Sexual Harassment Policies Aren't Enough
By Nisa Quarles '21
The Close has faced a challenging couple of years as we all try to reconcile both schools’ past with sexual misconduct and attempt to find ways to move toward a better future where we can have equal respect for one another. A lot of the conversation so far has surrounded much needed policy changes and ways in which we as entire institutions and as peers can better interact to create a safer, more inclusive environment for students. However, I am constantly reminded that policy changes and encouraging students to open up to staff members when they feel uncomfortable or violated are not enough if students continue to struggle with the fear that it is not “socially acceptable” or “valid” to voice their concerns to trusted adults in the community.
A few months ago, at a St. Albans Varsity Soccer game against Landon, I, my track teammates, and the NCS cross-country runners were completing our workouts on the St. Albans track. Although I usually enjoy when the spectators from the visiting team go back-and-forth with BEEF, it became highly frustrating when a large group of the visiting spectators instead began harassing the NCS runners on the track with subtle but painful remarks. Some of these remarks were virtually harmless such as coming up with a cheer against NCS and pointing out how “they thought STA was an all-boys school.” However, other remarks were more concerning such as audibly critiquing the running form and speed of some NCS cross-country runners as well as other comments that were more along the lines of sexual harassment such as “hey baby” and even targeting a girl by name about her dating history. As girls are often taught to do, we silently bit our tongues, ignored them, and even avoided their now claimed side of the track altogether. I realize that it would help readers better understand the gravity of this incident if I elaborated further, but I am hesitant to do so out of respect for the girls involved, and I also do not want their identities to take away from the actual content and purpose of the story.
As I was talking to my friends after the game, we expressed similar concerns about the situation. We recognized that although these comments were quiet and seemingly harmless, we felt targeted and uncomfortable on our own campus, especially because we felt outnumbered in a majority-male setting. For me, it was particularly upsetting to hear that we did not want to defend ourselves against these remarks because we were afraid of being labeled as “highly sensitive, typical NCS girls who can’t take a joke.” We felt that if we had addressed the boys directly, we may be labeled as “b*tchy,” and if we addressed our discomfort with a faculty member, we feared that the situation would be blown out of proportion. Wrongfully or rightfully so, we sadly did not believe our remarks would be seen as simply acknowledging and addressing behavior that is inappropriate towards members of our community. Rather, that they would be seen as fulfilling NCS’s nonexistent vendetta against all-boys schools and boys in general.
These conversations were not only disheartening, but they also reminded me that turning the other cheek to these types of targeted comments is a practice my friends and I know well. Whether it is other comments from visiting spectators at games during sports practices on the track, blatant sexualized criticism of girls’ appearances at track and cross-country meets, or even catcalling from male drivers near the Close, my friends and I are consistently charged with balancing when to ignore inappropriate behavior and when to use our voices to express our much-warranted discomfort. These small instances may seem minor when isolated, but they add up when you see the story of Ruth George, a nineteen-year-old college student who was murdered by a man who was angry with her for simply ignoring his catcalls.* She was whom I thought of when an older man in a white truck pulled up next to me to “ask me about my day” as I walked to meet a friend over winter break.
Unfortunately, as with the Landon boys, I often err on the side of placing the burden of the discomfort and anger on myself while the boys and men who exhibit such behavior face no repercussions and most likely do it again to other girls. I deny myself the opportunity to learn to deal with uncomfortable situations, and I deny them the opportunity to understand the impact of their actions and the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
I would like to end this article with a more encouraging tone, but I am not sure that there is a definitive solution to solving these types of problems or magically ridding girls’ lives of this type of harassment. However, I do believe that continuing the conversation about misconduct, even though it may seem repetitive to some, is vital. Being aware of the issue is the first step to cultivating a more empathetic Close culture and empowering every NCS and STA student to speak up for themselves.