Outlook held its second Speaker’s Corner of the semester on Tuesday, November 7, titled “Responding to Sexual Harassment on Campus”. Career Services Officer and Assistant Professor of Psychology at the American University of Beirut, Sinine Nakhle, moderated the event.
Nakhle started the discussion with a reference to a sexual harassment incident that took place at Columbia University in New York City in 2014, using it as an example of how the issue was dealt with by the university at the time. The university implemented workshops and hosted talks to raise awareness about sexual harassment.
Nakhle highlighted the main difference between these cases back then and now, with emphasis on the fact that the Title IX policy is one of the many different campus platforms available to us today.
The first question that Nakhle raised to the audience, which was mainly comprised of women, was “Do you feel safe on campus?”
Speakers agreed that sexual harassment as well as bullying of any kind are mainly an online phenomenon. Many attributed this to the dehumanizing effect of the internet and the reservoir of social groups online, including “AUB Teachers/Courses Guru”, which includes more than 18,000 members from the AUB community.
“It’s much easier not to let yourself feel empathy when the other person is just a name on Facebook that you don’t know,” said Nakhle.
Other more ominous Facebook groups were mentioned by the speakers. “AUB Uncensored Guru”, with an online population of more than 650 members, was a topic of discussion. The group was created to provide space for “uncensored” opinions and faced accusations of homophobic content, rape culture, and sexism.
Nakhle asked audience members if they are members of the notorious group. Many replied that they are not due to the offensive nature of the group as well as the intentional nature to harm others while guising itself as a platform for raw humor.
Speakers listed the various methods they use to deal with sexual harassment. One speaker stated that she simply does not respond. Another emphasized the need to document everything and to present the case to Title IX.
The topic of change then came up. Nakhle asked audience members to share experiences in which they felt like they changed a person’s stance on issues of sexual harassment. One speaker said she applies what she has learned, by calmly explaining to the person why their comments or jokes are harmful. Ultimately if the person is not being cooperative, the speaker said she reverts to public shaming.
Another speaker mentioned her experience at a family lunch. “I gave them the facts and then continued eating, and they all went quiet.”
Victims of sexual harassment tend to seek advice from friends firsthand, as Nakhle put it.
“You as a friend now have a responsibility in how you are dealing with this by asking the right questions, and referring them to the right resources.” Nakhle also stressed on the importance of student participation in Title IX.
Nakhle highlighted the vital role of platforms that can help induce change, including clubs, social media groups, and newspapers.
The role of students in tackling sexual harassment, according to Nakhle, is just as important as the administration’s. One speaker said, “What we can do is to continuously open the conversation, every chance we get, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing. Dialogues are great, but the right to have your body be safe on campus is a right to forcefully take.”