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What to do if you face harassment on campus

harassment
People past a banner reading in Corsican language "You are not alone" on the Corsica dock of the Ile de la Cite, by the river Seine, in Paris on July 5, 2020. Source: Francois Guillot/AFP

Harassment is a broad term covering unwelcome attention, be it verbal or physical. Though the nature and intensity of the attack may vary, they should be recognised and reported accordingly.

With the rise in COVID-19 cases, for example, we saw a rise in racist attacks against Asian international students abroad. Muslim students are targeted after race-based terror attacks. Even in the more inclusive higher education hubs, racial microaggressions are still commonplace.

Some survivors fear the backlash or want to avoid reliving their trauma, especially if the harasser is a high-profile individual. At the same time, The Tab UK’s survey found that reports to universities have more than doubled in the past few years, suggesting that survivors are becoming more emboldened to come forward.

If your safety is being compromised in this way on campus, it is important that you take proper action. Reporting your harasser goes beyond seeking justice — by speaking up, you could be preventing them from hurting other students, thereby playing your part in protecting the campus community. Universities with ethical support systems have processes in place to address harassment. Here’s how you go about seeking help.

harassment

Harassment can leave you confused and upset, which is why it’s important to confide in a trusted friend. Source: Samuel Corum/Getty Images/AFP

Consult a trusted friend

If you believe you have been harassed on campus, the first thing you should do is tell someone you can trust. Express the incident to them in as many detail as possible. You will comfort knowing you are not alone, and you will have a corroborating voice when the investigation is furthered.

Confront your harasser

This step may not be for everyone; it depends heavily on the nature of your harassment, and how much it has affected you. Consider writing an honest message to the harasser, letting them know that they have made you uncomfortable and you will not accept that behaviour in the future. Draw clear boundaries then keep a copy of the message as proof that you tried to handle the matter personally before bringing it up to the authorities.

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Universities should be safe zones for all, and speaking up about harassment will contribute to this. Source: Damien Meyer/AFP

Check university policy

Progressive institutions recognise that the power dynamics at university are easily manipulated, and will therefore take harassment complaints against faculty members seriously. However, complaints against students may be handled differently. So before you bring the matter up to campus authorities, check the rules and find out how such matters are typically dealt with.

“There’s clearly ambiguity in that arena, so universities should focus on defining what’s acceptable and what’s not,” says Professor James Campbell Quick, who teaches leadership and organisational behaviour at the University of Texas at Arlington. You can get around this ambiguity by noting your account, witnesses, and evidence for future reference. Documenting your harassment will keep your account consistent, which is important in inciting further action.

Seek professional help

Once you have a clear picture of university policy, it’s time to launch a formal complaint. Approach the university counsellor for advice on how to proceed with your complaint, or see a psychologist to unpack the incident.

If your university will not act on your complaint of abuse, you are well within your rights to bring the matter up with the police or external support groups. Universities should be safe zones where every student can pursue an education regardless of gender, race, or appearance. Stay strong and know there are people to help you cope and overcome this experience.

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