Peer Advocates Campaign Against Street Harassment
Issue   |   Wed, 11/04/2015 - 02:48

Signs bearing messages such as “Respect is an actual compliment” and “I am more than just my body” were placed along Route 9 last week as part of a campaign by the Peer Advocates of Sexual Respect to stop street harassment near campus. Over the course of the week, all but one of the signs went missing.

Along with the signs, the campaign also includes a video in which women shared their experiences with street harassment. The Peer Advocates held a dialogue on street harassment on Oct. 29 in the Women’s and Gender Center and hung posters on harassment in some campus buildings, including dorms and Keefe Campus Center.

“The reason we put up the signs was because there’s nothing you can really do in the moment of it, besides yelling back at somebody — you can’t engage them in conversation,” said Bonnie Drake ’17, a Peer Advocate. “Signs are like a visual disruptor.”

The signs target those who initiate street harassment under the belief that it is not wrong or that they are paying women compliments, Drake said.

“I think that people don’t really recognize that shouting ‘hey, sexy’ or ‘nice ass’ is not what I’m trying to hear at 8:30 in the morning,” Gabriella Rodriguez ’17, another Peer Advocate, said at the dialogue.

Messages on the signs were tested on other students for suitability and impact, according to Drake. After successfully seeking permission from the town through the Office of Student Affairs, the Peer Advocates placed 18 signs along Route 9 from the Keefe Health Center to near Converse Hall on Monday, Oct. 26.

That Tuesday, five of the 18 signs were reported stolen to campus police. According to Drake, nearly all of the stolen signs bore the message “You make me scared to walk home.”

“I think that says something — that that hit a nerve,” she said.

After Halloween, nearly all of the 18 signs were missing. Campus police could not be reached Tuesday evening for comment on the missing signs.

Drake said she got the idea for the campaign after experiencing frequent harassment on her walk back to her dorm in the beginning of the semester.

“I live in the Triangle, and I have to walk home on Route 9 every day, and for the first month and a half of school there wasn’t a single day that I went home that I wasn’t street harassed,” Drake said. “And I got really frustrated with it, especially because … with street harassment, it’s so in the moment that someone just drives up and yells something out their car and keeps driving that you can’t engage them in there, and so I got really frustrated trying to think of something I could do about it.”

Drake had the idea of creating a video in which women students would share their experiences of being harassed on the streets or in town. The purpose of the video was to bring visibility to the problem as well as clarify that harassment is a community problem, according to Drake.

Drake contacted Amanda Collings Vann, the college’s sexual health educator and adviser to the Peer Advocates of Sexual Respect. Vann was supportive of the idea of a video and also recommended putting up signs and posters to expand the initiative.

“They experience a high amount of street harassment, which is pretty typical for women and transgender students,” Vann said in an interview with Amherst Bulletin.

The campus-wide Title IX survey on sexual respect held in 2014 also provided a motivation for the campaign, Drake said. Of Amherst students who responded to the survey, 47 percent of women and 13 percent of men had experienced harassment during their time at the college.

“It’s hard, here, because it’s your home,” Drake said. “You’re being harassed when you’re walking home, or you’re on your campus, you can’t change where you’re going, you just have to deal with that every day.”