Elon University hosted its first annual “Combating the Culture of Cat-Calling” event Wednesday evening. It was a panel and discussion that aimed to develop both long-term and immediate solutions to sexual harassment and sexual violence.
The event was organized by senior Julia Lescarbeau. Elon’s SPARKS peer education program and CrossRoads Sexual Assault Response and Resource Center also co-sponsored the event.
Discussion topics ranged from the Title IX laws in North Carolina to the sexual assault culture on Elon's campus.
One of the panelists was Dan Faill, director of Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL). "I think we have a culture of harassment here at Elon," Faill said, referencing specifics examples he's seen, such as painting coolers or expecting sex in exchange for an invite to a party or fraternity banquet. "It's important for students to speak up."
The panel also featured Joe Polich, an attorney from the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCCASA), Camilla Brewer, an assistant for the Gender and LGBTQIA Center at Elon, Carla Ugboro, the Title IX Coordinator for Elon and two Elon seniors.
One of the students on the panel talked about her experiences living off-campus and not feeling safe around some of her neighbors. "It's just disappointing," said senior Emma Warman, the student expert on on harassment and assault abroad. "I should be able to walk home and not have to worry if this guy is sitting on his porch."
Several students from the panel and the audience talked about experiences of cat-calling both on- and off-campus, saying this left them feeling unsafe.
Warman said there could be better conversation around this topic at Elon. "We do go to a school in a bubble, so what could really happen?" Warman said. "Well, a lot could happen."
Brewer said it's a conversation of privilege. She recommends asking questions like, "Why did you feel it was OK to touch me that way?" and "What makes it OK? Why do people think it's OK?"
A big point brought up was that cat-calling isn't covered under Title IX laws. Elon's Title IX Coordinator and the NCCASA attorney both said it depends on how many times an issue happens and how extreme the incidences get. "If you accept that catcalling is a part of Elon culture or everyday life," Polich said. "That allows that value to start building upon other fictitious values. It says that women are here to be objectified and that men can judge them, that that's an OK role to take."
While issues of cat-calling are covered under Elon's Student Conduct, the panel all agreed that social pressures could prevent people from reporting incidents. Faill says women in particular feel like bringing up issues would lead to no results. "That's what hurts me, especially as a father," Faill said. "That my daughter might grow up and think her voice doesn't matter. Her voice, and your voices, matter."
As the panel concluded, students and staff from the audience reflected on their own experiences with cat-calling at Elon, and were in agreement that the conversation shouldn't end with this event. This starts with every member of the Elon community, said Becca Bishopric, coodinator for Health Promotion at Elon. "I have to take responsibility for being a part of this rape culture," Bishopric said. "I know they didn't mean to harass or assault someone, but pointing out someone's actions can make them realize they are playing into this culture. Especially for leaders on this campus."
If you are looking to talk about identity-based bias, discrimination or harassment as well as sexual violence, relationship violence and stalking, call Safeline, Elon's confidential phone line for Elon community members, at 336-278-3333.