Whenever I hear about powerful people, like Herman Cain, defending sexual harassment, or at the very least, their actions, my blood boils. I will not quote the legal definition, but if someone tells you, it bothers them, it is most likely harassment. Here’s a novel idea: stop it. Somehow, our society has not caught up with the date on my desktop calendar—it’s 2011! Why can’t we accept that those in powerful positions are not allowed to make sexual comments, sexual gestures, or sexual advances to anyone with whom they work? If you are so horny that you cannot keep your sex jokes to yourself, go check into sex addition therapy with David Duchovny and Tiger Woods.
Unfortunately, political candidates and officials are not the only creeps responsible for sexual harassment. Even the cotton-candy-and-rainbow-gumdrops-world of Residential Life is not safe from employees who ignore “no”. During my first few years as a hall director, I suffered through a constant barrage of harassment from a custodian who was known to have a foul mouth and unprincipled demeanor. As I soon found out, no one was willing to stand up to him, which simply perpetuated the hostile work environment he created.
The employee in question, “Casper”, would stand outside my office and talk just loud enough for me to hear him say to his peers, “unlike professional staff, I actually have work to do” and “professional staff…more like unprofessional staff”. This comment was made at least once a week around my office door, which was just off the main lobby where the heaviest traffic was. Several of my RAs heard it, residents heard it, and my supervisor heard it. Additionally, “Casper” enjoyed repeating the same “thank you for your freshman girls” joke to anyone who would stand around long enough for him to start it. Basically, he confessed his favorite part of his college experience was when the fraternities invited the naïve freshman girls to parties with lots of free alcohol.
When I finally brought these incidents to my supervisor, he acted more coward than boss. He refused to acknowledge my concerns with anything other than a smirk and a brush of the hand. I was being “too sensitive” and I needed to “lighten up”. It was explained to me that given the antagonistic relationship between Residential Life and Cleaning Services that had been in place since before I was in college, there was nothing he was willing to do to help me. Basically, I was told to suck it up.
In the end, I was moved to another area of campus, far away from “Casper”. But, what does this tell our professional staff, our RAs, and our students? Our Residential Life programs across the country focus on developing students into self-advocating adults who can assertively stand up for themselves. However, the very department responsible for educating the future generation is nothing more than a sniveling, passive-aggressive child. Let this be an example of how Residential Life departments, businesses, and government officials need to be better. They need to stop harassing and intimidating those they dislike and mind the manners our kindergarten teachers taught us: If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.