Editor’s Note: The names of victims quoted in this story have been changed upon their request.
Sexual harassment is a painful reality for many college students. Though they may be aware of it, many times it’s not seen as a recurring problem on campus. The truth of the matter is, it can happen to anyone.
“When he invited me to lunch after class I just thought we were going to pick up some fast food like Taco Bell or something and then get back to campus,” said student Jacob. “But when we ended up at this fancy restaurant down town and he started complementing me on my looks and how smart he thought I was it got very awkward and uncomfortable.”
Sexual harassment defies a simple description. By legal definition, sexual harassment is “unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances or obscene remarks which interfere with the victim’s life.” There is a fine line between harmless flirtation
and sexual harassment that TJC students and faculty walk each day. Touching, hugging or catcalling may not mean the same to everyone. It’s always up to the individual to recognize the difference, because what may seem acceptable to one may not be acceptable to the other.
“It makes me uncomfortable when guys make comments about my attributes. That’s why I’m so glad I’m not very voluptuous, because I want people to look at me as a person, not a piece of meat,” said Karla, a criminal justice major.
Sexual harassment has long been an unfortunate part of the educational experience, affecting students’ emotional well-being and their ability to succeed academically. Nearly two- thirds of college students experience some type of sexual harassment, yet less than 10 percent actually report it to a college employee. College students who are reluctant to talk about sexual harassment openly and honestly are more likely to just joke or disregard the issue despite their private concerns.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” said Jacob. “After it happened I started analyzing it, thinking I might have given him the wrong impression, like if I said or did something that might have looked like an invitation from my part and since it didn’t go any further than that day I let it go.”
Most students would agree that sexual harassment is upsetting and just wrong.
“I think girls are more sensitive than guys, we just brush it off and move on as long as it doesn’t affect our reputation as a straight guy,” said Smith.
Not reporting or even speaking about it can not only affect the individual’s life, but it can also contribute to the prevalence of sexual harassment on campus. Silence can be interpreted as complicity, because the harasser may be doing it to more than just one person.
“We were just two work colleagues having lunch and then he said that my choice to be monogamous was going to ruin my marriage,” said Mary, a faculty member whose name shall remain unknown. “When I look back at it I wish I would’ve reported it.”
Also, a main issue is that college students don’t always have a common understanding of where to draw the line, when it needs to be reported and who to go to. Knowing how to recognize inappropriate sexual behavior and how to react to isn’t always common ground for everyone.
“Reporting a claim of sexual harassment pretty much takes precedence over anything in my job; that’s how I feel about it,” said Kevin Fowler, executive director of Human Resources. “I want to know about it five seconds after it happened, or even if it is heading that way, so we can watch that person.”
Under the Civil Rights’ Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, any sexual harassment, rape or sexual assault can be reported to any TJC faculty member and may discuss their concerns and file informal or formal complaints of possible violations of Title IX. There is also a Grievances Complaint form on the Human Resources website.
Even if one feels that it isn’t a big deal yet, reporting the incident is a way of documenting behavior. By doing this, one can prevent the issue from turning into a more serious matter or if it does, there is enough evidence to back up one’s allegations. By speaking up, it allows action to be taken.
“If it is something that continuous to keep that student from performing academically because he/she is been harassed in a class or resident halls, changing classes or building is a way of removing the victim from the problem while we address the situation,” said Fowler.
Speaking up not just for one’s self but also for those who don’t is not just plain courtesy, it is the human right and duty. It could be what makes the difference in someone else’s life.