Sexual Harassment and the College Student
> 1/26/2006 10:07:59 AM

Anyone who has watched one of the more recent teen comedies set on a college campus might think that today's universities are brimming over with beer filled mayhem and wild sexual romps.  Clearly, those people would be wrong, otherwise why would anyone ever leave?

But the results of a recent survey, Drawing the Line, by the American Association of University Women do paint a picture of campus' beset by another, often more innocuous seeming problem.  According to the AAUW, nearly two thirds of college students have experienced sexual harassment during their college experience.

The Washington Post picked up the story yesterday, and spoke with several students. From their responses, it would seem that sexual harassment is an issue that elicits a rainbow of reactions.

One student involved with the survey said she sees harassment every day at school, including catcalls and people brushing up against her in hallways. It's a problem everywhere, said another student, Haley Pollack of Indiana University, but especially at college. "Campuses are just highly concentrated with not only hormones but everything else that comes with young adults." She said she was propositioned by a graduate assistant when getting extra help after a math class.

Greta Franklin, 27, of the University of Maryland said her friends haven't been troubled much by harassment. She thinks students are more likely to laugh things off. "I think a lot of people just think, 'What's the big deal?' "

As one attorney and education analyst pointed out in the story, two thirds is disturbingly high number.  But he also notes that the survey (pdf here) defines sexual harassment very broadly.

Whether or not there was some skewing in the results, the survey highlights the fact that sexual harassment is an issue on college campuses, and one that isn't going away.  Important to this study is that respondents, especially women, expressed feeling upset and angry (68% of females and 35% of males reported feeling very or somewhat upset).  While comments and jokes are the most common form of harassment, with about 60% of women and 50% of men reporting the behavior, slightly more than one third of women reported physical harassment as did 29% of men.

To say that sexual harassment was eroding institutions of higher learning might be an overstatement, but it is clear to see from the results of Drawing the Line that for many students, harassment creates a very real distraction.  Anxiety and stress very often accompany sexual harassment, and continued exposure to these behaviors can cause problems that will effect a student's learning and overall enjoyment of the college experience.

All this being said, it is ignorant to think that this type of behavior is going to disappear overnight.  But there are certainly things that students, both female and male, can do to create a more comfortable environment.  The first, and perhaps most obvious, is to report individuals that sexually harass you or someone you know.  The AAUW's survey found that only 7% of students had reported an incidence of sexual harassment to any member of the faculty or administration.  As with any antisocial or destructive behavior, sexual harassment in these environments will exist as long as it is tolerated. 

No one likes to be a snitch, and that's not necessarily what I'm advocating here.  College, as one of the student respondents mentioned earlier in the Washington Post article, is a time when hormones run high, and men and women are often interacting for the first time without the watchful eye of parents or high school teachers.  What I am saying however, is that everyone must set boundaries about what they think is appropriate and inappropriate behavior.  If someone crosses those boundaries, whether it's a friend, classmate, professor or even the president of the whole damn university, that's unacceptable.  Tell them to stop.  If their behavior is particularly egregious or persists after a warning, then tell someone. 

The anxiety and stresses that can accompany belittling ridicule or unwanted sexual advances can be very damaging.  Standing up for our personal space and sexual identities is an important part of defining who we are and maintaining our continued happiness.  If you are experiencing sexual harassment, or see someone else who is, do something about it.

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