“Does this make me look like a prostitute?”

This post is a response to a comment made about the Her Campus post- specifically, “Have you never thought, hmmmmmm this outfit or style I am choosing to wear makes me look like an actual prostitute, but HEAVEN FORBID IF SOMEONE CALLS IT SLUTTY! Sheesh.”

I feel compelled to start a new thread about this because I do not want to detract from the Her Campus thread, which I see as a separate issue.

“Prostitute” and “slut” are not synonymous. They are both offensive, and are often used interchangeably, but in popular colloquialisms, “slut” usually describes a woman, and does not imply she is profiting financially from sex, just having “too much” or the “wrong kind” of sex. They are linked here, because the commenter used the term “prostitute” as a negative value judgment.

Think about the term “prostitute”- it’s clearly pejorative- it carries with it endless negative connotations (prostitutes are ruining the sanctity of marriage; prostitutes spread disease; prostitutes have no morals; prostitutes are corrupting the youth, etc). So, for the sake of argument, let’s neutralize the term and go with “sex worker” instead. We will define a sex worker as someone (of any sex, gender, or sexuality) who earns money (either directly or indirectly) based on providing sexual services. Notice that this definition speaks solely to a sex worker’s occupation (which can still be viewed negatively in and of itself), not any explicit relationship between work and moral values, beliefs, or quality of character. Sex workers are, like every other group of people, complex, heterogeneous, and, above all else, more than their job description. Sex workers have lives beyond their work: some engage in sex work temporarily, for others, it is a more permanent form of income. Some have families, some are religious, some are advocates, and some are putting themselves through school or paying their kid’s medical bills. Some sex workers choose to engage in sex work, while others are kidnapped, forced, coerced, or blackmailed.

I am not an expert on sex workers. However, I’ve gotten to know and become friends with some AMAZING sex workers over the past year. These women (I use women not because all sex workers are women, but the ones I am speaking about are) are so much more than a job title. They have hopes, dreams, opinions, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, children, spouses, neighbors, friends, bosses, co-workers, hobbies, etc. Perhaps, if you ran into some of these women on the street, or in a brothel or an indirect sex work café, you’d think to yourself, “she’s a sex worker.” But perhaps you wouldn’t. Perhaps you’d walk right by that person and think nothing of it. Perhaps you’d see her with friends or a family member. Perhaps you’d see her with a client, whether or not you identified that person as such.

To incorporate pop culture: remember the scene in Mean Girls when Kady et. all run into the math teacher at the mall, and are taken aback that she has a life outside of school? Within the context of the film, this is funny because the scene satirizes something real. Imagine though, if that were real life: if people identified you solely as a dentist, or a referee, or a cook, or a firefighter, or a tax attorney, or a CEO? Personally, I don’t want to be defined by the way I make a living. And, most of the time, people aren’t defined as such. Unless they occupy those liminal spaces of our society that we find too uncomfortable to accept. So, we engage in a process of othering by which a person who sells drugs becomes a drug dealer, a man who has sex with men becomes a fag, and a sex worker becomes a prostitute. These labels make passing judgment on others that much easier (for example: rapists are bad, but is someone who sexually assaults someone else once, perhaps without malicious intentions, just a bad person?) Are we just being lazy in our language? Do we really mean to limit people to one specific facet of their being? Regardless of whether it is out of ignorance, laziness, or lack of respect, it’s unacceptable.

When someone calls someone else a “prostitute,” whether in seriousness or in jest, that person is reduced to a stereotype based loosely off of popular understandings of a job description. That would be like calling someone a “lawyer” and meaning “person who exists only within the context of his or her job, and is evil.” Think about it.

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BU’s newspaper makes rapey jokes, is unfunny.

via Jezebel: BU’s newspaper shows once again that rape culture is alive and well with an April Fool’s Day “joke” story entitled “BROken egos: BU fraternity suspended for assaulting female student.” Because rape jokes are really super funny, bro.

With [recent cases of sexual assault on Boston University’s campus] in mind, it’s especially unfortunate and disheartening that some staff member thought it would be at best “timely” and at worst “hilarious” to make gangbang jokes about roofied sorority girls. Direct quote: “No one drinks like the BROs, no one shoots like the BROs and definitely no one rapes like the BROs.” YEP. We can’t make this shit up.

Legal Defense or Victim Blaming?

I’ve been reading alot of these, and I noticed the term “victim-blaming” popping up quite a bit. This term brought up a big moral question for me, because I was wondering about a legal case that two of my friends were recently involved in.

Disclaimer: I’m using gendered language because these parties are real, and additionally, everything I put in quote is taken from statements made by both parties.

A couple years ago, one of my friends accused another of rape. This was a shock to him, and he denied it completely. The case went as follows. She claimed that he had raped her, because she was “drinking” and “in love with someone else.” She implied that even if she had given consent, it was coerced, because she would “never sleep with anyone while she was in love.”

He completely denied these accusations and his defense was twofold:

1. He claimed that the idea that he forced her or coerced her in any way was “ludicrous”, as she had put him in her own bed over half an hour before she entered it, and he was “fast asleep” when she “woke him up” and proceeded to “have sex with him.” He claimed that he felt “used” by her. He called witnesses who saw her put him in her bed, and leave for half an hour, before returning. They didn’t see anything further. Additionally, the accuser also said that she got into bed after him and “may have” woken him up. Additionally, another witness testified that he said he felt “used” they day after, before the trial started.

2. She sent a text message to him before they slept together saying she found him “attractive” and was “interested” in him. He said that this, combined with her extremely “aggressive behavior” (another witness who was with them the whole night indicated she was aggressive) made him think that not only was she consenting to contact, she expected him to perform. He said he felt very pressured to have sex with her. She said that although she sent the text message, she sent it in a “joking” manner. He countered that there was absolutely “no way” he could have possibly known that.

So there you have it. I’d be interested in what you have to say about the two different posts, and how they relate to victim-blaiming. Regardless of the outcome of the trial, do you consider them legitimate forms of defense? This was all corroborated by witnesses, and it was factual. I think the second one blurs the line, but note that he was not blaming her for sending the text message, he was merely saying that it further confused him about her intentions. In none of his defense did he mean to say whatever happened was her fault, he just said that he could not be held “responsible” for a “mistake” on “both their parts” due to “miscommunication.”

Edit:  Another question that struck me was the question of whether or not she is a victim at this point? Does saying one is raped make one a victim or does guilt have to be established? If saying that one is raped is makes one a victim, are all legal defenses “victim-blaming”?

“Don’t Get Raped” vs. “Don’t Rape”: An Inquiry

This is in response to the article that claims that all men are guilty. I think this has much less generalization and stereotyping, something that I found offensive in the previous article. The idea that all men can be grouped into one category offends me. I think this is a much more nuanced and fruitful approach.

From The Good Men Project

For Marianne Cassidy, society’s lesson that “Strange Men Are Dangerous” is damaging. Men are not the problem. Rapists are the problem.

“Society teaches Don’t Get Raped rather than Don’t Rape.”

As far as I know, this slogan originally emerged as part of the SlutWalk movement. It has become a key expression of protest against the idea that women should dress more modestly to avoid getting raped. When I heard it first, it resonated with me; it’s challenging, it’s punchy and it felt like a succinct summation of a complex problem. But, (and this is a big “but” because) while my gut feeling is still agreement, I know factually that nothing is ever so black-and-white when it comes to such a sensitive topic. Every time I see it emblazoned on a T-shirt or SlutWalk sign or cropping up in blog posts and comments in the gender arena, I feel the need to break it down and think about what it actually means.

For me, the first half seems straightforward. As far back as I can remember, I have been taught to be suspicious of strange men. And I don’t mean “society taught me” or “experience taught me.” I mean I was literally taught – through the public education system in Ireland, through Health and Safety classes, through guest speakers, through seminars, by authority figures both male and female – that strange men are the single biggest threat to my personal safety, as a girl and later as a woman. I have be careful what I wear and where I go and when I go there and who I talk to when I get there and I should always be vigilant and aware of my surroundings and take self-defence classes and carry a rape whistle and never walk home alone and we all know the drill at this point.

I remember clearly attending a safety lecture when I was eight years-old and a teacher telling us that if we ever got lost or separated from our parents in a strange place and we couldn’t find a police officer, we should “look for a nice lady to help us.” Apparently, nice ladies are a safe bet. It’s the nasty men who are more likely to be holding candy and luring us into their van. This is my earliest memory of the “strange men are dangerous” rhetoric. Since then, it’s been a consistent feature of my life.

In Emily Heist Moss’s excellent article “The Story of Men Is the Story We Decide To Tell: A Single Woman Travelling Alone,” she explodes the standard “creepy guy” story that most women can tell you as an example of why men can be dangerous to a lone woman. Most women have at least one story about a creepy guy who followed them, harassed them, touched them inappropriately and made them feel scared and vulnerable. While it’s definitely unfortunate that most women have had an experience like this, Emily points out that most women also have stories about men who were kind to them or who helped them out of a rough situation. But we rarely tell or hear these stories. This may simply be because potential danger makes for a better story, but we may also gravitate towards the “creepy guy” episode because it reinforces the narrative we have been labouring under for most of our lives; all men are potential rapists.

As the debate in comments section of this article highlights, this is a damaging and offensive stereotype.

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It goes without saying that the vast majority of men are repulsed by the idea of rape or sexual assault. Most are offended by the prevalent myth that all men are slaves to their libidos and literally cannot control their sexual urges. Others worry about the perception of sexual abuse as an exclusively female concern and are attempting to break the resounding silence around the issue of male rape. In light of this, it must be frustrating when a woman crosses the street to avoid you when she’s walking home alone after dark. It must be baffling when you approach a woman (because she dropped her keys, or she looks lost, or she caught your eye and you’d like to get her number) and she acts like you have every intention of dragging her down an alley. I can only imagine how confusing it is when a woman would rather wait in the rain with her broken-down car rather than accepting a ride from you. Often it seems no matter how many considerate, kind and thoughtful men we encounter, the relatively small handful of men who perpetrate sexual violence on women still dictate how the majority are viewed.

This is not fair to men. I have a feeling that if I were a man, I would be insulted by the idea that society failed to teach me that rape is a serious and horrific crime, or that my sexual urges somehow prevented me from assimilating that lesson into my moral code. I would be utterly sick of being perceived as a pervert or a creep because I had the misfortune to flirt with a woman who wasn’t interested. I would hate the thought that my sisters, my daughters, my partners and my female friends spend their lives looking over their shoulder with fear and suspicion, scared of the intentions of perfectly decent men like me.

But I’m not a man. I’m a woman, and I still cross the street rather than cross paths with a strange man at night. I still balk at the idea of getting into a car with a man I don’t know. These are instinctive reactions, born of years of being told that strange men are dangerous. If I said I cross the street to avoid black people, instinctively or otherwise, I would be shouted down as a racist, and rightly so. By that reasoning, avoiding the male half of the population after dark is a sexist act. Yet this precautionary measure is viewed as not only socially acceptable, but as advisable and sensible.Rather than a society that teaches “Don’t Rape,” we have a society that teaches “Don’t Rape But She Was Pretty Drunk and She Didn’t Explicitly Say No and Look At What She Was Wearing.” This is problematic, because what we really want is a society where “Don’t Rape” means “Don’t Rape, Don’t Assault, Don’t Harass, Don’t Intimidate, Don’t Abuse, Don’t Take Advantage of a Situation, Whether You’re Male, Female or Anything In Between.

The issue is complicated by the fact that women are not just told that strange men are dangerous; we also are told that is our responsibility to avoid them and keep them at bay. There is no fool-proof way to prevent rape or sexual assault, but society tells us that a woman would have to be completely devoid of common sense if she didn’t take every possible precaution to avoid a worst-case scenario. For many women, it is worth offending a hundred good men if she manages to avoid even one situation that could potentially end in rape. Or worse, that could end in her blaming herself for being raped, because society tells hers that she should have been more cautious.

The “Don’t Rape” part of the SlutWalk slogan is muddier and presented more of a challenge when I tried to figure out why it rang true with me initially. On the surface, “Don’t Rape” seems to me to fall under the general umbrella of “Don’t Be A Shitty Human Being,” along with other basics such as “Don’t Murder” and “Don’t Steal.” I think society at large does a pretty good job of instilling us with these basics at a young age.

To me, the concept that society fails to teach “Don’t Rape” is an attempt to articulate the fact that rape apologists exist. Victim-blamingexists. For many, a grey area of consent exists. A woman who has been raped will be interrogated about everything from her previous sexual partners to the absence of an extra two inches of skirt. In these cases, society does not teach that rape is unequivocally wrong and that the rapist must bear the full brunt of his actions. Instead, it teaches that there is an ambiguity of blame and responsibility, that there is a chance of getting off lightly, and even a chance that society will forget all about the rapist in the rush to find fault with the victim. As far as I can identify, this is the main reason that society does not teach “Don’t Rape” as well as it could. Rather than a society that teaches “Don’t Rape,” we have a society that teaches “Don’t Rape But She Was Pretty Drunk and She Didn’t Explicitly Say No and Look At What She Was Wearing.” This is problematic, because what we really want is a society where “Don’t Rape” means “Don’t Rape, Don’t Assault, Don’t Harass, Don’t Intimidate, Don’t Abuse, Don’t Take Advantage of a Situation, Whether You’re Male, Female or Anything In Between.

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Equally problematic is the fact that society doesn’t teach “Don’t Get Raped” so much as it teaches “Strange Men Are Dangerous.” This is damaging because men are not the problem. Rapists are the problem. It’s also particularly bizarre and misleading when it is estimated that 73% of rapes are committed by someone the victim already knows.* Nonetheless, the numbers indicate the vast majority of reported rapists are male and the majority of rape victims who come forward are female.* So how do we reconcile this, when the numbers reflect a vastly gendered divide?

I mean this as a genuine question. In an ideal world, a woman would be able to walk down the street wearing whatever she wants at any time of day or night, without any fear of rape. However, people utterly bereft of morality and empathy will always exist, so this ideal world is not attainable. In the meantime, women have the right to look out for themselves and prioritise their own safety. Equally, men have the right to walk down the street without being treated like rabid monsters just waiting for their chance. How can we teach women to be safe and savvy, without simultaneously demonising every man they come into contact with?

For the moment, how do we come up with a slogan that encapsulates this?

“Society teaches us All Strange Men Are Dangerous, instead of Look Out For Yourself Because There Are Always Going To Be Assholes Out There, But Remember That Society Has Your Back And The Hammer Of Justice Will Be Swift And Mighty In Your Defence, Because No One Should Ever Touch You Without Your Express Consent And That Goes For Everyone, Regardless of Gender.

I know, I know, it’s not quite as catchy. But that’s why a slogan is just a slogan, and not a fully-formed argument. “Society teaches Don’t Get Raped rather than Don’t Rape” serves its purposes on protest signs and sandwich boards, but taken out of context, it can successfully stop conversation dead in its tracks. Many women wield it like a talisman, throwing it down as their last word, their core point in any discussion about rape. Many men view it as an offensive generalisation, and grow impatient trying to debate around it. A slogan should be a spring-board, not a full-stop. It should make you think, not tie up the argument. In any discussion concerned with breaking down stereotypes and forging new perspectives, there should be no full-stops. There should be fluid dialogue, honest opinions and respect even in disagreement. Above all, there should be a genuine attempt to understand experiences that are foreign to you, whether that experience is being called a creep or trying to shake off a man who is following you. These are the stories that cause people to change the way they think, but they can’t hear them if they are deafened by a slogan. More importantly, neither can you.

Admin note: Edited for typos and links.

Us vs. Them

There have been many concerns about our perceived hostility towards the administration. Maybe to some extent we deserve it. We are angry and frustrated about sexual assault policy here, and we have been directing our comments primarily to the administration because they are the ones with enough power to change it. We have acknowledged the progress made in sexual assault policy at Haverford both in our communications with the deans and in our open letter:

While we appreciate the many efforts of individuals and groups to reduce instances of sexual violence and to change the tone of discussion, we recognize the importance of institutional memory in creating a lasting cultural shift.

Our anger and frustration stems from our personal experiences with the policies, and specifically where the policies break down or the practices fail to live up to the ideals. That is where we see room for change and improvement.

I do want to go through some common concerns, though, to get everybody on the same page:

  1. We did send the open letter to the administration (deans, president, etc.) before releasing it to campus. They are expecting a hard copy of the petition with signatures.
  2. We are especially concerned about institutional memory, as mentioned in the open letter section quoted above. While we really do value informal responses to sexual violence on campus, we know that individuals eventually leave, customs folk change, and priorities are different because of that. We wanted to both formalize our own concerns about policy and push for concrete changes that will last beyond the tenure of any particular person.
  3. This is not the first time that sexual violence policy has come up at Haverford. In 2009-2010, a Go! boards thread about the college’s mishandling of sexual violence came out around the same time as a false allegation of assault. A student-run policy working group formed and presented recommendations, but the majority of those recommendations were only partially implemented–if they were implemented at all. There was talk of policy and outreach working groups led by the administration, but (as far as we know) neither met to the point of being able to make recommendations. The second policy working group only met once. While there have been improvements to the sexual violence response, it is still far from measuring up to our ideals.
  4. We are committed to working on these issues long-term. We’re not putting up posters and leaving people to speculate. We’re not sending an open letter and expecting unequivocal and immediate implementation of our policy recommendations. We really want to have a conversation about how to improve policies, and we’re very open to feedback and an exchange of ideas. The idea of having an open letter may in itself seem hostile, but we recognize that the administration has limited time and resources. We are looking for solidarity and support in the form of signatures on our open letter to make it clear that time and resources need to be devoted to issues of sexual violence on campus, and that sexual violence policy is not just relevant to members of SOAR. At the time of this writing, there are 342 signatures on our open letter at change.org.
  5. Students are not the only survivors. Approximately 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime (stigmas around male survivors make the estimates much less reliable). That includes faculty, staff, and even administrators. Our letter is addressed “To the Deans and the Haverford Community” because we believe that these issues must be taken seriously by the entire campus. Comments by students may trigger faculty or staff. Comments by faculty may trigger administrators. We want to raise awareness and thoughtfulness around issues of sexual violence for everyone–not just for students, not just for administrators, not just for faculty, not just for staff.

We know there are many other concerns floating around about our interactions with the administration, but those are the major ones we wanted to address. As far as I know, we have approved every post and comment that we’ve received. As long as they continue to maintain trust, concern, and respect, we’ll continue to approve them.

I am really angry.

I am not angry because some of the posters that were put up as part of the SOAR campaign triggered me and served as a sore reminder that sometimes we must compromise the comfort of survivors like me in the effort to raise awareness and prevent future sexual assaults.

I am furious that people defaced posters in a un-Haverfordian, ignorant, and threatening way. However, that is not what I am writing this post about.

The topic of this post is non-survivors who cite having a problem with the campaign because it makes them uncomfortable or sad. You SHOULD feel uncomfortable finding out that rapes happened on campus, maybe even in places where you feel at home. You SHOULD feel sad that too many of your classmates had an experience that they wish they could forget. The proper way to react to these feelings is to DO SOMETHING (like sign the petition to the deans to change the archaic sexual assault policies Haverford currently has).

The improper reaction is to blame those who remind you that assault happens. This is a form of victim-blaming. Taking down the posters or whining about the fact that it doesn’t make you feel good to remember that someone was raped where you live at best means that you are not doing your part to turn your emotions into something productive and at worst means that you are silencing those that are only speaking the truth.

This is in no way anger directed at those who are survivors and have a problem with the campaign because it triggers them. This is directed at those who would rather take down posters and forget about a problem than be proactive. This is directed at my friends who I was going to tell I was raped but now I don’t feel that I can because they were indignant that someone would remind them that people are assaulted on campus.

If you feel that the poster campaign was wrong-headed, then start another campaign that works to end rape in a way that you feel is more appropriate. But don’t direct your discomfort and anger toward survivors who reminded you that rape happens—direct it to those who assaulted them and the culture that enables violence and victim-blaming.

Not in solidarity, but in support [trigger warning]

I was assaulted at Haverford.  It wasn’t very complicated; I drank to much, I couldn’t move, let alone speak, he raped me, and in the morning, when I could stand again, I went home.  No one knew; I don’t think even he knew.   And that was my choice.  I packed it away.  To me, the only thing worse than being raped was to allow my rape to shackle me in the way I had seen it shackle other women.  In my mind these women allowed themselves to victimized by this event by allowing it to control them.  They, even more than their assaulter, created their own identity as a victim.  That was something I would not allow.  I didn’t.  I boxed it away.  And for awhile, that was fine.  I went out.  I drank.  I had sex with men.

I’m not sure when it started exactly, but more than a year later, I started to get very nervous any time I got drunk.  It was barely noticeable at first, but it crept up on me, until it reached the point that almost as soon as I felt the buzz, I started to feel my chest squeeze in.  When people touched me unexpectedly, I flinched in fear.  Sex, even sober sex, started to make me feel panicky.

My partner at the time could hardly help but notice, and eventually strongarmed me into seeing CAPS.  It was difficult.  I didn’t like to talk about it.  But it did help.  I told some of my friends.  I told my partner, who was so, so understanding.  I talked to my dean, finally explaining why the past semester had been so hard.  Though I did not want to release my name, I made sure that my assault was a part of our statistics.  I acknowledged that it had happened.

Even though I had tried to put it away, tried to avoid being a victim, I had done exactly the opposite: I had victimized myself.  When I let the memory of this experience back into my life, I had to learn how to become a survivor.  I had to come to terms with the fact that my assault did not end when I walked home in the morning, but continued as I repressed myself, panicked, withdrew from my partner and my friends.  I had to learn to exist with this in my life, not just have survived, but to continue surviving.  And I have.

There are a few things I want to say with this:

I know those of you who are vocal at SOAR promote the use of the term “survivor.”  I am a survivor.  But for a time, I was a victim, and it had nothing to do with what anyone called me, or even just with the fact that I had been raped.  I was a victim because I was behaving like one.  I did not become a survivor until I truly had survived the experience and come out again whole, and continued to remain whole.  Don’t just promote “survivor;” teach those who are still victims how to become one.

Be thankful for those who are already trying to provide an infrastructure for survivors, whether formally or on a personal level.  Haverford’s community is not perfect, but when I have asked for it, the support I have received here has been incredible.

Do not fail to acknowledge the many, many individuals on this campus – students, administrators, faculty, staff – who are supportive.  You are not combating a conspiracy against survivors when you take on the administration.  You face an unwieldy, slow-moving bureaucracy that undeniably does not adequately address issues of rape and assault.  But that bureaucracy is made up of many individuals who want the same things you want.  Appeal to those individuals.

I want this to succeed.  A few years ago, after the incident on the Nature Trail, there was a similar effort.  But it petered out, for one reason or another.  And that time, the only member of the administration I found to be actively hostile was the one who should have been the most helpful: the head of the Women’s Center. As just one example, when I asked her about why Deans’ Panels did not release abstracts like Honor Council’s.  Weren’t they supposed to? Her response was roughly along the lines of, “I don’t care whether we are supposed to or not.  We won’t.  That’s not how we do things, and we’re not going to change.”

I very sincerely feel that if policies and attitudes surround rape and assault are going to change on this campus, a great deal has to change about the Women’s Center.  To start, the name itself is alienating.  There was a small campaign to advertise that the Center isn’t just for women.  If that’s the case, then change the damn name.  Call it Sexuality and Gender Center.  Give it an acronym like everything else at Haverford.  But stop being exclusive.  Similarly, the current head of the Center also tends to be exclusive or dismissive of men.  She is the point person to meet with survivors, yet how can you expect a man who has been assaulted to feel entirely comfortable?  Even as a woman, after my rape, she is the very last person I would wish to speak to.  The position requires understanding, attentive listening, nonjudgemental behavior, flexibility, and a willingness to defer to the wishes of the survivor.  Find someone suitable.

Finally, putting this campaign during finals was an extremely poor choice.  For starters, many people are too busy to even engage in the discussion you are trying to start.  Those that do engage have to do so on top of their workload.  But most salient for me is the fact that I and other survivors have to see these reminders every day.  I understand that it’s necessary, and I think it’s good to force our community to confront the issue.  But to wake up from three hours of sleep, already stressed, and a little more fragile that I would otherwise be, and to walk out of my dorm into a sea of reminders…  It sounds flip, but honestly, it is hard enough to cope with finals and it is hard enough rape – why the hell would you combine them?

I don’t know if you’ll post this.  My mentality about this is clearly not quite the same as yours, and I’ll admit I’m not subtle in some of my criticisms.  I wish I could post this publicly, but I can’t.  I just ask that you take this as I mean it – sincere, thoughtful, hopeful – and allow for dissenting voices to be heard.