Perspectives

Finding the Courage to Change Campus Climate

Friday, September 4, 2015

Portrait of Katie Eichele

By Katie Eichele, director, The Aurora Center for Advocacy & Education

When sexual violence assaults our lives, The Aurora Center is called on for help. So, when I saw that (now former) Athletic Director Norwood Teague was resigning his position for sexually harassing two employees, I was surprised. Surprise soon turned to disappointment. What a betrayal to our students and the U community. At the same time, I admired the courage it took for the two employees to come forward.

Then Star Tribune reporter Amelia Rayno tenaciously shared her own experience with Teague. I wasn’t shocked. It's common that perpetrators have multiple victims. Some choose to come forward—privately to loved ones or counselors—and others choose to go public. Both are powerful actions that can help with healing as well as holding perpetrators accountable.

I knew that the phones in my office would be ringing soon. In my role as director of The Aurora Center, I hear gut-wrenching stories steeped in shame with shades of sadness from people who have experienced sexual harassment and assault. Students and employees of all genders—women, men, transgender—courageously come to The Aurora Center to break their silence about their experiences, sometimes recent, and sometimes years after the fact, as current events trigger memories and emotions. Most people who pass through my doors don’t feel like their experience is serious enough to report, particularly when it comes to sexual harassment.

Let me set the record straight. It’s all serious. Sexual harassment, street harassment, sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking are all on a spectrum of violence. We have laws like Title IX, the Jeanne Clery Act, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act, as well as state and federal legislation that require schools to have policies, protocols, and prevention to address the national college crisis, but offenders still inflict harm.

Knowledge is power. All forms of sexual violence, including sexual harassment and assault, is not about sexual desire or attraction. Catcalls, unwelcome or uninvited sexual advances or demands, requests for sexual favors, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, or showing pornography in professional settings are not harmless forms of flattery, courtship, or compliments (see University policy). Beware that excuses of alcohol and victim-blaming or shaming are all traps perpetrators hope we fall into in order to circumvent their own accountability.

Several years ago I was in charge of student conduct for on-campus housing and helped collect evidence for sexual assault cases. A student who was accused met with me, smiling with confidence and looked me in the eye and said, “You can’t do anything to me. She won’t talk. I won’t talk. No one’s talking. You’ve got nothing.” The International Labor Organization states, “Sexual harassment [and assault] is inextricably linked to power and control.”

  • Harassers use power to abuse and coerce individuals rather than give individuals a choice to participate in the encounter. It’s rooted in rigid perceptions of power dynamics and gender roles;
  • The intent of the harasser is irrelevant. What matters is the impact which is often humiliating for victim/survivors and is an affront to their dignity;
  • Sexual harassment creates hostile, unsafe work/learning environments and lowers performance and productivity;
  • Sexual harassment can take place on- or off-campus;
  • Sexual harassment may be peer-to-peer, a subordinate harassing a supervisor, and;
  • All genders can sexually harass any other gender, and third parties can witness sexual behavior in the workplace and be impacted by that even though they are not the direct victims.

Knowledge alone does not create change. We need to act. When perpetrators inflict sexual violence, it has a ripple effect on all of us. As a community, we become ‘secondary’ victims, shoved into uncomfortable shame and guilt different from victim/survivors but caused by perpetrator behavior. But we have the most agency to create change. This is what gives me hope. When students, parents, employees, and community members lay out strong expectations of what is acceptable behavior, to hold each other accountable, and move from a sense of community guilt to community responsibility. Remember that student who told me, “No one’s talking”? The perpetrator’s peers decided enough was enough. They talked to investigators and that student was held accountable. 

Responses to harassment will vary. If you experience street harassment I encourage you to check out the “Dealing with Harassers” link on the Stop Street Harassment website. For sexual harassment, the Equal Rights Advocates provide tips. Only you will know what a safe and appropriate response is in that moment, but it’s helpful to have options and know how others are responding. Whatever you do, remember that you are a powerful person. 

Take reporting seriously. Your personal experience is serious. Kimberly Hewitt, Title IX coordinator and director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) and her team will take you seriously, too. If you want to report sexual harassment or assault you have options. The Office for Student Conduct & Academic Integrity has great information about reporting to the university. 1. Contact EOAA/Title IX Office by phone: (612) 624-5223 or e-mail eoaa@umn.edu 2. File an anonymous online report with EOAA/Title IX office through Ethicspoint 3. Contact The Aurora Center for a free and confidential consult or to schedule an appointment with EOAA/Title IX Office by phone: (612) 626-9111
4. Outside the University of Minnesota: Contact the Minnesota Department of Human Rights by phone: 1 (800) 657-3704

You can’t heal a victim/survivor by force. Healing from trauma is a self-defined path. Sexual violence takes power and control away from a person, so it’s important to let them make their own choices (like reporting or not). 

To end sexual violence, I invite you to do whatever you can, whenever you can, wherever you can to end sexual violence.

Perspectives

"Perspectives" stories are the views and opinions of their authors and do not necessarily reflect any official position of the University of Minnesota.