years at GA 97 and Opus 97, there was downplaying, even denial, that there was a problem at hand. There were several incidents, including one I witnessed as a participant, that folks sought to minimize. My choice of words could have been better – I did make an assumption that it wasn’t addressed carefully before, and likely it was. I am reacting to the immediate context of my beginnings, sorry I didn’t contextualize that.

  3. What do you mean by “The YACM Office, consultants and C*UUYAN have made it a requirement. Amen.” ?

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