When ‘hello’ becomes harassment

Many people are unaware that what they’ve faced or what they’ve done is a form of street harassment. Almost every woman or member of the LGBTQIQA community has a drawerful of street harassment stories. Let me be clear about what I mean when I say “street harassment:” I don’t mean a single smile or “hello” directed at a stranger (this is the South, after all). I mean going out of your way to make sure someone is aware of your presence and that you are paying attention to them.

Street harassment is always unwarranted and unwanted, regardless of someone’s attire or what time of day it is. Here’s one of my personal accounts:

Last summer, I was walking home from a hair appointment and decided to stop at Burger King. I was leaving the parking lot, maybe two blocks away from home (a big deal in the ‘burbs). A man in a white car pulled up beside me to see how I was doing and asking for my name and number. I said “No, thank you” and sped up. Five hundred feet later, the same man pulled up, closer this time, trying to convince me to give him my number because that was supposedly “all [he] wanted.” I ignored him and practically ran into the yard of a nearby house, where I knew he wouldn’t be able to follow me. In that moment, I thought, which of these houses can I find safety in? What if no one’s home? What if he gets out of his car? How can I defend myself?

That is street harassment.

Although this incident was not physical, street harassment can go that far. It can be as simple as requesting that someone “give you a smile” or commenting on someone’s body for them to hear you. It can be as extreme as making a physical pass at someone or touching yourself when an “attractive” person is in your vicinity.

If someone continues to speak to you or approach you after you’ve made it clear that you are uninterested, that’s harassment. If someone calls a slur out at you, that’s street harassment. If you call someone an expletive after they’ve denied your out-of-the-blue pass at them, that’s harassment. If someone grabs you to tell you how great you look today, that’s harassment. If you tell someone how great of a time you can show them in the bedroom or elsewhere, that’s harassment. If you comment on someone’s perceived sexual preference or gender identity (i.e. “Is that a girl or a boy?”), that’s harassment.

Be aware of what street harassment is so that you’re not a part of it and can help stop it. When you ask a woman to smile and she refuses to or ignores you, don’t call her a bitch. You might be the fifth person that day to make her feel uncomfortable when she’s just trying to get where she’s going. And even if you’re not, no one is required to comply with the requests made of them by people on the street. Street harassment is not a compliment; it’s an invasion of someone’s privacy.

*This article originally appeared in the Opinions section of The Signal on Nov. 5, 2013.*


The downside to positive discrimination: One school faces the possibility of taking steps back in the war against racism

In 2006, Michigan voters passed ballot initiative Proposal 2, which barred the (currently) 77 percent white University of Michigan Law School from using an applicant’s race in their admissions decisions. Since Proposal 2 passed, admission of African-American students has dropped 40 percent. The school is now making waves as it goes to the U.S. Supreme Court in defense of a clause that allowed the admissions office to factor race into their decisions. 

Should the Supreme Court uphold the constitutionality of the proposal, the University of Michigan Law School will likely continue to admit fewer and fewer students of color each year, and this is a problem. 

According to worldwide news outlet Al Jazeera America: Of the 315 students admitted to the University’s law school this semester, just 14 were black and around 42 were Asian. Mean- while, the school is located less than an hour outside of the predominantly black city of Detroit. 

This may seem like a case in which affirmative action, or what Oxford Dictionaries refers to as “positive discrimination,” is acting as “reverse discrimination:” the belief that policies designed to aid minorities put the majority (i.e. white people) at a disadvantage. However, the demographics of the school and its area must be taken into account. 

Regardless, this is a complicated matter. I think everyone can agree that all students should be given equal opportunities for education. And while the creation of a quota-type system for students of color helped diversify the school, the method is questionable. 

As sad as it is to see such a dramatic decline in a single demographic, it can’t really be called a fair system. Based on the proposal, it seems that this was less affirmative action and more a case in which minority students were admitted with lesser credentials simply because of perceived race-based discrimination and disadvantages. 

Under these circumstances, the Court could reasonably rule to continue the ban on race consideration because of the advantage it appears to give students of color or disadvantage it gives to other races. Upholding the proposal would also 

open the door for others to challenge similar systems around the country. 

At some institutions, such as Georgia State, which has no issues attracting students from varied backgrounds, provisions are unnecessary. But others, such as Historically Black Colleges/ Universities and predominantly white institutions, could garner more diversity by factoring in race. 

Even though a quota system appears to be unfair to some, minority students will ultimately suffer if they’re not in a comfortable environment. Any student would. Beyond socioeconomic status, students don’t tend to gravitate toward schools where they feel that they will be alone. 

We want to see others who look like us and may, therefore, share common interests with us. A system that takes race into account guarantees that students will not be alone. In an environment where we are alone, our voices are stifled. We’re inclined to refrain from emphasizing our differences, resulting in assimilation rather than diversification.

*This article originally appeared in the Opinions section of The Signal on Oct. 22, 2013.*

Homecoming: Why students shouldn’t have to care

Homecoming is one of America’s grand traditions. It’s as American as apple pie or baseball. The majority of high school freshmen look forward to homecoming – their first real, big, formal dance. But that feeling doesn’t seem to translate to college freshmen here. 

At Georgia State, homecoming isn’t the biggest on-campus event of the year for the majority of students. Most students don’t go to the Royal Ball or the homecoming football game, and the majority wouldn’t even recognize what some might see as an “elitist” minority without their sashes on. Homecoming isn’t on every student’s radar.

The reality is Georgia State is not like other Southern schools that become fully immersed in homecoming spirit each year.

We’re a city campus in the most urban way. Schools like Georgia, Alabama and Auburn can stop everything and focus on homecoming largely because the layout of their campus allows it.

A full-fledged parade around their campuses doesn’t mean stopping metropolitan traffic and disrupting the business of companies in the area. And when we do stop traffic, it’s to parade golf carts, not fully decorated pick-up trucks. 

Unlike in Atlanta, the schools in these cities are the main attractions, so they have that unified campus feel. Georgia State is also an essential, integral part of the downtown community, unlike other schools that are offset from the rest of the city, like Georgia Tech.

Despite how many new residential facilities have popped up on campus in recent years, Georgia State is still primarily a commuter school with a great number of nontraditional students. A good portion of our student body works during the year to support people other than themselves.

In addition, the majority of our student body doesn’t have the extra time or energy to put a spotlight on a week’s worth of festivities, especially during a week that’s often filled with midterms, exams and papers.

As shown by the annually sold-out Royal Ball, there is a percentage of students who care enough about homecoming to get dressed up and join the fun. However, students who don’t make homecoming a priority shouldn’t feel guilty.

Not attending homecoming events doesn’t automatically point to a lack of school spirit; even if it did, college is ultimately about getting an academic education, not a social one. Though it’s important to further develop social skills in college, our courses and degrees are in academic fields of study. Those students who do go to homecoming events shouldn’t guilt others into attending or consider themselves more prideful in their school.

Despite the large student body disengagement, however, homecoming is growing with each incoming freshman class, as suggested by the Royal Ball’s move from the Student Center to popular downtown venues, and we should welcome this growth. Students who wish to uphold tradition and those who do not wish to should embrace our school’s uniqueness and omit judgement.

*This article originally appeared in the Opinions section of The Signal on Oct. 8, 2013.*