December 19, 2001: On the Campus

Sexual aggression, alcohol, and social life
USG report finds undergraduate women worried about harassment and worse

By Liriel Higa ’02

Earlier this year, around 2 a.m. on a Monday morning, I heard the yelling of presumably drunken males in my building. “Great,” I thought, as the sound grew closer. “It’s not even a Thursday or Saturday night.” Then, just to be careful, I locked my door.

A good thing too, because 30 seconds later, one of them rammed into my door with such force that it woke up my next-door neighbor and made me grab for the phone to call public safety. Meanwhile, after laughing uproariously in my hallway, the unknown individuals went down a floor, exited the building, and started yelling obscenities up at our windows. “Open up the f——ing windows, b——s!” one screamed. By the time public safety had arrived, they were, as an officer later informed me, “dancing down the street.”

When I was applying to colleges, I heard among other things that Princeton was an old boys’ club, a bastion of sexism and elitism. But I attended a private, all-girls high school that was derided by some as snobby, conservative, and elitist, and found that, generally speaking, the students were none of those things, so I had learned not to give much credence to such stereotypes. Similarly, my three years at Princeton have been overwhelmingly enjoyable, so the incident this fall came as a shock.

After that experience, it was with great interest that I read a report on women’s issues published this fall by the Undergraduate Student Government (available online at usg). In researching the report, the USG posted a voluntary survey on the Web, which received 230 responses, 56 male and 174 female. Given the informal nature of the survey, the results are not meant to serve as a statistically accurate representation of the student body, but rather a more qualitative reflection of student sentiment.

The report addressed nine areas of interest, including such topics as academics, athletics, counseling, safety, “the Street,” eating disorders, and the Women’s Center. Campus safety, thankfully, was not a critical concern. Women usually feel safe on campus. My friends and I think nothing of walking alone on campus in the middle of the night.

However, sexual aggression – often alcohol-induced – was a serious concern. Half the female respondents reported that sexual harassment occurs on a regular basis at the clubs. While the eating clubs are not the sole source of sexual harassment, the Street does dominate the campus social scene – more than 80 percent of my class joined a club sophomore year — which makes that result especially disturbing.

One respondent to the USG survey wrote that during bicker at one club, women have to give massages to male athletes while they watch porn movies. I have heard stories of women being forced to perform strip-teases during initiations, and at several clubs new members are stripped as they are passed down the stairs — after, no doubt, drinking themselves nearly into a stupor. Alcohol remains a significant aspect of most club initiations.

Although I believe there are many benefits to the Street – good food, primarily, as well as a place to hang out with friends and go dancing on the weekends, I also agree with the report’s recommendation that the university continue to research and test social and dining alternatives. No one – male or female – should feel obligated to join a social setting they are uncomfortable with just because they perceive no other alternatives. Nor should the Street be blamed for being the sole root of sexual aggression and alcohol abuse on campus. Sexual harassment occurs in many arenas, but it is unacceptable all of the time, and we must strive to eliminate it wherever it occurs.

Liriel Higa ’02 is writing her thesis on the effects on the federal government of states’ legalization of medicinal marijuana.

Abhi Raghunathan ’02 on the class jacket debate, now on On the Campus Online.


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