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COLUMN: Sexual harassment culture on college campuses needs to change

Leona Falconer

I grew up constantly warned by my mother to stay in groups, look over my shoulder and stick with other women. I’m always on edge at night and I consistently carry pepper-spray with me in public.

While sexual harassment has always been a part of my life as a woman, this mistreatment and fear only worsened my first year on Central Michigan University’s campus.

According to a recent study conducted in the United Kingdom, 97 percent of young women have experienced some form of sexual harassment. This study was met with disbelief and controversy on social media, quickly spreading across social platforms.

Many men rejected the study’s accuracy, invalidating the criteria for sexual harassment and making inappropriate jokes about the findings. Users hiding behind blank profiles would often comment, “Let’s get the last 3 percent.”

The phrase “not all men” keep recurring throughout all of this controversy.  Men keep insisting that this is an isolated issue unfairly dragging down the entire gender. As a college woman constantly exposed to sexual harassment, I want men to understand that this is a systemic, gender-based epidemic.

Most men at CMU will never have to experience the shame of being catcalled and honked at while walking around campus; the panic of not being able to find your friend at a party full of intoxicated men; the terror of a bigger, older male student inappropriately touching you.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting alone in the Park Library doing homework when I noticed a middle-aged man continuously walking back and forth past my desk. He eventually stopped, shamelessly stared me up and down and called me gorgeous. I was stunned into silence as he walked away, never even formulating a response.

This is not the first time that I was targeted on a college campus, and it won’t be the last.Last semester, my friend quickly stepped aside to speak to someone, leaving me alone outside of a CMU apartment. A male student approached me, seizing the opportunity to come on to me alone. As my friend rushed to my aid and announced we were leaving, I was spinning and pushing out of his grasp around my waist.

We know it’s not all men, yet how can we readily trust any man when we continuously face sexual harassment? Many women have had to endure far more traumatizing encounters than myself. The persisting culture of sexual assault and the silencing of abused women has created a gender-based fear. CMU is no exception.

For the men that know they are innocent and would never harass or assault a woman: that isn’t enough. While you can argue it’s not all men, turning a blind eye to friends or classmates that harass or assault women further contributes to this sickening culture.

As we wrap up April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I’m calling out the men that have done nothing. These men, especially at CMU, need to actively attack sexual harassment, rather than continue to protect and empower the men preying upon women like myself. Until this culture is destroyed, sexual harassment will be a gender-based issue on college campuses and beyond.