Students at the University of Connecticut are sharing their stories of sexual harassment and catcalling while on campus and in downtown Storrs, an area popular for shopping and services just off campus.
Mikayla Williams, a first-semester geoscience student, recalled an incident a few weeks ago that happened to her when she was walking with her friends around 8 p.m. in Storrs Center. A car of young, college-aged men slowed down and neared the group of freshmen girls, harassing them with jeers and catcalls.
“They said ‘Nice outfits ladies!’ and rolled down all their windows,” Williams said. “When we ignored them, they asked if we spoke English and shouted ‘Como estás?’” in a racially charged reference to the girls’ ethnicities.
This issue is not a new phenomenon, according to female upperclassmen.
Jenna Racca, a thirteenth-semester elementary education student, shared a traumatic moment from her freshman year when she was catcalled while trying to deal with a sensitive problem.
“It was nothing I did…It was their insistence on dominant behavior and the objectification of women.”Jenna Racca, Thirteenth-semester elementary education student
“I was dealing with a personal issue and called my mom in tears,” Racca said. “As I cried to her on the phone, a car full of boys shouted at me in their car.”
Racca acknowledged that sexual harassment is never the fault of the victim or their clothing, yet she had felt especially violated because she was not expecting catcalling while dressed in leggings and a sweatshirt.
“It was nothing I did,” Racca said. “It was their insistence on dominant behavior and the objectification of women.”
Many freshmen have been experiencing a very negative introduction to campus life, with some getting catcalled three times a week since the first day of the quarantine period as they walk UConn streets trying to familiarize themselves with campus.
Reilly Stefiel, a first-semester environmental science and biology student, said the catcalling occurrences happen routinely, but it does not make it any less degrading.
“I regularly get catcalled on campus. It’s not a positive experience,” Stefiel said. “I don’t often feel physically unsafe, but it’s not great for my perception of myself as a person.”
Smita Rajan, a first-semester biology student, recalled an experience when intoxicated men yelled sexual comments at her while she walked back to her dorm at night. Saige Sevay, another first-semester biology student, got harassed while walking past the student union around dusk.
Reported comments have ranged from “Sup shawty, do you have a boyfriend?” to “I wish I could see more of your fat a**.”
Sevay noted these comments as “scary, especially if you’re alone.”
Quarantined students are currently mandated to walk to Buckley for their meals. For those living on the northern side of campus, this often means walking down the majority of Storrs Road into the Storrs Center area, where many of these catcalling incidents occur.
Some on-campus organizations have sought to bring awareness to and rectify these issues so that all students feel safer walking on campus and in nearby areas.
The women of Alpha Chi Omega, for example, focus on philanthropy supporting victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment. One member of Alpha Chi believes that the solution to catcalling on campus is open dialogue.
“Men and women need open communication about sexual assault and harassment,” said Rikki Dzineku, a fifth-semester biology major and sister in AXO. “It isn’t talked about as much, but many men are discouraged from sharing their experiences of harassment and that needs to change.”
“Men and women need open communication about sexual assault and harassment…It isn’t talked about as much, but many men are discouraged from sharing their experiences of harassment and that needs to change.”,RIKKI DZINEKU, FIFTH-SEMESTER BIOLOGY MAJOR
Abby Interrante, an Alpha Chi sister and fifth-semester molecular and cell biology major noted that AXO has its Walk a Mile event for domestic abuse and sexual assault awareness in pursuit of discussing “a sadly common experience that needs to be addressed.”
Other students have expressed concerns over the way UConn handles sexual harassment claims, including two students who work at the Rainbow Center and spoke with The Daily Campus.
“I feel like the university doesn’t do as much as they should in terms of helping and supporting victims of harassment, because people who have experienced it do not want to seek help from authorities,” says Cyncere Preston, a Rainbow Center employee and thirteenth-semester psychological sciences student.
“The new updates to Title IX make reporting sexual assault and harassment more difficult. We don’t have to report most things, allowing harassment and traumatic experiences to continue.
“New restrictions allow abusers into reporting environments,” explained Mikayla Dawkins, a Rainbow Center employee and fifth-semester public health student.
Students, mostly women, from a variety of graduation years, backgrounds and majors shared a common concern for their safety and comfort while on campus.
Bianca Nicefarl, a first-semester biology student, was dismayed after getting catcalled on campus but said that she was hopeful that “awareness spreads and things can change.”