TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual assault
I sat down this week and spent some time with Teddy for his first interview as SG President. This is the first interview in our "Teddy Talks" series. In this interview, I got to know him a little, we talked about the TUJ community, and addressed the important issue that is Sexual Harassment and Assault.
Disclaimer: Although Teddy is our Student Government President, his views do not represent TUJ or SG.
Ted, first of all, congratulations on being our new Student Government president. Tell us a little about yourself.
Thank you, I look forward to serving you and all of TUJ. I’m 28. I was in the military for 8 and a half years, I guess this has attributed to some of my personality. I’m from Minnesota, born in NY. I am Hmong. Watch the movie Gran Torino - it gives you a glimpse into the Hmong culture. From what I understand, Hmong are a subgroup of the Chinese from the southeast region if I’m not mistaken, and they migrated to Laos and Thailand. I grew up on the culture and I appreciate a lot of it but I think there’s a lot wrong with it too, so I stay away from it. I am always on the lookout for other Hmong that travel to Japan, because seldom do they leave the nest.
Okay, so why did you decide to go to TUJ?
Specifically for location. Japan was where I wanted to stay. I was stationed here for 3 years in Yokosuka. Before getting here, I had a love for my perception of Japan. I was also into anime. When I first arrived, it felt so surreal to get off the plane and overtime, I fell in love with the whole lifestyle. You’re constantly busy, and I have grown to find myself as a busy body so it just fits me. So about 6 months prior to leaving the military, I contacted admissions and as the time came to be discharged, it was essentially crunch time so literally two months before I got out, I had to weigh my options between trying to find work without a degree or school, and here I am.
Now that we know a little about you, let’s get into slightly more difficult topics in regards to TUJ. Are you aware that there are sexual harassment cases going on here, and if not, what do you think after hearing this?
At TUJ, I was not aware until as of late. Initially, I’m surprised to hear there was an incident, however, it doesn’t really surprise me in hindsight because it is an issue not often addressed. What surprises me most is the lack of coverage it should have received, but then I remember all the GMT’s (General Military Training) on sexual assault and the reporting procedures. I heard that TUJ has been handling situations that arise well, so I am relieved.
You said you were surprised that people don’t know about this. Why do you think that this is the case?
I think it’s a fear to even think that would happen. It ends up getting addressed in a hush-hush level. These are isolated incidents, we don’t think they happen very often and you can only imagine how much more is happening that nobody's saying anything about, not just here, but in general. I have said it before, but I cannot know about a problem that exists if I am not made aware of it. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that no one says anything about it because they’re scared or just not comfortable with it. There are so many questions regarding the events that everybody wants to ask but I think it’s irrelevant to what these situations are and in the end, it happened when it shouldn’t have. Especially if it were between two students. Unwanted physical contact is very cut and dry especially between peers. We can’t take this lightly, but at the same time like I had mentioned before with the reporting procedures, we have to respect the privacy of the victim and the course of action they want to take. It’s not a witch-hunt, but we have to make others aware. It seems like to me, they already feel like they’re alone, so when incidents come up, we need them to know they are not.
Do you think that TUJ as a community, taking away the administration, is a safe enough space for somebody to come out and say “this happened to me”?
I don’t think we have created a sense of community where we can share our opinions when such a topic is addressed. I think about the bystander effect, where nobody says anything and thinks someone else will handle the situation. I would not say that this is specific to TUJ itself, but in general, topics like sexual assault are not comfortable to talk about in an open setting. Everyone has their own opinion, but I think people are afraid to voice their own because they would rather avoid the topic entirely or discuss it with their own friends because the thought of opposition is seen as an attack. I think that us as people, are not comfortable enough to actually address issues, instead we walk around them. Society has taught us to be selective in what is okay to be spoken about in an open forum, and we must only talk about the good, but hide the bad.
Turning away from the victim/survivor’s perspectives, let’s look at this from the harasser or/and assaulter’s perspective. Why is this happening? Do you think this is more of an isolated issue or a more general one?
Again, I think it goes back to society because even as we speak about it generally, I imagine the male as the aggressor and the female as the victim. Society has created this image and it becomes the stereotype. I like to say that stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. I think it is because the aggressor is not aware of what is not okay. How do you define what is acceptable? The aggressor pushes buttons, and when you push too far it becomes a matter of “oh no what did I do” and some have enough morality to stop because the victim becomes uncomfortable which should draw a clear line. From here, it becomes miscommunication because they perceived the signals differently from what was intended, but there was intention from the aggressor. This is where I like to go into boundaries with friendship, especially, male to female aspect where I myself like to create boundaries because I want my female friends to know that I respect their space. Even in a concept as simple as friendship, it is difficult to determine boundaries because you never address the relationship and leave it to interpretation of the individuals. Essentially, it is “socially unacceptable” to address a friendship. But it shouldn’t be that way and boundaries need to be set from both sides.
In that case, moving on a little bit from this, what measures do you think the school could take regarding sexual harassment and assault amongst other important issues in the TUJ community?
I think it becomes a matter of us, the students, being able to be comfortable enough to bring such issues up and not be ridiculed, and communicating with another person that something is not okay. I think that there is a clear line between what is acceptable and what is not, but you also have to determine the situation as well. Usually actions are more preventable, but words and opinions are there to be discussed. Once your intentions involves silencing another’s opinion, that is no longer communication and the safe space is disrupted. Overall, the idea of a safe space is nice, but we also have to be realistic. To me, a safe space is one where everyone can share their opinion as long as it is not hateful, because we are human and cannot all agree.
We have a great network of staff and professors, we can bring awareness by asking if they know someone who could talk about these topics as a subject matter expert. It’s not to say that this is happening only here, but it’s happening in general. These may not be comfortable topics to talk about, but forums can be created so us students can address situations like this. One thing, is that we cannot use these forums to attack the people who come forward with “what ifs” because it becomes a loop of even more problems with no solution. And when someone feels personally attacked after hearing people come forward with their stories, you have to question why. I don’t like to go to people with problems, I like to go to them with a problem and a solution. What you think we should do, what you think we can do.
When it comes to addressing situations like this, how do you deal with it when TUJ is such a small community and everyone knows each other? How do you walk around constantly thinking “okay I’m a survivor of assault but my aggressor is also next door”?
It’s not easy. It’s not easy to address at all. But this goes into a hostile environment kind of situation. Hostile environments are created when there is a huge misunderstanding - whether it’s apparent or not. I don’t think that it’s comfortable at all, especially for the victim in this case, to be in the same area as the aggressor. Sexual assault should be no questions asked; they shouldn’t be in the same area. I hate to say it, but you have to get into the severity of the situation. Sexual assault is sexual assault. Which is different from assault, harassment, and sexual harassment. Terminology is the clear line, and sexual harassment is not okay. It should’ve never gotten to that point. We have to do something about this. We have to separate the aggressor from the victim because that is just not acceptable.
Now having kind of touched upon everything, what do you think can be done within the student body itself when there’s a huge diversity in terms of culture, race, class and age? How do you think students can or should cohabitate better in spite of all of these differences?
In order to cohabitate, you have to learn to accept people for who they are. You don’t have to like them, but at the same time, just be a good human being. First impressions account for a lot, but it should not affect whether you get to know them. That’s where the miscommunication starts, and that’s where rumors get created. Again, a safe space to me, is one where everyone can express their opinions without hatred towards another, without singling another out. It’s about respecting each other. I don’t want to add to the problem. I want to develop a solution that we’re comfortable with if we just complain about things we’re not gonna go anywhere.
Okay so to lighten this a little bit and wrap the interview up, why did you decide to run for SG President?
Because I wanted change. Everyone builds their own comfort zone, and I could feel it within the student body. I felt like running for student body president was a way for me to apply those thoughts and create a more inviting feeling for the students, and I wasn’t going to be satisfied with anybody else doing that but me.
And so, as our new SG President, what kind of change do you want to create at TUJ?
That’s just it, I guess. Change in general for the students in general to feel comfortable being here. To enjoy coming to school. I come to school because I want to be here, instead of because I have to be here.
I'd like to thank Teddy for spending so much time to talk with me and work on this. I look forward to speaking with him further on fun (and sometimes not so fun) topics.