Aaron W. Voyles explores how we take responsibility for our commitments.
I’ve been writing about commitment for a few weeks, but commitment is not important without responsibility. It’s important to note that when I say “responsibility,” I mean first that we work to understand what we can and cannot be responsible for.
I once went rafting with some friends. The bottom of my raft ripped and I fell down the river and got injured. I don’t consider myself responsible in this case, because that would have required me to predict the future.
For me to say that I should not have gone rafting and therefore am responsible is not particularly useful. Yes, I could have conducted a risk analysis or some other investigation into the integrity of rafts in general, but that’s just not how I choose to live or how I view responsibility.
Responsibility is also not taking responsibility for others’ actions. That notion of responsibility is where victim blaming comes in, and it also is not useful. A friend of mine had her car hit while she parked outside her apartment. The person who hit the car is responsible for hitting the car, not her for parking. Again, we could insert some sort of odd causality here, but common sense wouldn’t dictate that.
Where responsibility is important is in cases where we want to throw off our own significant contribution to a situation. I see this come up with college men a lot in relation to sexual violence. People say, “Well, I don’t rape, so please stop talking to me about rape.” Ignoring responsibility is where we create the bystander syndrome.
So where do we go from complaint to commitment to responsibility? Unfortunately, it’s a massive undertaking that requires us to acknowledge the things that we are doing or not doing that keep our commitments from being fully realized.
In talking about commitment earlier, I said that I was committed to the value of every student, regardless of gender, having a safe and supportive college environment. As I look to my responsibility in this, I need to begin to address my role in limiting this commitment.
This is an exercise that can take quite a bit of time and thought, so I will provide an example here: I am not attending campus meetings regarding safety. I have not required each of my staff members to do an individual program on gender-based violence. As you can see, this large of a commitment may require me to break out tons of actions I am or am not taking related to my commitment.
In this case, you may find it helpful to revisit your commitments and to break them into smaller commitments for clarity. For instance, I might consider putting a smaller commitment under the umbrella of having that safe and supportive environment: I’m committed to having residence hall students who have the resources to support each other in a time of crisis.
This strategy allows me to break down my responsibilities a bit more, and I can add an item that I’m doing or not doing that prevents this commitment from being fully realized: I do not require staff members to complete an additional program to talk about crises with their students.
As you can see, we are now closer to my level of responsibility for what my staff are or are not doing. It also helps me more easily pinpoint what I need to change in the future, so that I can meet my commitment.
Two things are important in this exercise. The first one is that it really can take some time. You have to allow yourself to brainstorm your commitments and be self-reflective. It’s not terribly easy, and it can take work to get some of them right. As you can see, I edited my small example just through this one article.
The second thing to keep in mind is that there are a lot of good things that you may be doing that do help the commitment see fruition. For instance, I do require my area to do a large-scale program on healthy relationships and alcohol use. I also require my staff to go through crisis training. These are good things, and it’s okay to be proud of my positive responsibility here.
The goal, however, is to examine why our commitment hasn’t been completely fulfilled. I don’t believe we have reached my commitment yet 100% (and many other administrators would argue the same, or else we wouldn’t be having a national conversation about men), and so I need to look at what I am doing that might be preventing that.
Rather than say, “I don’t rape, so please stop talking to me,” I have to say, “What can I do to prevent rape? What about my job or my role can help?” That’s the start of responsibility. I encourage you to create your own map from complaints to commitments to responsibility, and in the coming weeks we will begin to investigate competing commitments that stop us as well and how those weigh on our responsibilities.
Ditching the Dunce Cap is a weekly Friday column from Aaron W. Voyles on the University of Texas-Austin. He welcomes your comments. This column is not affiliated with the university.
—Photo Sascha Kohlmann/Flickr
—Edits by Nancy Lien
Also in Ditching the Dunce Cap:
My “Career” as a Rock Star
Do We Just Complain About College Men?
I Can’t Write About Football
To Ditch the Dunce Cap
Can You Manage the College Male?
“Have at it, Boys” and College Men
The Challenge of Male Mentorship
Becoming a Beard Mentor
College Made Me Think I Hated Beer
An Ode to My College Roommate
Examining the Axe Effect
When Will You Grab Your Saw?
Do You Know the Mega-Dump?
If the Shoe Fits, Cheat