Distanced learning reveals dangers for women on campus

a woman at a computer pushes a man away as he approaches. pixabay

In some ways, not sharing space is a relief

Content Warning: This article contains discussion of sexual harrassment and suggestion of sexual assault.

No in-person classes, no hallways to walk down, no libraries to study in, no gym to work out in, no parties to hang out at – these are all things us students are missing this year. Yet, many students are still very happy to be off campus and in the safety of their homes, away from the nasty looks, snide comments, harassment, and shaming.

Campus, for some, is a safe place and a home base, somewhere where one spends the majority of their time, sheds many stress tears, feels comfortable to speak up or ask questions, and be safe. For others, though, campus is an arena that is the host to a battle each and every day. As a young woman, I found that my first year on campus was eye-opening to say the least.

I recall when, in one of my first Political Science lectures, I spoke up and asked a question about intersectionality and liberal democracy – I immediately felt the eyes of all the men in the classroom on me, getting cut off as they mansplained the “real concept we were discussing.” I was not confused about that at all – rather, I felt there was a greater issue that needed to be addressed. Yet the man who cut me off in class that day filled his ego at my detriment – and looking back, he didn’t even say anything overly intelligent.

After that experience, I, someone who was always unapologetically myself growing up, became quiet for the fear of judgement. I felt muted in classrooms, in the library, in study groups, and all around campus. Women on campus face this issue on a regular basis, because many men feel as though their voices are more important than ours.

When classes were announced to be online this year, I was initially concerned about my grades decreasing and the quality of my education lessening. However, I quickly realized that the results were quite the opposite, as I could finally ask questions and participate in classroom conversations without that fear of judgement, interruption, and disrespect.

Online learning has removed much of the space for mansplaining, annoyed looks, and the minimization of women’s voices in the classroom – and that has provided women, alongside other marginalized students, a greater chance at a voice. 

The other aspect of online learning that I have found positive is that each person is held accountable for the things that they are saying, as the professor and other students are hearing what one has to say. There are no more whispered conversations to a friend about “how stupid that persons question was,” “my guy, I can tell you why she wore that outfit to do her presentation…the prof probably loves it,” or how “doing a presentation on modern feminism is stupid because women already have enough rights.” If you can believe it, these are all are things that I have actually heard my classmates say. If those men’s comments had been heard by the professor, they would likely (hopefully) have received a “talking to,” but with in-person classes, comments like that just slip under the radar and allow things like toxic masculinity, misogyny, slut shaming, and ignorance to continue dominating campus.

Even outside of the classroom, campus can be a daunting place for a young woman. For example, I recall that one day in the library, I was alone and studying for a midterm I had the next morning when a man walked up to me and decided that he wanted to chat. I, being the extroverted person that I am, took out my earbuds and engaged in the conversation he had proposed. After about five minutes of small talk, I had asked to be left alone because I had to study, to which I was ignored. I was far too kind to this individual, as I set aside my needs and feelings and kept talking because I did not want to upset him. After another five minutes, I requested again to be left alone so that I could study, and with a heavy sigh and roll of the eyes I was told that I didn’t need to study because I wouldn’t need the degree once I am married and “have a husband taking care of me.” I began to laugh as I thought this was a joke, and when I realized he was serious. I told him how disrespectful and sexist he was being, stood up and demanded that I be left alone. He walked away that time. I was lucky he wasn’t in a different mood that day.

Finally, university party culture is ugly and scary as a young woman.

I recall the first day I went to a dorm party. I walked in, immediately overwhelmed by the amount of people and the smell of sweat and spilled alcohol. I decided that drinking that day was not the best idea, because I wanted to take in my surroundings and be prepared if I were to find myself in a vulnerable position. Still, after a few hours I was in the middle of a dance circle filled with drunk girls and, desperate for friends in a new city, I began taking shots with them. After that, I noticed that as the men in the room drank more, the more they thought it was acceptable to put a hand on my lower back, chest, or ass as they walked by. I stuck with the girls I called friends for the night, and they encouraged me to go talk to the cute boy across the room who had been staring at me all night. I walked over and said hello. He was kind and respectful when I declined his offer to sit on his lap, which was shocking to me compared to the other men I had encountered that night. Yet, as I learned later, the respect and kindness didn’t last long.

Online learning has removed a significant portion of the challenges, fears, and dangers for young women on campus. These aspects of campus are ugly, and as young women, we should not have to think about these things as we walk through the same hallways as our male peers.

So, when we return to campus, what role are you going to play in keeping young women as safe and comfortable as they would be at home?

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