Female students threatened by campus attitudes

To the Editor:

You’d never peg me as someone bursting with school spirit and a genuine love for good ole Ephraim, but I do have my moments of bragging about Williams. Most recently, I was extolling both the level of safety that women enjoy on this campus, in our freedom to go where we choose without necessarily being accompanied, and the respect afforded to our intelligent and capable women by the community.

Well, scratch that. Forget I said anything. I don’t walk long distances in the dark anymore, nor do I enter a building without instantly scanning for danger embodied in a male form. I am not overreacting or being hypervigilant; I am responding quite reasonably to recent events that threaten the well-being of women (and indeed, everyone) on this campus.

Shall I recapitulate? I speak of things like the recent conviction of a male sophomore on charges of indecent sexual assault and battery against a woman who no longer attends this school. Or perhaps I refer to the utterly offensive spectacle of Williams’ own festival of degradation, namely the Singled Out escapade during Winter Carnival. I certainly respond in rage and with support to the anonymous woman who bravely voiced her experience with sexual assault in last week’s Record.

This entire issue was made quite clear to me a few weeks ago when I was walking next to Baxter around dinnertime. A crowd of men burst out of the building, guffawing and slapping each other on the back about some incredibly funny joke. I finally deciphered the cause of their mirth: the poster put up by the Health Center which depicts a distressed woman, her head in her hands, sitting in bed next to a passed-out man. The text beneath the picture reads, “He’ll get over his hangover. She’ll never be the same.” These men boasted to each other, “Yeah, she’ll never be the same! That’s right!” ostensibly referring to the incredible sexual experience she’d had while being raped. My first response was anger, then an intense fear which spurred me to hurry away. For what stopped me from being next?

I do not know what to do about this issue. I applaud the strong and capable voices, such as Caroline Messmer’s opinion piece in last week’s Record, in which she attempted to raise awareness about the still-subordinate status of women on the Williams campus. I’ll work with the currently struggling Williams Feminist Alliance or other women-friendly groups. I’ll try to celebrate this oft-castigated (more than) half of the human species in any way I can.

But I don’t know how to protect us, how to make it safe to walk from place to place and carry on conversations with whomever we might please. I am left feeling disempowered and hopeless and more than a bit resigned to fear. So if you see someone shuffling around campus in a coat that resembles a compost pile, that’s me. I’m just trying to hide from my body, from the object that more than anything else threatens my well-being.

Megan Bott ’00

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