No more hiding in the shadows: Dealing with sexual harassment at SMC
Situation 1: You were just lab partners. It meant nothing. Now they want to go out on a date and take things further. They just won't get a clue and won't stop texting you.
Situation 2: You fail your history exam and you need extra credit. Instead of giving you an assignment to earn extra points, your teacher hits on you and offers you another way to get an A in the class.
Situation 3: You're at the water cooler looking over your lectures you have planned for today, when a fellow staff member makes a suggestive comment and feels you up.
Student to student, faculty to student (or vice versa), and intra-faculty cases of sexual harassment are all possibilities that can surface within a college.
Sexual harassment is a serious issue that occurs among all ages, but especially among young adults. This problem largely extends to college campuses.
While many deem the Santa Monica College campus as a safe space, SMC Psychology Professor Alexander Schwartz argues that the same does not apply to to the people within the campus.
"People will be people wherever they go," said Schwartz.
President Barack Obama has legally mandated that college campuses have taskforces that specifically deal with sexual harassment. This problem has never been as dealt with in legal matters to the extent that it is now. A federal initiative has required further investigation of these matters.
Sandy Chung is the title IX officer for SMC, which began after SMC President Chui L. Tsang assembled a taskforce that deals with sexual harassment on campus.
Cases of sexual harassment are currently being reviewed by the taskforce which will be tackled by mid-spring. Though cases are confidential, Chung does recall an incident a few years ago regarding catcalling that took place in the main quad. The catcalling not only involved men, but women too.
Campus police dealt with the situation and reminded students to remain professional and respect each other.
While this is most of the extent that harassment has been reported, it is not to say that nothing else is possible.
On four-year campuses where there are dormitories, incidents of a larger nature, such as rape, tend to occur. While sexual assault is not impossible at SMC's campuses, Chung reports that incidents of that nature tend to occur away from campus since we are a commuter school without dormitories.
SMC doesn't have a bubble around it and in order for these instances to become regulated, people will have to come forward, and the school will have to take action. There are still sexual predators wherever you go. They don't have to be dressed in hooded clothing and have social ineptitude.
Besides the presidential taskforce, there is a faculty run taskforce: the women/gender group led by Economics Professor Eileen Rabach that tackles these issues. The group recognizes that this issue is not only something that women have to deal with, but men and trans persons as well.
"Our understanding and view of sexual harassment and how we respond to it may be as a result of being a nonresidential campus," says Psychology Professor Chante De Loach. "When talking about sexual harassment we limit it artificially to dorms, when in actuality it can occur and does occur all over."
The conversation has to shift from whatever preconceived notions we have about sexual harassment and take into consideration more than just ourselves.
Most people probably think that this problem doesn't exist at SMC and look the other way, but as De Loach says, "We reflect the communities that we're apart of."
Dean Deyna Hearn, Robert Myers of Campus Counsel, and Vice President Mike Tuitasi still have yet to comment, but that is not surprising, as this school's administrators have their work cut out for them. This is something that they are taking seriously, as it is not something that can just be glossed over.
In order for progress to move forward, we need to all get our heads out of the sand and address the fact that real issues occur at SMC.
We live in a culture where not everyone looks at sexual harassment as a big deal. It's just catcalling. It was just a text. It was just an embrace. Maybe it was just "innocent" flirting. The lines are so blurred that we can't see through them. We need to have parameters to recreate what we have lost and build a more informed future.
Whether it's sexual pressure from a teacher or a fellow student, none of it is okay. "You can't just wear a sheet over your head," Chung says. A line has to be drawn and that is what the taskforce is working on. Any non-consensual acts are not acceptable by any means.
If you don't know where to go or who to turn to, there are multiple outlets on campus that deal with sexual harassment. You can talk to the dean of the college, Human Resources, Campus Counsel or Police, or anywhere else that receives and processes complaints.
Unheard voices are still buried in the shadows, and new cases are still undiscovered. Now more than ever, cases have unveiled themselves and have demanded attention. Victims of sexual harassment across the country are demanding attention.
Obama has put the pressure on and now it is in the hands of individual college administrators to process these issues and handle them accordingly. It should not be underestimated, though, the power that students have to recognize sexual harassment and to report it, whether it happens to you or someone else.
Instances of sexual harassment may not be as prevalent at a community college such as SMC, but the issue should not be minimized. In fact, we should be trying all we can to prevent or lessen future occurrences.
SMC administrators are reviewing cases and taking the matter seriously, so it can only be asked that students do the same.