Sexual harassment is nothing new on college campuses. But Tufts University, which happens to be my alma mater, is experiencing an outbreak of female trouble that goes beyond your run of the mill professors-petting-students issues: Female students are coming forward saying that, while studying in the university's main library, they have found themselves under the gaze of a "dark-skinned, disheveled man with dark hair" who seats himself close, places a random book or magazine in his lap, and then begins masturbating. The Tufts police have located a suspect they believe to be mentally ill and therefore unaware that his behavior was inappropriate; no further legal action was taken and Tufts says it will continue its policy of not requiring any form of identification for entrance to its libraries. Which leads to some difficult questions: Is this in fact sexual harassment? Does action needed to be taken to "protect" students from being subjected to this form of "harassment"? And does one treat the people who have witnessed this public masturbation as not just witnesses but as victims, too?
Only once have I seen someone masturbate in public, on a subway train several years ago. I was the only passenger in the car other than the man in question and, fortunately, I was able to exit at the next stop and wait for the next train to come. But I couldn't help but wonder what would happen to a woman who might get onto that car after me; was I wrong for not doing anything more? I imagined myself grabbing a cop off the street and telling him or her that there was a guy jerking off on the downtown 1 train; I could only imagine the response I might have received.
Meanwhile, Yale University is also continuing to deal with a non-traditional form of sexual harassment, specifically one perpetuated by members of the Zeta Psi chapter, who, as was mentioned before, held up a sign in front of the university's Women's Center reading, "We Love Yale Sluts." (The Women's Center is demanding apologies not only from Zeta Psi, but also from the administration, whom it is urging to take disciplinary action while simultaneously upping the center's budget.) In my mind, words like those hoisted by Zeta Psi fraternity members are just as dangerous, if not more so, than the public exposure occurring at Tufts: The actions of Zeta Psi aren't those by a mentally disabled man, unaware of his actions, but my overly educated, highly privileged young men who are perpetuating hate and harassment with malicious intent.
Public Masturbation A Persistent Problem At Tisch Library [Tufts Daily]
Yale Women's Center Demands Change Over Sign [US News & World Report]