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“I have rarely ridden what I call the “undergrad buses” (the Brown 5, for instance) and not been harassed in some form or another.  (Grad and Family Housing, Lamoine Village in particular, is mostly served by different buses than those that stop at all the undergrad campus housing, so I usually ride buses on which I’m surrounded by student-parents, [often elderly] Macomb residents, and grad students.  In general, there tends to be less people on these buses, and thus, less noise or rowdiness.  I do not mean to imply that undergrad = chaos.  It has been my personal experience, as someone who has been both an undergrad and a grad at WIU and has lived in undergrad and grad housing, that the “undergrad” buses have far more incidents in general, and alcohol often plays a role.  I’m sure it has happened, but I have never witnessed severely physical or verbal violence/incidents or highly intoxicated individuals on the “grad” buses, but I witness this regularly on the “undergrad” buses.  I’m certain–in fact, I’ve read and conducted research that proves it–that these incidents and issues are not representative of most undergrads, but they are often used to characterize all undergrads.)

Anyway.  As an overweight black female student at a predominantly white school, I am frequently publicly crapped on by groups of skinny white male students on the undergrad buses, especially skinny white male students who are drunk.  I will board the bus and overhear an awful foreshadowing of what’s to come, like one guy saying to another, “I dare you to talk to [hit on] that fat black chick” or “I bet you won’t mess with HER [because big black chicks are so…].”  Then the “brave” one in the group will often approach me, and some have even groped me or put their arms around me and pretended that they are being kind or trying to genuinely show interest in me and get my phone number.

Once I had a group who I overheard having this type of conversation (I think there must be something about alcohol that makes some students think that other students can’t possibly hear them!).  They didn’t say anything to me directly, and I pretended to not be paying attention and faced in a different direction then they were, though we were all sitting next to one another.  The “brave” one would lean over every few seconds and and put his arm almost around me, but not quite enough to touch me, while his friends took pictures — which I have no doubt ended up on Facebook or the like.  I know that it’s not just my race and/or gender that’s often at play here, but my being overweight as well.  The intersection, I think, of race, gender, and weight is most important, because in this society being of color = unworthy/less pretty, being female my body is public property for males to use as they wish, and being fat = unworthy, unpretty, and my body is an object asking for torture since I’ve clearly tortured it myself.

Another common incident is what I call “exoticizing.”  As a black girl or a black fat girl, I do not fit the white/thin standard of beauty that we have in this country.  Thus, my being supposedly exotic or an other is my claim to fame, the only thing that makes me attractive or worthy of attention.  Some white guys will approach me on the bus, often code switching to (what they think is) African American Vernacular English aka Black English or Ebonics (which is, bi the gay, RULE BASED and VALID, like EVERY DIALECT — ask a linguist!), and say stuff like, “What is up with you, girl?  I like big black girls, you know?  I wanna talk to you.”  Again, like the incident above, this is usually preceded by the guys consulting with one another and daring each other to do this to me, to see how funny it would be to hit on, perhaps ever sleep with, the OTHER.”

As college-educated, white men, these individuals are probably the essence of privilege. And, they have been told by their media and lifestyles that people who do not fit into their category are not equals. They may not even realize that they are thinking within a privileged framework (1, 2, & 3). This privilege has caused some men to think lowly of other groups, especially black women (3).

This can give them a sense of power that they feel the need to exert on others. Their behavior has never been checked, so they do not see the fault in acting in these ways (4). This has has led to the ever-present street harassment- harassment such as honking, cat-calling, and the like. Organizations have been created, such as iHollaback and Stop Street Harassment have been created to address this worldwide issue.

I would suggest that you confront their actions, which I realize is easier said than done. Link 7 provides several different strategies that may be of use to you. Also, contacting the bus company and informing them of this prevalence or writing a letter to the school newspaper would reach a wider range of people.

1. A man learning about street harassment

2. The Duke Lacrosse team rape case

3. Study about white men’s hostility towards black women

4. BBC report on why men harass

5. Women in Mumbai, India reacting to street sexual harassment

6. Men who are addressing the street harassment problem

7. Strategies for dealing with street harassment directed towards you or as a bystander

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