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Posted in College, News

Female Students Report Harassment on Campus

May 12, 2008

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.”

Correction: This article initially indicated that one of the individuals involved was a law enforcement official, and part of the Fraternal Order of the Police. However, the individual in question was a civilian member of the Fraternal Order of Police Associates, not a law enforcement official himself. The Gazette apologizes for the error.
  • alex

    Swat should install those blue light (I think?) emergency contact phones around campus. They should place them near the rose garden where the shuttle comes, near the front of parish looking down magill walk, on either side of science center quad (so one near kberg), near sharples, near danawell, and in one or two spots along the path from campus to PPR and ML.

  • anon

    We need campus safety phones like this:

    Especially in places where you can’t get to a dorm, where there are those call boxes. Like down by Sharples. If you’ve ever walked back from the train late at night, you know it is pitch black down there, and feels completely unsafe!

    I really think it would be worth it to at least try installing a few of these.

  • Dan

    The blue light phones are a fantastic idea. As far as I know, we have three that allow students to call public safety from Swarthmore: one at the base of campus near the train station, one tucked away on a wall near the main entrance of LPAC, and one next to the front door of ML.

    I think that the two phones on campus are well-located, but students could definitely benefit from the installation of ones in the other key locations mentioned in the first post (“near the rose garden where the shuttle comes, near the front of Parish looking down Magill walk, on either side of science center quad (so one near Kohlberg), near Sharples, near Danawell, and in one or two spots along the path from campus to PPR and ML.”).

    I frequently talk with my friends about the crime rate in Swarthmore borough (almost nil), lauding it as the reason why we don’t have blue phones, but with the recent flurry of harassment incidents involving students on our campus, I realize just how vulnerable we students are. Anyone could take a taxi here or hop off the train from anywhere on the R3 Septa line or its connecting branches, such as Philadelphia.

    Dartmouth has blue phones aplenty (31 to be exact). Their violent crime rate is actually lower than Swarthmore Borough’s (0.1/1000 people versus 1.3/1000 people). However, the thing to remember is that this isn’t even a matter where funding or the violent crime rate should be primary factors–students should be able to use these blue light stations to contact public safety should they feel uncomfortable at any time.

    Crime Rate Statistics:

    Dartmouth link for Blue phones:

  • phones are beside the point.

    It would be nice in general to have phones, but it wouldn’t necessarily have helped in this case. The women involved could have left and called public safety at any time during the encounter — in fact, some of them did leave to go find other students to help. They did not leave, according to the article, because they felt they shouldn’t have to cede the space to their harassers. This is a reasonable thing for them to have done, assuming that (as the article suggests) they were not in any immediate physical danger.

    The real problem in this particular situation is not that the women needed access to a phone or to public safety. The problem, rather, is that public safety seems not to have taken their complaint seriously enough, or followed up with them after escorting the men away. It’s also troubling that the men were able to just take a taxi and leave. Phones won’t solve that problem, either.

  • Student

    Self-defense classes are a great idea. Please consider implementing them again!

  • a

    What I don’t understand is why they didn’t call public safety immediately. Especially after half the group left (the other smart option in this situation), it seems that the remaining two girls were extremely foolish to stay put in a threatening situation. Sure, Swarthmore is your “turf,” but if a group of four adult men is harassing you, it’s just plain stupid not to call for help as soon as you feel uncomfortable.

  • Andrew

    I feel very sorry that anyone has to experience harassment like that. It’s a reminder that even in what we consider a very civilized society there exists more baseness than we’d like to acknowledge. Unfortunately, however, I’m not sure that there are any places in the world much safer than Swarthmore. It’s true that anybody could just hop off the R3 and come here (as if Swarthmore students never do bad things, and only outsiders do), but then again the only place where that wouldn’t be true would be the middle of the woods somewhere… like Dartmouth.

    I do think the blue safety phones are a good idea.

  • Sandy

    What concerns me is that even though the men were “escorted” as they left campus, there is nothing in the account to suggest that they were informed that their behavior was totally unacceptable. Public Safety apparently looked at their IDs. If those IDs were retained, the message should be sent now, loud and clear, that Swarthmore does not tolerate bias.

  • ArgosTheLemon

    “Self-defense classes are a great idea. Please consider implementing them again!”

    Seriously…unless you’re in a situation in which you are being physically attacked, self-defense courses are not going to help you, and any attempt on your part to respond to a threat violently would probably escalate the situation. Even in an actual struggle, you need to be able to react calmly and efficiently. As much as students may like to diss the aikido class, it’s an excellent way to learn to defend yourself in a way that’s efficient and less harmful to yourself and your attacker.

    Blue-light phones could be helpful, if the campus respects the needs of astronomy freaks and doesn’t use glaring lights, but then, you have to be near the phone and able to reach it.

    At any rate, simple verbal harassment is not going to be helped by either of those things. Unfortunately, the outside world is full of people who make inappropriate comments and who are not as accepting as most Swarthmore students. The only defense you have against verbal harassment is to show no reaction, and then walk away. It’s tough, but, speaking from experience, I can tell you it is very, very, effective.

    You know what else works? Jedi mind tricks. Jedi mind tricks have saved my ass from jerks more than once.

  • W

    Could these men not be prosecuted in some way? For hate speech or something?

  • Reader

    If the women feel comfortable enough to clarify (if not, totally understandable), how did the men know that people in the group were queer? Were they familiar with this campus community?

  • Nicole Belanger

    I am kind of disturbed by some of the above comments. First, whatever the women involved did or did not do, I am sure they did the best they could have done. Hindsight is always perfect, but when faced with a crime or a difficult situation like that, one has to read how they are feeling, who is around, etc. to try to gauge the situation. So while it is great to think personally about how you should react if this ever happens to you, criticizing them is not helpful. It sounds like they all did what they thought was right at the time and I think they were brave to report it to Public Safety and to the DG.

    Can we also talk about the Deans? The fact that they “view the situation with less gravity” than students do shows a serious disconnect between them and students on issues of safety and harassment. I mean, it does not take a rocket scientist to know that our campus is pretty open, that paths are too dark and that there is no real safety system. The idea of self defense classes has been brought up and pursued by student groups (such as the WRC, Feminist Majority, etc.) but they got little or no support from administration and were told they basically had to go through all the motions of finding funding, getting a teacher, getting PE credit, etc. for such a course on their own. In addition, I think it is also upsetting that Dean Henry claims she did not receive information about this incident, when she clearly did since Rafael and Jim did. This is an incident that should fall under her in my opinion, so the fact that she likely saw it and did not act on this or even remember it seems to be a serious problem. How hard should victims have to fight to be noticed? Filing a public safety report should be a sufficient call for some support from the deans.

  • a

    They probably made an obnoxious guess. You don’t have to know someone is queer to make homophobic comments.

  • ummmm

    why would rafael assume that “that they would come to me and we could talk about it”? They already filed a report with the deans, that should have been enough. I’m pretty disappointed in all the deans. I can’t imagine that the PS report was “filtered” enough to justify their nonchalance. It seems like karen henry especially dropped the ball.

  • Anonymous

    as a queer female, i understand needing to stand up for one’s rights in these particular situations. however, i am going to have to agree with “a” when he/she says that it was foolish of these females to stick around in a potentially harmful situation. i do not believe that claiming your queer safe space on the steps of Parrish Beach to men that were being unnecessarily and obviously aggressive was going to prove the point that we, as queers, have rights. although i do believe that fighting for one’s rights is important, consciously putting oneself in a dangerous situation seems like masochism. sometimes violence is a price paid by activists, but who were these females advocating for? they themselves are aware of their power, and these men have obviously not “learned a lesson”, and these deans are obviously not responding in a different/appalled manner, so even though they stood up for themselves in this situation nothing has changed.

    perhaps the commentors in this post are now more aware of homophobia in the criminal system or amongst the administrators at Swarthmore…

    sorry for the rant, i just want ya’ll to be safe!

  • hmm

    do you think the deans’ response would have been different had it been 4 straight girls or girls that the deans wouldn’t recognize as being involved in the queer community?

  • Nicole Belanger

    I would love for the deans to be held accountable more. If the DG had not done this piece, would they have ever even known that they messed up in this situation. If you have a complaint about a dean, who do you go to? Another dean? When dealing with sensitive issues like this one (which presumably is what the deans do), if you have a problem with how a dean handles something, I think there should be a better way to inform them of it or their superiors. Having personally tried to report a dean’s actions once, it got back to the dean I was reporting on and they were really rude to me. It made an already bad situation worse.

  • ArgosTheLemon

    “Could these men not be prosecuted in some way? For hate speech or something?”

    Can you be prosecuted for hate speech alone? I’m pretty sure the answer is no.

    At any rate, it would be impractical to prosecute every man who says something disrespectful towards a woman. In the outside world, it’s an extremely normal activity, and it is not the job of the police to protect us from cat calls (though I realize the men concerned were going a bit beyond cat calling).

    Unless you want to argue that college students, by virtue of their being privileged, deserve better protection than normal women.

  • well.

    First of all, I’m going to reiterate almostout’s concerns about victim blaming. It’s easy to criticize what they did or did not do in hindsight, but I’m sure they made the best decisions that they could. If we should be criticizing anyone, it should be assholes who decided it was okay to harass them. (trigger warning) This is like saying someone who was raped should have *known* to leave a sketchy or uncomfortable party, when we should be focusing on the bad decisions a rapist made that let him think raping someone was okay (or on bystanders who knowingly let it happen).

    Two, let’s talk about race and law enforcement. I’m not trying to imply anything about Public Safety officers or the deans or whatever, but what I want to know is if it was a couple of black men dressed in baggy clothing and hurling slurs at four, young white women, would the response have been different?

  • W

    “Unless you want to argue that college students, by virtue of their being privileged, deserve better protection than normal women.”

    That sort of came from nowhere, that’s not what I’m saying at all. My question was just because I don’t know the law, but it seems as if a little more action should have been taken on the part of public safety or the college, somehow. As you said, their speech went beyond cat-calling. The students were taunted using the word “dyke.”

  • ArgosTheLemon

    There’s nothing wrong with criticizing someone who does something unwise. Criticism is not bad. The thing is, we’re dealing with situations in which both the victim and the attacker need to be criticized. The receiver of advice is not being blamed or punished for anything, but simply being provided with guidance for the future.

  • ccs

    The victims clearly bear no blame for what happened. Whether the 2 victims made the right move in staying isn’t as clear to me as this: they made the wrong move in staying after the other 2 left. If two of your friends feel so uncomfortable that they need to leave, you should leave, too. I don’t know what it is like to feel discriminated against for my gender race or sexual preference, but I do know that being outnumbered 4 to 2 by men who appear hostile is something that should be avoided. These men were racist, misogynistic and homophobic, but more importantly they were aggressive assholes. I understand where these victims are coming from (as much as I can), but I think they could have made a better choice.

    That said, the deans need to step up their game. This is unacceptable.

  • N

    1) I’m not sure how justifiable it is to escort people off campus simply for making harassing remarks. The case for coming out week chalkings has always been that the campus community tolerates statements that provoke, challenge, annoy… some in the interests of full expression. Are we really saying that, since one group felt harassed, the other group’s statements were unacceptable? Not to make parallels between chalkings and apparently homophobic/racist/sexist taunts but I think tolerance swings both ways.

    2) Can/does public safety publish these reports to the campus community?

  • ArgosTheLemon

    Does anyone have an idea as to what should have been done? Because, if you want these guys to be prosecuted for using harmful language, you’d be hard-pressed not to prosecute guys who use the same language outside of campus hundreds of times a day. These guys were not trespassing, they did not commit physical assault, and the most I can think of is that they might have been given a talking to.

  • Mike

    Safety and Security:
    Both are usually an illusion. Sometimes the illusion is really helpful- it convinces would be trouble makers not to make trouble, or more often, it makes people feel safe. Often it is really hurtful- it makes people fearful, it certainly inconveniences them and sometimes actually limits important civil liberties. It can also lull people into a false sense of security. So I’m not really seeing the blue light lesson. We practically all have cell phones… and I have a hard time knowing when a blue light phone would have helped.
    Also, self defense classes. They can be really empowering, for one. For two, some things can be really useful if a situation is already nasty- ways to get out of a hold, reassert some control, de-elevate a situation. I would guess that the person who recommended self defense classes was interested in these things, not how to kick someone’s butt when they said something out of line, or generally how to intensify violent or near-violent situations.
    Lastly, as far as prosecution goes, rather than some pragmatic argument that if we prosecuted one person for doing something wrong we’d have to prosecute everyone who does the same wrong thing, I would make a civil liberties argument. We wouldn’t want to make it possible to prosecute these men for what they did because we know that such a law would be almost impossible to enforce 1) fairly and 2) in the spirit in which it was written.
    I hope we all learn from recent incidents how best to take care of eachother.

  • Ronni

    Another “amen” to almostout w.r.t. not criticizing the four students’ behavior. Insofar as we hope to learn from this incident, we need to revise the phrasing of these comments which make broad claims about what the students should have done (and whether they were “wise” or “foolish” to act the way they did). That’s not a productive conversation to have — especially not in a faceless forum like this one.

    @ Anonymous and several others: The article didn’t give much detail about the mindset of the two students who stayed — we only know that one student said she stayed because “this was our space, that we shouldn’t have to move from it.” A couple of commenters have assumed that these students were trying to publicly affirm their rights or teach their assailants a lesson. I imagined the situation differently. I thought that they were staying because it was important to them in a more personal way, to demonstrate to themselves that they had power.

    My guess is as speculative as anyone’s. I’m just trying to emphasize that there is a lot of detail here that we don’t know, and it makes a really big difference. Unless you know what staying (or leaving) meant to those students, you really can’t say what they should have done.

    Finally, @ N: no, tolerance doesn’t swing both ways — not in the sense that you claim it does. Tolerance is not an “anything goes” policy. Our belief in tolerance is substantive and it therefore condemns intolerant speech and behavior, including the speech and behavior of those men.