A New Conversation about an Old Problem: Lehman Students Push Back Against Sexual Harassment

By Shaiann Frazier

Lehman students took a public part in this conversation on Oct. 19, when post-it notes were displayed on a board outside the Lehman bookstore along with the message “Keep Moving Forward.” Photo by Shaiann Frazier.

“Catcalling makes you question your worth,” said Kuiana Prince, 23, a senior and multimedia performing arts major. Catcallers, she said, should “Try a different approach in going about it instead of going after a lady or guy like some kind of pet.”

Prince’s experience of harassment is all too common, as a groundswell in media and social attention to the topic has proven. Lehman students took a public part in this conversation on Oct. 19, when pink, purple, and blue post-it notes were displayed on a white board outside the Lehman bookstore along with the message, “Keep Moving Forward.” Dozens of Lehman students wrote and posted notes expressing their thoughts about being victims of violence and sexual harassment. 

Sponsored by the Counseling Center, the “Go Purple” event was inspired by the recent Twitter #metoo. Originally created in 2007 by Tarana Burke, founder of youth organization Just Be Inc., the campaign was revived this October by actress Alyssa Milano, for victims of sexual assault and harassment. The Lehman event aimed to bring supportive attention to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and street harassment. Members of the Counseling Center created the board titled “Messages of Hope” where any Lehman student could write a personal note to someone who had been a victim of violence in which they a received a note in return. 

Keeauna Jacobs, 22, a senior and student engagement coordinator at the Counseling Center said, “Girls come to the Counseling Center far more often than you think whether it be harassment in their neighborhood or in the Lehman neighborhood.”

“Catcalling,” defined as whistling, shouting, or otherwise sexualizing a woman passing by, is evidently common in New York. “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” a 2014 short documentary directed by Rob Bliss and created by anti-harassment organization Hollaback!, shows a montage of ten hours of footage of Shoshana Roberts silently walking the streets alone while being harassed. The video was viewed over 40 million times. 

Hollaback!, the company that distributed the video, also conducted a study in which they found that over 84 percent of women will experience some form of street harassment before the age of 17. This harassment does not only occur on the streets but also happens on public transportation. According to a 2016 report released by the Wall Street Journal, sexual offenses on New York City subways had gone up 50 percent compared to the previous year. 

Lehman students who spoke to the Meridian said they’ve changed their behavior in an effort to avoid catcalling. Leda Obergh, 19, a sophomore and film major said, “I don’t want to dress up as I want to because I may appear sexually attractive to men but that’s not my intention.” She added, “I usually wear my headphones, so I don’t have to listen to what men say to me on the street.”

Shanel Spence, 22, a senior and biology major, also actively avoids men on the street. “One thing that I do for sure is that I cross the street when I see a group of guys or I walk in the opposite direction.”

Leticia Hernandez, 24, a junior and recreational major also took a similar stance. “Usually I start walking faster just so they don’t get close to me,” she said. “Or sometimes I give them a look to back away.”

Women are not the only victims of harassment, a 2012 study released by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the percentage of males who experienced sexual harassment had increased from 16.1 percent to 17.8 percent. Although the findings could not conclude why the number of reports had increased in men, a possible contributing factor was that more men began to come forward and speak out. Numerous studies have shown that men don’t report incidents of sexual harassment due to shame and embarrassment.

Gregory Reyes, 18, a Lehman student who works at the front desk in the APEX said, “When a guy gets catcalled people just look at him like it’s a joke and it’s not as derogatory as when it happens to a woman.”

Lian Kizner, 19, a junior, dance and sociology major agreed. “I have experienced it and it’s really annoying,” she said. “Guys don’t have the authority to make a girl feel [bad] like that when they’re just walking down the street trying to get home.”

Michael Buckley, associate professor of the philosophy department at Lehman, advocated for more training for all Lehman students. “I am glad to know that Lehman requires some of its students to take workshops or online courses [about sexual harassment],” he said, “but I think the policy should be extended to every student and given several times throughout their time at Lehman like it is for faculty and staff.”