by Morgan Culp
Freedom, friends and fun are what many students assume college will be for them. Catcalling and street harassment are not things that students tend to come prepared for, but often a reality that some University of Tampa students face on campus—men as well as women.
“It happens often here [in Tampa,]” said Payton Mead, freshman biochemistry major, who moved to Tampa from New York. “It’s normally guys yelling at me from in their cars. But when it happens in person, it is a lot scarier because they are right there on the sidewalk with you.”
She said the experience was unfortunately something she was already familiar with, living in a big city.
According to some UT freshmen, much of the catcalling and street harassment on UT’s campus is by non-UT students, due to UT being an open campus.
“A guy tried to ‘air-hump’ me in Vaughn and he kept making sexual gestures at me,” said an anonymous UT freshman. “But mainly guys yell at me about what I’m wearing when I get catcalled.”
Some of the UT women that have been catcalled were too uncomfortable sharing the specific details of what was said to them.
Mead said she tries to block out and forget the words that are shouted at her.
The anonymous student said that she wears headphones while she walks on campus in order to prevent hearing street harassment.
Fifteen-year veteran of UT Campus Safety, Officer Edwin Torres said he has not heard a complaint about street harassment in years. He does urge students to be safe and cautious of non-students on UT’s campus.
“When students are being catcalled, I advise them to not give the harasser attention,” Torres said. “Try to walk away first, but if they persist, students should be calling [Campus Safety].”
Research done by the ILR School at Cornell University found that 85% of women experience street harassment before the age of 17.
Most of the research on catcalling and street harassment focuses on women. Both men and women can experience this act, even on college campuses.
Sophomore biology major, Michael Petillo, was catcalled in the spring of his freshman year. Something he said he had never expected to experience as a new student.
“I think I had a bit of a different experience being a male,” Petillo said. “A man who didn’t go to UT yelled flirtatious remarks at me while I was on campus. He kept circling around me [in his car] and I was very uncomfortable until he left.”
In case verbal harassment turns physical, Campus Safety’s Torres supports UT students’ right to carry pepper spray on and off campus.
According to the 2019 Florida Statutes, a person can carry self-defense chemical spray (including pepper spray) and it does not have to be concealed.
“I honestly don’t know what the [pepper spray/mace] policy is at UT, but we never press the issue,” said Torres. “If somebody is about to attack you, you need to defend yourself.”
Even though some UT freshman are concerned about their safety, there is not a proper way to report catcalling. If the harassment progresses to the point when a student feels in danger, they should call Campus Safety at 813-257-7777.
Morgan Culp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org