Two weeks ago, four female Swarthmore students reported being verbally harassed with homophobic and sexualized epithets by a group of older men. The men were not Swarthmore students. One was from New York, another from Connecticut, and a third from Bryn Mawr. According to Director of Public Safety Owen Redgrave, the men claimed to have attended a women’s alumni lacrosse game, and then were invited to Wharton for a party.
The four women who reported being harassed, Tatiana Cozzarelli ’08, Anjali Jaiman ’10, Amanda M. ’11, and Lindsey Tiberi-Warner ’11, explained that they had been sitting on the steps of Parrish late on a Saturday night when the incident occurred.
Cozzarelli described the group as “very tall, nicely dressed white men.” According to Amanda M, the group had surrounded them on the steps while she and her friends were sitting down, and began to ask them for directions to places on campus that did not exist.
“They kept on asking for ‘Kai Phi.’ We asked ‘Are you maybe looking for Phi Psi, or DU?’,” explained Amanda M. “But they said no, and refused to leave us alone.” Said Jaiman “They kept calling as ‘baby’ and asking us random questions like if we went to this school or if we were doing drugs. It was pretty clear that they were just there to harass us.”
One of the men pulled out an ID and claimed to be a cop, threatening “to get them into trouble” if they were using drugs. Though Amanda M. said the ID seemed to just be a driver’s license, the card was later identified as a legitimate one from the Fraternal Order of the Police Associates, a civilian group associated with the Fraternal Order of the Police, the largest sworn group of law enforcement officials.
At this point, the situation had become tremendously uncomfortable, according to Tiberi-Warner. Said Cozzarelli, “We stood and told them they had to leave.” Jaiman says she told the men, “We don’t know what you want, leave us alone,” and they responded with, “Oh, but we know what you want.”
Amanda M. and Tiberi-Warner decided to leave, while Cozzarelli and Jaiman remained. Jaiman said that if it were any other place but Swarthmore, she would have left too. “But it felt like this was our space, that we shouldn’t have to move from it,” she explained.
According to Cozzarelli, the back and forth continued. “They called us dykes, baby this and baby that. We just stopped talking and stared at them. They saying ‘We are cops, is your friend okay? Is she upset? We are cops, we can bring help’.”
Amanda M. and Tiberi-Warner had gone to find male friends to help them deal with the situation. By the time they returned to the scene, the men had already started to leave, and Cozzarelli called Public Safety. “Public Safety was fabulous, they came very promptly, within 3 minutes of the call,” said Amanda M. Public Safety officers followed the men to Kohlberg Hall, identified them, and then escorted them to a taxi the men had arranged for to take them off-campus.
The students agreed that the incident felt sexualized. Said Tiberi-Warner, “They saw a group of women who were much smaller then them, and probably looked ‘more helpless.'” However, they disagreed to some degree on whether it was racialized. While Amanda M. said that the encounter did not feel racially-based to her, Jaiman said that she felt like it was, though she was conflicted about the sentiment. “Maybe because they were all white…I don’t know, I’ve never experienced harassment as a white women, so I don’t know.” Cozzarelli also agreed that the incident was racialized. “I think there’s something very specific about what we looked like at that moment that made them want to harass us. And what we look like can’t be separated from the fact that we are women of color.”
Later, upon some reflection, Jaiman added that there was a different power dynamic involved when a white man harasses a woman of color. “I’ve been harassed by men of color before, and it does not feel the same.” Cozzarelli agreed, pointing to the way law enforcement officials treat men of color. “The way, say, a black man is treated by a law enforcement official is so much different from how this group of well dressed, white men who might be from Yale or have jobs in corporate America would be treated,” she said. “They would be treated with more respect then Black men, or Latino men, or even the Asian man who tried to abduct [a student] last week.”
The women were disconcerted that no follow up was made by Public Safety officers or by the Deans’ Office after the incident occurred. “[Public Safety] didn’t ask us questions about the incident, they didn’t ask if we were okay, they didn’t escort us home,” said Cozazrelli. She says they were not even informed that the men had been escorted off-campus. “I wanted them to talk to us! I want to tell them ‘they called us dykes!’, I wanted them to know that.”
But Redgrave confirmed that none of the officers had met with the students in person, after the calls were made. He said that the it was commonplace for a “call like this one,” to not be followed up on “unless the complainants expressly ask to be informed.”
No one from the Deans’ Office followed up on the report either. According to Gender Education Advisor and Assistant Dean Karen Henry ’87, the deans have meetings every Monday where reports from Public Safety from over the weekend are read and discussed. Henry says that she does not recall reading this particular report, but Director of Intercultural Center and Assistant Dean Rafael Zapata (who was the dean-on-call during this particular weekend) as well as Dean of Students Jim Larimore did confirm that the deans had received the report.
Henry explained that most incidents were usually followed up on by someone in the Deans’ Office. “If someone’s bike is stolen or something, more then likely it won’t be followed up on,” she said “But if there was an incident involving a student, even if it’s just something like drinking, then usually someone follows up on it.” Henry said that either a dean who has a personal relationship with the student or the dean-on-call would take care of the follow-up. If the incident involved some kind of sexual harassment or assault, she would be the one reaching out to the students involved. On hearing about the incident and the students’ distress, Henry says, “That concerns me…had I known about it, I would’ve followed up.”
Zapata confirmed that there was no follow-up from the Deans’ Office, but says that it was simply because the Public Safety report made it seem as if the issue had been resolved, and that there was no need for a follow up. Larimore confirmed the sentiment in an e-mail, adding, “In my experience over the past two years, I’ve found Public Safety to be very good about including [information that may indicate a need for a follow up]– and they routinely contact the dean-on-call — when they feel that such follow up might be helpful.”
But the students felt that there was clearly a need for someone to reach out to them. Says Amanda M., “If it had been me alone, I would not have called Public Safety or talked to [the Gazette] about it. I would’ve gone home and cried.” Cozzarelli added, “They don’t know what we have gone through outside of that incident. This could’ve been a majorly triggering incident for lots and lots of people. For there to be no follow up, I think is kind of unacceptable.”
The college seems to have viewed the situation with less gravity than did the students involved (for example, in an e-mail, Redgrave characterized the incident as “not particularly serious”). Zapata acknowledges that a report of an incident is by its nature limited. “We are getting the story filtered,” he said. but added, “my sense was that I felt if there was some lingering concerns, that they would come to me and we could talk about it.”
In hindsight, however, he can see why the students may have needed some closure and a follow up, “I get that it would’ve been good to receive a ‘What’s up, is everything okay?’ e-mail from us.” He also believes that it is good to receive this kind of feedback from students so that the Dean’s Office can learn to form better relationships with the student body.
The students explained that one of the most important reasons they wanted their story out in the open was to give support to other students who may have had similar experiences, and let them come out with their stories too. Given the recent abduction attempt on a student, the students believe that this incident should be part of a broader conversation about how to make this campus safer. Cozzarelli believes that an administration self-defense classes, which she says were taught during her freshman year, is one way to move forward. All three of the deans interviewed expressed enthusiasm for the idea. Henry explained that it was something the Gender Education Office has funded in the past, and something she would be very interested in doing in the future if a group of students come to her with the idea.
Tiberi-Warner concluded the conversation by explaining that she was well-aware “that what happened is not the worse that could’ve happened. There are people who have experienced much worse, and don’t have a chance to say anything because they are afraid someone will shut them down.” She wants others to become aware of this fact, and be more sensitive to those who have gone through such ordeals. “I want that to be something people recognize. What happened to me is not of great magnitude as other things that have happened because of someone’s race or gender or sexual orientation.”