Disclaimer: The student is anonymous. CBS WIRE knows her identity. Her story was told to Journalist Anne M. Lykkegaard
I arrived at the party early and met up with the intro guides and other students from my program. As the party was huge, it was easy to get lost in the huge crowds.
At one point, I went to the bathroom and afterwards lost sight of my group, so I went searching for them. I decided to look on the dance floor.
I was just making my way across the busy dance floor when I got to the front of the stage and felt someone slap my butt.
I turned around right away and saw three guys together. I wasn’t sure who did it, so I went for the one in the middle, whom I had just passed by. I got mad and immediately told him that this is sexual harassment. He kept saying it wasn’t him, so when I looked at the other two, confused about what to do, they all just started laughing.
I kept saying it wasn’t okay, but they just kept laughing.
Such things are not infrequent at parties and clubs, so right then I was looking around to try and spot someone from the Nexus security to approach, but there was no one about.
Then I tried to get eye contact with people around, whom I know saw it, but no one reacted in any way. It was a vulnerable moment, I was surrounded by so many people, but I started feeling alone. No one likes to have their private space invaded by a stranger, and I wasn’t only uncomfortable – I felt like I could not say or do anything to show those students that this kind of behavior is not right. What makes anyone think this is “cool”?
I didn’t know whether to stay or leave. But at that point I just felt like I had to share it with someone.
I went back to the hallway and approached two older students whom I had met during intro week. In my eyes, they had some authority.
“Can you believe what just happened?” I said to the two guys and shared my experience.
The first reaction from one of them was nothing out of place. He said something like: “Don’t pay attention to that”. Implying that this is just drunk behavior.
What followed from the other guy was a little more disturbing. He looked at me and said: “Oh, don’t pretend that you don’t like that kind of attention.”
We both gave him a bad look, both confused about whether his statement was genuine or just a bad joke. But he continued:
“You girls kind of ask for it, and you like being touched like that.” What followed next was silence from both of us, as the student kept building arguments about why “we girls” actually “like this kind of behavior”.
It was a one-way conversation that heaped more guilt on top of my experience of something unpleasant that had happened, which I definitely did not ask for.
The entire experience was upsetting enough itself, but when I actually tried to talk to someone about it, probably looking for advice or a little comfort – and was told something entirely different instead – I became totally discouraged about doing anything about it. So I just went home.
“No one cares”
For a long time, I felt the need to share this experience, but I didn’t dare to. Did it change my behavior? Yes and no. Although it shouldn’t be so, that situation made me much more careful about what I shared with my fellow students, as the very first reaction I received that night quickly convinced me that “No one cares”. And I didn’t want to be judged or blamed for someone else’s actions.
I also became more careful at other social events. I made sure to keep my distance from other people so they couldn’t touch me unless we were friends. I first shared this story a few months after, with a small group of friends (other female students) – and they started sharing their experiences about sexual harassment on trips, at parties, or even just walking down the street. Because these things happen so often – all kinds of harassment, in general – I would sometimes think to myself that “it’s not that big of a big deal”. But then you have to remember how it feels in the moment – and if it feels disturbing, we must all change our attitude towards such behavior.
Later on, I went and talked to a student counselor about it, and the more I talked about it, the more it became ‘just a story’. Sharing my experience with someone who just listened and empathized truly helped me understand that I was, in fact, never alone.
Show your support
Now, I want to share my story because there are so many aspects to this. What can CBS do, what can I do and what can others do.
I can talk about it and make others aware of their own actions and reactions. Maybe you’ve never been harassed or seen anyone being harassed, but you still need to think about how you will react to it, if your friend or classmate has an unpleasant experience and needs to share it with you. I think it’s important that you show some kind of support if you see anyone in a similar situation.
Nexus could make sure that there are always enough security staff observing people’s behavior, being visible and stepping in if they see something is wrong. It’s so important that everyone feels included and protected, because there is so much alcohol at these parties. That also made me think: we should all stop using alcohol as an excuse for inappropriate behavior. To what extent is it okay to ‘get drunk’ when it changes your behavior into something that makes others feel uncomfortable?
And if someone ever crosses your limits or boundaries in any way – physically or emotionally – it’s okay to speak out and stand up for yourself. We should never be afraid of speaking out when something doesn’t feel right, no matter the circumstances.
By changing our own attitude towards offensive conduct, we will change the behavior of those who still think it’s okay to act in a certain way when it’s not.