Remarks from Gun-Free UT Rally

Gun-Free UT rally

Gun-Free UT rally

Today I spoke at a campus rally against the implementation of a state law that will allow concealed carry of firearms on public college campuses throughout Texas. For an hour, informed, compassionate, articulate staff and faculty at UT spoke out about the many ways this law will endanger the campus community. I was particularly struck by the words of Matt Valentine, a fellow staff member here at UT, who told us something remarkable about the Founding Fathers’ interpretation of the Second Amendment as it pertains to college campuses:

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors took up the issue of campus carry in 1824, and didn’t have to look far for an originalist perspective—Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were in attendance. The board resolved that “No Student shall, within the precincts of the University … keep or use weapons or arms of any kind, or gunpowder.”

Tragically, while our rally was in progress, a mass shooting was taking place on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Roseberg, Oregon. Initial reports indicate ten people have died and another 20 are wounded.

Here’s a rough transcript of my remarks:

I work in the School of Undergraduate Studies here at UT; I was an undergraduate and graduate student here, and I’ve taught here. I’ve also taught self defense for over fifteen years. There are some counter-protestors here with signs about how guns are necessary for self defense, and I want to speak particularly to them today. I teach and write about violence prevention and self defense policy, so I want to talk about the impact this law will have on women’s safety, and I especially want to address supporters of the law who claim it will reduce campus sexual assault and make women safer. It will not.

Sociologist Jennifer Carson, writing in the journal Violence Against Women, has described our culture’s “fetishizing of the gun as the primary tool of self-defense. The NRA,” she points out, “has become the predominant public face of self-defense, and its positions and politics are often seen, erroneously, as representing those of all self-defense advocates.”

As a teacher of feminist empowerment self defense, I’m here to tell you the NRA does not speak for me, or our movement. the NRA’s insistence that women must have guns to stay safe is unsupported by data. There is a robust research base to the contrary, most recently a random controlled trial involving 900 college women that was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, showing that women who participated in feminist-informed self defense–not gun-based–experienced a 50% reduction in sexual assault. Resistance can and does stop sexual assault, without guns. It does so every day. Despite the proven effectiveness of such training, the NRA claims that women have no power or agency over their own safety unless they carry a gun. Their support of this law, their desire to flood our campus with guns, is an attempt to make women complicit in the ongoing militarization of our communities. We will not comply.

If we allow guns in classrooms, office, and dorms at UT, more women will die. This is a fact. Dr. Deobrah Azrael at the Harvard School of Public Health said the following about campus carry laws earlier this year: “What we know is where there are more guns, more women die. That’s just incontrovertibly true. . . . everything we know suggests that access to firearms increases the likelihood of death and injury. Disproportionately to women . . . . If more women have guns, have them accessible, the likelihood that more women are going to die by suicide goes way up. What we know is that . . . when there are more guns and they’re more accessible, unintentional gun deaths will increase. What we know is that alcohol and guns are a terrible combination.”

All of which is incredibly relevant to the college environment. If there is a gun in your dorm room, actuarial evidence shows—the statistics compiled by insurance companies, not lobbyists—that you are at greater risk of dying from that gun than from any other possible event happening. Having a gun in your dorm room is the greatest threat to your life on campus.

I’d also ask everyone here to remember that if we allow concealed carry all over campus, we are giving rapists and potential rapists permission to carry a weapon everywhere with them, which will make the commission of rape that much easier for them. Rape is already a crime of power. The last thing we need to do is give rapists firepower.

Thank you.

Two New Pieces: RAD and DIY

hvmagykahlhlnapmhuliJezebel featured another thing I wrote! This one is about the horrifying student manual for Rape Aggression Defense, the most popular women’s self defense program on college campuses. Take a RAD class and you will learn, among other things, that you shouldn’t try to run away from an attacker unless you get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least three times per week. Otherwise, running may make you too tired to fight. Yes, they really tell you that.

I have new column up at McSweeney’s as well–this one about those darling Do-It-Yourself “anti-rape gloves” featured recently on Instructables:

What I find fascinating, reading through these directions, is the way the glove-maker’s amorphous anxiety about his sister’s safety is transformed, through a laborious 15-step process, into a tangible object, a comforting piece of proof against the risks his sister faces: a weapon. You can almost see the therapeutic benefits accrue as the worried man applies his knowledge and skills to the problem. In his workshop, he has tools to help him create safety: clamps, vice grips, an angle grinder, a drill press, an automatic center punch, a vernier caliper. Every material he handles is measured, every step is planned. The process offers control. It requires precision. It lets the glove-maker think creatively, consider options, make choices—all things that help us feel we’re in command of our lives.


Are the gloves he produces going to help to his sister? It’s possible. Unfortunately they aren’t dressy enough to wear on dates, which is when women are most likely to be assaulted.



Update on Police De-escalation Dialogue

mayor-clipart-COV_Cop_clipArtFor those of you who signed our letter to APD, here’s the email I sent today to every member of the Austin City Council, plus the Mayor:

Dear [Council Member or Mayor X],


On January 2nd, I sent the attached letter, co-signed by 31 Austin community members, to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. The letter requests some information, and an open dialogue, on the type and amount of de-escalation training APD officers receive.

As of today, we have received no reply to this letter. As the letter states, we feel that the issue of police use of force is an important one for our community, and we believe that an open conversation on this topic will help us collaboratively reduce violence and build mutual trust among all Austinites. We are asking for your help in encouraging Chief Acevedo and the Austin Police Department to respond to our initial requests for information, and begin a conversation on a topic that is becoming increasingly important nationally as well as locally.

Thank you for all you do to help keep Austin a safe and just place to live.


Susan Schorn

The body and signatories of the original letter were appended.

I’ll keep people apprised of any response. Our next level of amplification will be contacting local media, which doesn’t strike me as a particularly soul-enriching activity, but we’ll do it if necessary.

Convention Harassment Materials

Concerned about potential harassment at a convention you’re helping to run? Want to advocate for better anti-harassment procedures at a conference you’ll be attending? My friends Jeremy and Alex put these materials together (with a little input from yours truly) for Sun Dragon  last year. They got lost in Sun Dragon’s recent website redesign, so I’m posting them here in PDF format:

CON Handling Harassment Complaint – Suggested guidelines for convention staff or volunteers when they are approached by someone who has been harassed.

CON Safety Team Incident Reporting – Suggested procedures for formal reporting of an incident by designated staff.

CON Witnessing an Incident – Advice and suggestions for those who witness harassment–includes common attributes/examples of harassment, What you can say/do to interrupt an active situation, and how to report.

Happy Holidays!

mcsweeneys_imageI have a new column up at McSweeney’s about my family’s annual tree-decorating traditions:

My father designed our family home in Texas with a 12-foot cathedral ceiling in the living room, for the sole purpose of accommodating extra-large Christmas trees. This may sound terribly jolly of him but in fact, the ritual of putting up the Christmas tree at our house did not involve a lot of merriment. It was more a demonstration of faith, consisting of 10% piety and 90% brute force—rather like building Stonehenge or re-taking the Holy Land.

For everyone suffering through some more or less beloved holiday traditions at this time of year, remember that any lessons you learned in childhood can be helpful to you in adulthood–even the lesson was to form new traditions, and let go of the old.

Happy holidays!