Women's Groups Use Media Attention on Sexual Harassment to Educate and Encourage Dialogue

In the wake of the highly publicized sexual harassment charge made by Anita Hill against newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, campus women's groups are seizing the opportunity to increase student awareness and stimulate action against sexual harassment at Harvard.

"As a result of the hearings, there is an increased awareness about sexual harassment in the community," says Alexis Toomer '93, a member of the Women's Street Theatre Project. "There is a greater degree of openness in the climate surrounding issues of sexual harassment."

The new projects launched by these groups attempt to bring the issue of sexual harassment closer to the lives of women at Harvard, organizers say.

Own Experiences

The Women's Street Theatre Project, which previously conducted performances on the topic of rape, is now planning to stage special performances concerning sexual harassment.


The 12-woman theatre group creates its scripts based on the members' own experiences, and performs the drama as an ensemble for both students and Cantabrigians, according to Jessye E. Lapenn '93, founding member of the project.

"The Thomas hearings have made sexual harassment a more public thing. It is something all women experience in some way or another," says Ilana S. Ruskay '94, also of the Theatre Project. "We want to bring something that is closer to all of us."

"I'd like to see that this [the hearing] does something. What happened to Anita Hill should be enough to motivate us all," says Kedron V. McDonald '93, co-director of Response, an all-woman peer counseling group. Response counsels women on relationships, harassment, abuse and rape through phone calls and drop-in sessions, says McDonald.

Problems of Speaking Out

A major problem which they are now confronting, members of women's groups say, is that while Hill's charge of sexual harassment has prompted women to recognize the gravity of the offenses, it has simultaneously deterred them from reporting their own cases.

"The Anita Hill case sends a negative message. If a woman does say something, she puts herself up for public scrutiny," says Ruskay. "People will judge her character."

Response offers options to women who report having been sexually harassed, according to McDonald. To make an official report, women can contact Janet A. Viggiani, assistant dean of co-education. Harassment victims can also confront their offender at their own discretion, says McDonald.

Right to Report

"Women have every right and a certain amount of responsibility to report these incidents to the proper authorities," says Toomer.

With their projects, the groups hope to encourage women to voice their experiences of sexual harassment.

"The more cases of sexual harassment, rape and sexual abuse [reported], the more people are going to be challenged to face the issues," says McDonald.

Open communication between men and women about these issues is very important for progress, agrees Toomer.

"Just by talking about these issues, women can become empowered and men can become aware that their comments can sometimes be offenses, that a woman can feel like a piece of meat," she says.

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