I love open letters, especially humorous ones like those I used to read back when I was 13 years old and were aimed at celebrities like Tom Felton (who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series—don’t judge me). Coming in close second, my other favorite types of open letters are those that shed light on things that had previously been hidden in the shadows.
Today, an open letter went out—from Erin Basler-Francis, one of our champs at The Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health, to Margaret Brooks. (This is not the first time she gets an open letter like this, though the one I wrote years ago was much shorter and crankier). You should click over and read it, stat. Here’s some context:
The CSPH has faced a fair amount of adversity since its inception in 2009. Members of the Citizens Against Trafficking (an anti-rights, sex work abolitionist group) continue to harass staff and supporters of The Center, particularly regarding our outreach on college campuses. These bullies use both overt and hidden tactics in an attempt to delegitimize the importance of conversations about sexuality, pleasure, sex work, and sexual rights.
Most recently, Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks, director of the Economics Department at Bridgewater State University, sent a series of emails to the provost of Vanderbilt University using a series of red herring, slippery slope, and equivocation arguments as well as ad hominem attacks in an attempt to convince the school that it would be legally liable for sexual assaults that occurred on campus after the Study Sex College Tour workshop, “Brilliant in Bed.” While not the only protestation, Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks decision to use rhetoric causally linking pleasure focused sexuality education to sexual assault on campus is both inaccurate and insidious.
We at The CSPH have chosen to address this issue publicly because the tactics used by Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks in this case are irresponsible and dangerous when the context of the climate at Vanderbilt University, as well as the current conversations around sexual assault, BDSM, and Intimate Partner Violence.
While part of me kind of wants to commend Margaret Brooks for her passion, it’s terribly saddening that it manifests in the ways it does and I cannot in good conscience do so. We shouldn’t stand for the bullying of youth, and we should also not stand for the bullying of adults at the hands of other adults. Obviously, if you’re working toward social justice and not ruffling feathers, you’re not making big enough waves (to, uh, mix some metaphors there), but man—the repercussions aren’t pretty, and we need to change that.
It’s not like we haven’t reached out to Ms. Brooks, either. We’ve personally invited her and her crew to our events, and extended olive branches in the spirit of dialogue both online and in person, and none of them have been acknowledged or even accepted. In fact, we’ve been pretty straightforward and transparent in all our dealings. To her credit, I guess, she DID shake my hand once? This is when I was trying to show her I was a real person and not some nameless undergrad she could just bully without having to ever face. That is more than I can say for Donna Hughes (a professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island—how appropriate, right?), who very much did not shake my hand when I greeted her and gave me a cold shoulder of Boston weather proportions. It was pretty epic. But I digress.
Margaret Brooks is the same person who (along with Donna Hughes and Melanie Shapiro) tried to get a slew of events (including KFAPVD) I organized at Brown University canceled while I was an undergraduate. This is the cohort that misrepresented SO many things about the work the Sexual Health Education & Empowerment Council (SHEEC) at Brown and The CSPH were doing. This is the person that sent countless emails to Brown’s administration (including the President) warning them of the “dangers” of these events, blatantly spread inaccurate/misleading information, and wrote bulletins claiming that we were to blame for a spike in young RI men contracting HIV. This is one of the people that made my time at Brown tough for a while, and made me have to watch my back really carefully.
On some level, I’m glad it started early so I could protect myself before things got too serious, and I’m very fortunate to consistently work in spaces that respect my endeavors and where I can be open about who I am and what I do, but many people aren’t as fortunate.
This is the person that sent my personal Twitter account to professors and deans before it was something I shared as publicly as I do now. This is the same person that sent critique-laden, alarmist emails to my supervisors at Sojourner House—about my personal life and affiliations to organizations that believe in kink/BDSM education and reproductive justice—trying to possibly get me fired, and definitely trying to put me in hot water and endanger a health fair I was coordinating. Fortunately, I was out about my identities at Sojourner House, because if I hadn’t been, she would have outed me to the director and my supervisor, as well as other colleagues. That is not okay.
I am eternally grateful to all the professors, deans, staff, friends, and colleagues who were and have been supportive, understanding and wonderful throughout all this and its multiple iterations. You know who you are. Thank you for believing in me and in sexuality education. While Brown is a deeply flawed institution, certainly, I am incredibly proud that they institutionally backed up my right to hold the events I did, and supported my health and dignity during that process. I firmly believe I didn’t bear a bigger burden while I was an undergrad because I was still a student and thus not as “fair game” as professionals in the working world.
You know who was the fairest game of them all, and the original target? Megan Andelloux—one of the best and most hardworking educators in the field today. Margaret Brooks is the person that time and time again contacts places where Megan Andelloux and her close friends/colleagues present with scare tactics in efforts to squash their/our attempts at education. This bullying not only harms the institutions and their populations who are sometimes deprived of accurate sexuality education, but it takes a huge emotional toll on honest, hardworking sexuality educators and advocates who are trying to make the world a better, more sexually literate place. The case with Vanderbilt is not the first time this happens.
This is the cohort of people that tried to stop The CSPH from opening back in 2009/2010. The same cohort of people that have accused my colleagues of pedophilia because they believe in giving kids accurate sexuality information and answering their questions at whatever age they start asking them. This is the cohort that, under the guise of “academic” and/or “professional” writing used blatant inaccuracies and decontextualizations (not to mention shoddy record-keeping and citations) to “make points” about how, basically, we are The Worst.
As far as ethics and academic integrity, I would expect better from a Brown alumna/Economics professor and a Women’s Studies professor.
This needs to stop, and we need people to listen. We will keep doing the work we do because we believe in it, and these things are not going to stop us, but we are not made of steel. We are committed to bringing these issues to light, but remember—all this takes a toll. How are you helping break down this misinformation? How are you supporting the victims of bullying and stalking and professional attacks? If you’re not already, imagine having to watch your back constantly for people like this. Where will they be next? What professional gig will they try to wreck soon? What kind of misinformation will they try to spread? This is why we need to speak up and support each other.