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Would Betsy DeVos think catcalling was sexual harassment?


Secretary of Education Betsy Devos at GMU
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos listens during her introduction to speak about campus sexual assault and enforcement of Title IX, the federal law that bars discrimination in education on the basis of gender, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, at George Mason University Arlington, Va., campus. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Circa Campus: Students Speak Out
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos delivered her first major speech to a campus last week, speaking about campus sexual assault and enforcement of Title IX, the federal law that bars discrimination in education on the basis of gender at George Mason University Arlington, Virginia.

Her underlying theme, “seek public feedback and combine institutional knowledge, professional expertise and the experiences of students to replace the current approach with a workable, effective and fair system,” was lost in the mix of political jockeying and the 24-hour news cycle.

#StopBetsy protesters
Victims of sexual violence and their supporters gather to protest before a speech by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, at George Mason University Arlington, Va., campus. DeVos plans to end the Obama administration's rules for investigating allegations of sexual violence on campus. DeVos said "The era of 'rule by letter' is over," as she announced plans to review and replace the way colleges and university handle investigations. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

What most students really heard was:

"If everything is harassment, then nothing is."
Betsy Devos

But was DeVos just asking for a more definitive approach to understanding and defining sexual harassment on campuses? Circa Campus wanted to find out what students thought.

We decided to see what people thought about catcalling. Is it sexual harassment?

The majority of students we talked to at the King's College in New York resoundingly said yes. But their stories were pretty graphic and what concerned us was that the guys we talked to couldn't really decide what would be the best thing to do if they saw a woman being harassed with catcalls. So, everyone has a different version of what they believe is really an aggressive catcall.

Some students were very split on the definition and didn't know if all verbal harassment was the same. Most students on campus we talked to are fearful that small rhetoric or discussions that seem small can turn into violence or stalking.

No Catcall Zones
An official-looking street sign declaring "No Catcalling Anytime" is posted in Brooklyn's Grand Plaza area, Thursday, April 16, 2015, in New York. A nonprofit company called Feminist Apparel says it hopes to have at least one sign up in every borough by week's end. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Around 65 percent of women in the US have been catcalled, according to a nationally representative study by Stop Street Harassment in 2014. Yet catcalling is a problem that is often looked over and pushed aside. The interviews show what both sides say and also touch on the program created by Princeton University which is described as a “violence prevention program” that bemoans “toxic masculinity” and is an “accountability program for students accused of sexual misconduct under Title IX. This program seeks to target aggressive male behavior whether it be on frat row or in the classroom. The counselors on campus would seek to add a new thread in the discussion of sexual harassment and help men struggling with understanding the definition.

Most of our students never thought this kind of street harassment was a larger issue until they came to college. Some think programs like the one at Princeton University should be used on many if not all college campuses. It would be interesting if programs like this would be used on a city level.

So what do you think? Should programs like the one at Princeton be used to stop sexual harassment on campuses and how did the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos do on her speech?

Join the discussion, Click here and voice your opinion to Circa Campus


(Circa Campus is a partnership with GenFKD)

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