While SMCM students have only been on campus during the fall 2021 semester for a few weeks, students, especially female students, have started to see an increase in catcalling. This has become a hindrance for many female students, causing them to feel uncomfortable when walking around campus near Route 5. This behavior is coming from men who do not seem to be students of the school, but are rather community members on their daily commute. Though Route 5 is not under the school’s jurisdiction and the school cannot control the actions of these outside community members, it is becoming such a scary place for women to be and the school needs to act.
Students at SMCM have experienced similar situations when it comes to being verbally harassed on Route 5. One female student says that “Typically, someone will drive up from behind me and stick their head out of their window and then whistle, shout, or say a ‘compliment’ in their eyes.” Another relays her most alarming situation, where “a vehicle pulled over in front of me, blocked my path, and shouted loudly from his window.” Both students have been forced to avoid Route 5 altogether when it is dark out or when they are alone. One even stopped running outside out of fear of being harassed.
Though this is an issue the school has little control over, there are steps that could be taken to easily protect the safety of female presenting students. One female student says “I would feel much safer if there was a separate semi-hidden path along Route 5. For example, a paved sidewalk with bushes or trees as a barrier between the path and Route 5. With a path like that, students could walk freely without having to search for a buddy to come with, or feeling as if they need to look over their shoulder the whole time.” Other students just want it to be acknowledged by the school that it is a problem. Even if SMCM cannot do anything, knowing the administration is on the side of verbal assault victims is a step in the right direction.
Catcalling on campus caught the attention of the Title IX team following the 2021 Campus Climate Survey that was conducted last semester. There was a 30% response rate to the survey which, while less than half of the student body, was a 27% increase from the 2020 survey. This survey highlighted Route 5 as a place where students feel uncomfortable on campus. When asked why they feel uncomfortable, “Catcalling” was a frequently given answer.
The Title IX office has made steps so this issue is addressed properly on campus. When asked, Michael Dunn and Helen Anne Lawless said they have begun working on multiple initiatives to combat street harassment. One thing they will be doing is hosting focus groups with members of the campus community to gauge what the problem is like from a student’s perspective. They also want to use these meetings to hear any solutions students have thought of and foster a community of support for harassed students. Information for these focus groups will be released soon. The Title IX office has also explored the idea of getting signage to try and stop harassment. Lawless said that states who have implemented signage for anti-littering have seen a decrease in littering, so this method could result in some decline in street harassment on campus. Most importantly, the Title IX office wants students to know they are there to listen to any concerns students have while everyone tries to navigate this form of harassment.