The Danger of Sexism on College Campuses


I never fully understood the dangers of sexism until I started living on a college campus.

My first experience with blatant sexism occurred in one of my business classes, all of which were composed of a clear majority of male students. In my largest business class, for every four male students, there were only two females. The problem became clearer when one male guest lecturer attended our class and made a joke about how men will claim to go out to Home Depot for wood and will come back with a plank of wood, while women will claim to go out for a scarf and will come back with a scarf, handbag and dress. Hilarious, right? But I told myself that maybe he just didn’t know his audience.

The next week, there was a new guest lecturer. He came to class early to meet all of the students — or rather, all of the male students. He mingled and introduced himself to all the men in the class, shaking hands and talking industry. I waited and waited for him to make himself available to the women in the class, to at least one female student. Finally, he did. He complimented one young woman on the color of her sweater. He said it reminded him of his mother. But maybe he was just being friendly.

Then it was time for our big group project of the semester. We had to create our own business plan, and I was placed in a group with one other woman and four men. My professor, a woman herself, came over to assign us each our roles. She needed someone for finance, so she asked each of the four men, completely ignoring the other young woman and me. One guy offered himself for the role, saying he could “totally do that.” Once the professor walked away, I jokingly said, “You wouldn’t want me doing finance, anyway; I suck at math.” I ended up having a math class with that same finance man later. He was failing the class. I had a 103% average. So why was he so confident in himself, and why was I so doubtful?

Then I had a group project for a philosophy class with one other woman and a man. The woman and I each created five slides and presented for 10 minutes each. The man had one slide, half-full of incorrect information and half-full of bullet points that he copied and pasted from our previous slides. My professor complimented us afterward, saying, “It seems like you all did a good job splitting it up equally.”

Later on, in a math class, I sat next to a man who would always ask for help with the worksheets, and I was glad to help since we were encouraged to do partner work. However, he always felt the need to ask another man the same question after I just helped him. They were usually wrong.

Of course, this problem is not unique to Fordham. Things like this happen at almost every other university in the country. The problem is that we are not taught to expect better. I remember asking friends who attended different universities if they thought they had ever experienced sexism on campus. They all said no. I shared my stories with them, and suddenly, we were talking for hours about how they had all gone through similar experiences.

A friend from the University of Rhode Island explained how a man sitting next to her in her math class would insist on checking over her equation answers completely unprompted. He was almost always looking for mistakes in her work. She was a math major, having taken AP Calculus and upper-level math classes all throughout high school.

There was a friend from Long Island University who was carrying a rose back to her dorm room while she talked on the phone with her mother. A male student started harassing her, yelling, “Is that for me?” and becoming increasingly angry when she did not respond.
A friend from Stony Brook University described a professor who walked over to a female student when she raised her hand asking for help on a question. Instead of helping the student, he just gave her the answer to the test, rubbing her back and saying, “Don’t say I never did anything good for you.”

There was the time I sat in class and listened to a fellow classmate joke with his friend about consent, saying, “What are we supposed to do? Check-in multiple times?”

The worst part, by far, about the blatant sexism on college campuses is the rampant sexual assault and harassment that occurs and goes unpunished. One of the most commonly cited statistics is that one in five college women will be sexually assaulted during their time at school.

This issue is well known. It is talked about in speeches. But in reality, little has been done to solve this issue. Colleges’ reporting processes have not improved. I know that I, along with plenty of other college women, would not know what to do if I were ever to experience sexual assault or harassment. I know I could talk to a clergy member confidentially, or I could turn to a teacher, resident assistant or counselor. But those “solutions” rarely ever bring justice. The next step is to file a Title IX report, a long and arduous process that rarely ever punishes the assailant and more often places the victim in dangerous and uncomfortable situations. Unfortunately, I’ve met plenty of women in college who have been sexually assaulted and harassed. I don’t know any who have been delivered the justice they deserve.

I am sick of hearing about improved counseling services and mandatory reporters when these reports never seem to lead anywhere. I am sick of hearing about the men who are falsely accused by women when statistically, that situation is an incredible rarity compared to the women who remain silent or dismissed.

I’m glad that the conversation around sexual assault and harassment is opening up, but that is simply not enough. It is time for society to become comfortable punishing the men who commit these heinous crimes.