Student life goes beyond campus. We must include the whole community in conversations about sexual harassment.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Harassment/Assault
You’ve got to admit, Grinnell College–as far as most institutions go–is halfway decent when dealing with sexual assault and harassment issues. While far from perfect, there are lovely individuals like Angela Voos and systems to educate students, create safe environments, and help victims heal. However, in regards to creating safe environments, the borders stop at the edge of 6th Street.
I personally spend as little time on campus as possible. I live off-campus, I work at Saints Rest, and if I have a moment to myself, I’m at Rabbitt’s or Solera. While the college goes great lengths to educate students about how to deal with sexual harassment, not everyone has the privilege of a Grinnell education. This is not to say we are smarter or better than anyone—we just literally talk about these issues all the time.
At Saints Rest, my female coworkers and I are regularly asked invasive questions and receive inappropriate comments. We occasionally endure the breaking of physical boundaries. These actions are unwanted. At the college, we could complain about the treatment, and the administration would attempt to deal with the situation. Off-campus, though, there are no resources to diffuse the situation.
My mother would tell me to call the police. Now, I hate the Grinnell Police Department (GPD) as much as any Grinnellian—maybe more. My experiences with the GPD have affirmed that they are nothing but a bunch of narrow-minded morons with too much time on their hands, who think that giving broke kids tickets for riding bikes or throwing parties will somehow improve society (and enlarge their members). However, one day I decided I needed to call the GDP about an incident.
Over the summer, I was running errands late one night, and two guys were parked outside my apartment for no reason, yelling things at ladies. The first time I passed them, they just catcalled, which at this point doesn’t even register in my mind. The second time that I passed them, I heard one guy mumble to the other, “I’ll pay you $10 to pop that chick’s skirt up and fuck her in the butt.”
Going through the motions, I walked upstairs to my apartment and locked the door. I decided that his comment was not casual catcalling, but an actual threat. I had no intention of reporting these men, but I definitely did not want them outside my apartment. Without thinking, I called the GPD and described the situation. I simply asked if someone could swing by and tell these men to be on their way, or if they were drunk, to give them a ride home.
A couple minutes later, I received a call from the station saying the officer was outside and he wanted to talk to me. I specified that I did not want to be seen by the men I was reporting, because this is a small town and that could put me in far more danger. She clarified that the men had left, but the officer still wanted to talk to me.
I went outside to find three cop cars blocking off Main Street, four cops milling around, and the two men being given field sobriety tests. The two men locked eyes on me, completely enraged.
The cops immediately started babbling that I should prosecute and that the two men had a history, so I would have a good case. I asked if we could move inside a building, because I felt uncomfortable talking about this in front of the two men. Indeed, I didn’t want them to be breathalyzed–I just wanted them to leave. The cops said our conversation would only take a minute.
Fifteen minutes later, as the two men memorized my face, the cops said I could leave.
Sexual harassment does not just happen within the 3-by-4 blocks of campus. I am positive that calling a friend is more effective than contacting the dangerously bored Grinnell Police Department if you need help.
Is there anything we can do to create a safe space that reaches outside of campus? How can knowledge of the definition and wrongness of sexual harassment and assault extend beyond the college? When you feel threatened, who can and should you call for help?
While I can’t claim to have all the answers, I think Grinnell College has a lot of assets that could have far-reaching effects for the entire community. For example, why is our conversation about sexual harassment and assault restricted to campus? We have so many intelligent (and trained) people who could broaden discussions to include the larger community. We shouldn’t hoard their talents.
Moreover, I do not want to paint the GPD as maliciously trying to harm me, and I’m definitely not recommending that individuals in hostile situations should flatly refuse to call the police. I would bet that they want to do their job well, but they probably do not understand how to mindfully approach and deal with issues of assault and harassment. I think the GPD would benefit from a training day focused on how to deal with situations and victims of sexual harassment and assault in an appropriate and more conscious matter.
Again, these are not necessarily all the answers. However, we are not doing enough to include problems that happen off-campus in our discussions about assault and harassment. Grinnell College—the institution and its students—needs to stop reserving our education and understanding of sexual harassment and admit that we are part of a larger community.