A Mercer student, who wished only to be called L, told The VOICE, “I had psychology class last spring and there was a guy in my class that never spoke to me or in the class, but he was always staring at me, and sometimes I would see him in the hall and he would just look at me without saying anything.”
She continued, “He kept following me after class, and I thought it was maybe just my imagination, so I took a different way and I went around the Communications building and then to the cafeteria, and he did the same…When I was in the parking lot he was there too, he parked his car in front of mine and looked at me and said ‘Do you wanna go out for dinner?’ I told him I was married and not interested and to please leave me alone.”
L’s story is just one of many that have come to light in recent months as part of the spread of the #MeToo phenomenon.
The social media hashtag was created to bring awareness to the commonplace nature of sexual assault and sexual harassment faced by women today. Actress and activist Alyssa Milano popularized the tag following accusations of sexual assault against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
The concept behind the #metoo hashtag was that if every woman who had suffered some form of sexual assault shared the hashtag, then the scope of the problem could be realized.
With the focus on sexual assault, renewed interest has been shone on the high rates of sexual assault on college campuses.
A 2016 survey by the United States Department of Justice showed that roughly 21 percent of women in four-year colleges had experienced sexual assault since enrolling.
There has been evidence to show that community colleges are just as vulnerable to sexual assault and harassment as their four-year counterparts, although the nature of the incidents differs in the non-residential setting.
In a VOICE survey of Mercer students including 30 men and 30 women, the results showed 57 percent of female students would not feel comfortable alerting the college administration if they were assaulted or harassed.
Dorothy Gasparro, Mercer’s licensed counselor told The VOICE, “I have no idea what is making [students] uncomfortable or with whom or why they are afraid to speak. That is certainly an area that deserves more attention and investigation. I, for one, would like to hear more about the reasons and the fears.”
She continued, “I know too many women, myself included, who can say #MeToo.”
Survey respondents were invited to share their perspectives.
One female student wrote: “I’m happy about the #metoo movement. [Sexual assault] is something that happens often but no one says anything, out of embarrassment.”
L told The VOICE why she didn’t notify the school, “I don’t feel safe at Mercer, I don’t think they would have done anything if I had told them this.
I still feel very scared at night when I need to walk on my own to the parking lot.”
L is not alone in her stalking experience, two-thirds of female respondents said they had been stalked, and 27 percent said they had been stalked by someone they had met at Mercer.
John Simone, the college’s Director of Athletics and also the Title IX coordinator, who is responsible for filing student sexual assault and harassment complaints, said “We may have received six complaints [about stalking] in the last three years. All have been investigated and the situation has been mitigated or sanctions have been implemented.”
The #MeToo movement, however, has offered hope to some students.
Patrick Ramsey, a Criminal Justice major, said, “I believe this movement shows a lot of courage and may inspire others who have been negatively affected.”
The #MeToo movement connects back to earlier eras when women’s allegations of sexual harassment were often not only ignored but those who spoke out were made to seem like they were in the wrong for saying anything. One prominent example of this is Anita Hill, now Senior Advisor to the Provost and Professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s Studies at Brandeis University. She is most well known for her testimony against current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his confirmation process. This was one of the first times that the public began an active conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace, but Thomas still received the confirmation.
Hill, who is a considered a hero to many in the #MeToo movement, came to speak at Mercer in 2012. She described her the reasoning behind her coming forward with her testimony against Clarence Thomas in 1991.
Maybe it is time for Hill to be invited to speak again. At present Mercer has no special events or activities planned that relate to these issues and how they impact students and education.