The Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP) installed a display on the third floor of the Memorial Union Building (MUB) on Friday, March 17, to kick off their street harassment awareness and prevention campaign. By the end of the day, the installment was dismantled after receiving negative reactions and feedback from university administration and students, according to Dean of Students Ted Kirkpatrick.
According to SHARPP’s director, Amy Culp, SHARPP posts a display in the MUB every year to “help with education about important topics that relate to sexual violence, on campus and beyond.”
Jordyn Haime, a freshman journalism major and SHARPP community educator, approached SHARPP for assistance in fostering her project on street harassment and developing it into a full campaign.
“I experienced [street harassment] and witnessed it way too much on campus,” Haime said. With help and guidance from the media outreach coordinator of SHARPP, Connie DiSanto, Haime created a short survey to gather statistics from UNH students on their experience with street harassment.
One of the flyers on display in the MUB defined gender-based street harassment as “unwanted comments, gestures and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent [that] is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression or sexual orientation.”
The survey circulated on social media and was available for students to voluntarily take in the MUB during SHARPP’s tabling hours and asked students questions such as “Have you ever experienced street harassment?” and if so, “Did you report this street harassment?”
According to Culp, the data that Haime collected reflected similar percentages to those found on national surveys.
Along with answering the survey’s prompted questions, students were also given the opportunity to submit a quote of a specific time they had experienced street violence. The installment in the MUB included panels of defined “street harassment,” and included information found in Haime’s snapshot survey, including direct quotes from students who had experienced street harassment at UNH. The panels also highlighted the resources that are available to students who experience street harassment.
This installment was intended to be on display throughout April, which is “Sexual Assault Awareness Month” and coincide with “International Anti-Street Harassment Week,” which is April 2-8.
According to Culp, DiSanto and Haime excluded strongly worded panels that were thought to potentially cause controversy. DiSanto also informed the MUB of the concept of the campaign prior to its installation.
“The installation went up, and the staff was still prepared to make adjustments, or temper, certain quotes, as needed,” Culp said. On the same day of the wall’s installation, SHARPP’s office was notified by the MUB that they were being told by administration that the wall was offensive. After DiSanto and Culp came to an agreement with Kirkpatrick, an agreement was made that four of the panels that were found most offensive would be replaced. However, when SHARPP staff members went back to the MUB to alter the display accordingly, they found that the wall was already being taken down by MUB staff.
On Friday, Culp and DiSanto accompanied Haime to a meeting with Kirkpatrick, who had the final say in the removal of the display.
According to Kirkpatrick, multiple members of the UNH community voiced concerns that the language in some of the placards was beyond what the reasonable person would expect to see in a public space.
“Put another way, while I am certain that this was not the intent of the display, the fact is that the display elicited strong negative reactions from some who saw it,” Kirkpatrick said. “Importantly, the university does not shrink from its loyalty to the principle of free speech but the university does ask members of its community to respect a sense of decorum and civility in order that heated debate about important and pressing issues may obtain.”
An article posted on WMUR’s webpage stated that UNH officials told WMUR that the display “did not adhere to established standards for material posted on the walls of common spaces where profane/vulgar language is prohibited.” However, Haime said that neither she, nor SHARPP, were made aware of any such standards when their plan for the display was pitched. According to Haime, the article on WMUR was the first they’d heard of this.
Additionally, open house season for admitted students and their families began last week and, according to Kirkpatrick, some of the “language used on the MUB wall placards was not suitable for young children or for those members of our publics and our campus community who have strong personal convictions that may originate from religious, spiritual or ethnic roots.”
Kirkpatrick felt another matter of concern with the display spoke to the importance of “strong research design when attempting to measure the true incidence and prevalence of any human behavior.”
Kirkpatrick said that he appreciates Haime’s commitment to the matter and feels he and others would “find such a study to be useful in determining the extent to which our students report such unwelcome attention in their everyday lives on campus.”
However, Haime said that during her meeting with Kirkpatrick, she did not feel that he was “on [SHARPP’s] side.”
“Silencing the issue of street harassment is telling me and other students that these stories don’t matter and that the issue doesn’t matter to them,” Haime said. “These are real things said by students… [SHARPP] is trying to [provide] a platform so the voices [of those who have experienced street harassment] can be heard and we can start a discussion about it.”
The MUB has replaced SHARPP’s wall with a display of contributions students have made to the community, according to Haime. She feels that this is ironic because “that was what [she] was trying to do.”
“SHARPP continues to support [Haime’s] creation of this awareness campaign and giving her, and other victims of street harassment, a voice,” Culp said. SHARPP will continue their street harassment campaign with posters displayed around campus and used on April 13 during their anti-violence rally and walk.
Confidential SHARPP advocates are available to those who have been affected by any form of sexual/relationship violence 24-hours a day, 365-days a year, by calling (603) 862-7233 (SAFE).