From the moment we step foot on campus, we’re warned about sexual assault and sexual harassment. We’re told about the 1 in 4 women that will be assaulted in some way before they graduate, about the ways to protect ourselves from sexual assault, and the number to call in case we ever find ourselves victims of sexual assault. But this information almost always refers to student on student sexual harassment.
Unfortunately, sexual harassment isn’t just a student student problem. Sometimes, it’s professor to student. Or coach to student. Or some other school official to student. Sexual harassment in schools is more common than you think and it’s finally being talked about.
So what exactly is sexual harassment in school? Well, let me break it down.
There are two kinds of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile environment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a teacher or school employee offers rewards or threats for sexual acts. For example, if a professor offers an extension on a paper for sex, that’s quid pro quo sexual harassment. Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when unwanted sexual touching, comments, and/or gestures interfere with schoolwork, make you uncomfortable or feel unsafe, or prevent you from participating in school programs and activities.
So now that you finally know what sexual harassment is, how many of you have been victims of sexual harassment? I’m willing to bet that a lot of you have encountered or heard about others being sexually harassed. And I know for a fact there are many other girls out there who have been harassed and haven’t told anyone.
Recently, the White House launched a campaign to fight against sexual harassment. Vice President Joe Biden says that “a nation that prides itself on fighting the abuse of power has an obligation to prevent sexual violence in schools and on college campuses.” Makes sense, right? This campaign is supposed to be nationwide and will outline victims’ rights and schools’ responsibilities concerning sexual harassment.
Okay, so I know a few of you are wondering why this is even necessary or if this will even help. Knowing if these campaigns will actually help the situation is something only time can tell. However, these campaigns are very necessary. Currently, federal civil rights officials are investigating Yale University because of complaints about its sexually hostile environment and the university’s inability to ameliorate the concerns. Apparently 7,000 sexual harassment complaints were filed there last year, yet only 1/3 of the cases were actually investigated. What kind of message does that send to Yale students? What message does that send to students in general?
How would you feel about seeing a sign that says “We love Yale sluts” outside a women’s center, or hearing “no means yes” chanted on campus by fraternities? And then how would you feel about being a student of an institution that doesn’t protect your rights? Alexandra Brodsky, a Yale junior, says that the students writing these complaints are “really frustrated and disappointed that Yale again and again fails to respond to both public and private acts of sexual harassment and assaults which creates an environment in which women feel devalued.”
Yale responded to these appalling displays against female students on campus by releasing a statement in the Yale Daily News that basically pointed a finger at the fraternity, but did nothing else. Sexual harassment needs to be taken seriously, and the White House’s campaign is definitely a step in the right direction. Hopefully, Yale University will see this as a chance to reevaluate how its treated its female students and finally do right by them. And hopefully every other university will quickly follow suit.