BY ANGELINA CAMILLERI, Guest Writer
Too often, I have noticed sexual harassment goes unnoticed, unspoken, or unheard on our campus. While we have fantastic organizations and events to raise awareness for this issue and to combat its consequences, there are, unfortunately, few in number who raise awareness for only a short period of time, or are just not advertised well enough. There seem to be few strategies to deal with harassment when it arises, contributing to an almost threatening environment where victims are discouraged from calling attention to the issues they face. This is not to say that our university is in denial or uncaring about the problem at hand – instead there just appears to be a campus-wide apathy concerning the issue with the few individuals who are aware of it doing little to help protect threatened students, causing those facing it to feel discouraged from bringing it to attention.
Working a desk job on campus puts me in the public view and often results in a relatively compromising position in regards to how I act and present myself.
Throughout my time working and attending school here, I have been hit on, harassed, and even followed by individuals to whom I have clearly stated my disinterest. Often, this forces me to face the question of protecting either my person or my job – am I supposed to put myself at a distance and be rude to fend off unwanted attention to protect myself, or continue being polite to protect my job? Choosing one side risks the other’s security, and neither is inconsequential enough to be cast aside as a tradeoff. As a result, I have used both responses, but neither helps the situation: either I am rude and have complaints made about me, or I am putting myself at potential risk because I have to remain polite despite the fact that “no” is not being respected as a serious and final answer.
The harassment doesn’t end when I leave the desk, however. People recognize me from my job and feel that this is grounds for further harassment, where once again “no” is not respected, and I don’t even have the barrier of a desk to deter them. In the beginning of my time here, at the age of just eighteen, I had adult men (even aged in their early thirties to late forties) harassing me. Over the course of the few years I have been on this campus, I have had approximately ten persistent individuals bothering me, after I had clearly said “no” on multiple occasions. Just to name a few instances, the harassment has included consistently having my phone number asked for, being inappropriately spoken to (with phrases such as “you and I would make pretty children” used), having pieces of paper with phone numbers or “compliments” thrown at me both at and outside of work, being regularly watched from across the room in a threatening manner, proposed to, blatantly objectified, and followed during both day and night – whether it be to and from my car or around campus. I have even had to take longer routes to classes in an attempt to avoid people I felt threatened by and shown up to class late because someone figured out one of my classrooms and would wait for me in the room to chat before class started.
It isn’t just me dealing with this, either. I know of quite a few individuals who have also encountered numerous incidents of sexual harassment, both at and outside of work on this campus. A female student, who has asked to remain anonymous for her security, recounts one of her experiences, “He came up to the desk and even though I asked him to leave because I was working, he came back two minutes later and asked me for my phone number. When I said no, he asked for my email.” After saying no to that and telling him that she needed him to stop because he was bothering her, she recalls that he “waited until after [the building] closed and followed me to my car.”
There is no simple way to deal with or react to sexual harassment. I know of many students who have felt the need to give out fake names and wear fake engagement rings to try to ward off attention, often to no avail. When brought up to a certain member of authority, I was given the nonchalant “boys will be boys” response and told “there’s nothing we can do until something more happens.” Coming from someone who is meant to protect the students of this campus, this response is highly disheartening. Why is it not enough that members of our community simply don’t feel safe?
Whether or not an act of violence occurs, harassment is always something to be concerned about. I see our campus taking steps in the right direction to protect its students, especially with the addition of “Abuse Hurts” pamphlets placed in restrooms all over campus and the recent Take Back the Night event. However, I do not think that enough is happening – if we can approach members of authority and have nothing done about the fact that we personally feel unsafe, then there is, without a doubt, more work to be done. Sexual harassment is nothing to be toyed with, and it is high time that these stories are brought to light.