Eyes straight ahead. Keys firmly clutched in hand, pepper spray ready. Headphones in, music on mute. Keep walking. Stay brisk—don’t slow down.
The sun is setting. Franklin Street is suddenly bathed in a warm, glowing light. You allow yourself to briefly relax, a moment to take in the picturesque scene before you. A male pedestrian asks you a question.
Ignore. Continue walking. A group of women across the street catch your eye. Cross the road. Walk behind them.
Finally, you arrive at your destination—you can breathe, a sigh of momentary relief before you soon must leave again.
This script is repeated over and over and over again, no matter the time or place.
Go out in groups.
Carry a pocketknife.
Always stay alert, never let your guard down.
Check, check, check.
If someone attacks you, it’s because you missed something. A slip-up. You’re targeted with questions.
Why’d you wear that?
Can’t you take a compliment?
Why were you out so late?
When arriving at UNC-Chapel Hill, incoming students are told that Chapel Hill is the Southern Part of Heaven—a safe, fun, inclusive haven where you can freely learn and grow. For many students, though, this promise rings hollow.
This insidious, constantly unsafe feeling in public spaces is characterized by street harassment—sexual harassment in public spaces, including catcalling, stalking, touching without consent, etc.
Street harassment is incredibly prevalent. In a study conducted by Hollaback!, an anti-street harassment organization, and Cornell University, researchers found that 29 percent of those who shared their experiences of street harassment on Hollaback!’s website were physically touched in a public space without their consent, while 57 percent were subject to verbal harassment.
On college campuses, harassment has other implications, too. The threat of street harassment often will dissuade women from studying in a library late due to fear of walking home late at night, negatively impacting academics. According to Hollaback!, 67 percent of students experienced harassment on campus, 61 percent witnessed another student being harassed on college campus, and only 18 percent of students had not experienced or witnessed harassment on campus. Hollaback! Also found that a staggering 46 percent of students said harassment caused disappointment with college experience.
I can recall multiple times in which I simply decided to remain in my dorm to complete assignments during the evening, even though I focus significantly better in a quiet, studious library—a choice male students, specifically cis, white, heterosexual men, rarely have to consider.
Women and other marginalized folks should be able to freely exist and move around in the world without fear of potential bodily, mental, and emotional harm.