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The Scarlet & Black

IoWhat is going on in politics? On sex and power

This past weekend I visited the University of Iowa in Iowa City to take a look at their environmental engineering Ph.D. program. It was incredibly surreal in many ways. There’s the imposter syndrome that is common from these visits, that I tricked the admissions people into thinking that I am a competent and qualified candidate worthy of being admitted and funded by their program. 

But this visit was different. I lived in Iowa City during the summer of 2014, before I enrolled at Grinnell. I worked on the Iowa Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign. I spent most of my days talking to voters and organizing volunteers to help elect Democrats. I had an amazing summer and learned the importance of voter engagement for positive change and to prevent negative policies from getting enacted. I am forever grateful for that experience. If you’ve ever wondered where I got my obsession with voter registration and civic engagement, it was that summer. I got my scrappy sense of urgency when it came to politics. 

Over time, however, I have slowly realized that I received something more complex from that summer. This experience is less clearly positive, and this was all brought up by a tweet.

On Feb. 19, 2018, a young gay kid in Iowa tweeted that Frank Scaglione, a popular weatherman who works at local news station KCCI, had sexual relations with him when he was underage. Other boys came forward saying that he had solicited photos of their genitals and had sent unsolicited ones of his own via Snapchat. When I saw this news I was horrified. I had been following this weatherman for some time. I found his humor about the weather engaging. I thought for a second about what it would have been like if I was one of those young boys. One of the tweets said that the disgraced weatherman had starved him and emotionally abused him. Extensive relationships with older men is a frustratingly common occurrence for young queer people, myself included. 

The summer I worked in Iowa City, I was still 17. I had multiple sexual encounters with many men who were decades older than me. Some of them knew how old I was, while others did not. I can’t do anything about it now. Legally, I was above the age of consent. At that time, I went in consenting, actively seeking out these encounters. Looking back, it is impossible to unsee the power imbalances, thinking that those experiences should not have happened, that something along the way should have prevented me. So much of my sense of self came from these expectations of romantic and sexual activity. When there are not a lot of out queer people around you, you turn to apps. Fortunately, my story is becoming less common. Many more people feel comfortable coming out earlier and we are building communities and spaces where those young people can thrive and find affirmation outside of dating apps. But that is only one half of the equation. We need to make sure that this kind of predation does not continue, no matter who performs it. Even in the case of Frank Scaglione, it took a public tweet that went viral through many circles in Iowa to take him down. This was even after the Waukee School District, his home school system, had privately banned him from entering campus property because of inappropriate behavior.

Like we have seen across the country, it is possible to execute justice in this relatively high profile local case. But the question turns to those perpetrators who do not have the same profile, as well as the victim-survivors that do not have the same clout either. We have to ensure that the type of accountability you hope would have existed at one of Iowa’s largest media organizations also exists in workplaces of all sizes. 

Politics is about power. The power dynamics of sexual relationships are consistently coming to the forefront and should be critically examined. Relationships like the ones described by Frank Scaglione’s victims are clearly out of line, but we should make sure we are all vigilant. At the end of the day, I am incredibly grateful for the experiences Iowa has given me, especially in the world of politics. But I know that at that point in my life I needed more self-assurance and that validation can come from so many different places and the power dynamics of relationships should always be examined. Luckily, I have that now. 

— Austin Wadle ’18

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