As FutureVU plans move forward on Vanderbilt’s campus, students have raised concerns about increased street harassment or “catcalling” from construction workers.
Katherine Deegan and Zahra Biabani are students who are working to gather more data on the extent of this issue, having been impacted by street harassment themselves. Both indicated that they have been harassed on campus several times by construction workers. Biabani shared that she felt it was most common around West End where Vanderbilt is constructing the new Nicholas S. Zeppos College.
“I felt a lot of things: anger, fear, shame, and discomfort come to mind,” said Deegan. “For women, I think there is nothing more frustrating than being degraded and objectified and knowing you cannot speak up because if you do, you may be further harassed, raped, or killed.”
As a result, the students created a survey which they have informally distributed throughout campus. Out of 147 female responses, 53.7 percent indicated that they were verbally harassed by construction workers on campus. Of this group, 68.4 percent have experienced it one to three times, and 25.3 percent have experienced it four to six times. 6.3 percent of these respondents indicated that they had experienced street harassment from construction workers more than 10 times.
Once they have gathered more information, Deegan will draft a letter to Interim Chancellor Susan R. Wente, as well as collect signatures calling for action. They believe that Vanderbilt plays a critical role in this issue and should take action to ensure the safety of its students.
“Vanderbilt administration is hiring these workers to construct new buildings, and it is their responsibility to ensure that these men are behaving as they should be,” said Deegan.
Biabani believes that education should be part of that responsibility. “Since Vanderbilt contracts these workers, they should educate them on issues of harassment and catcalling. Although it is unfortunate that people have to be taught not to do something that seems obviously wrong, it seems necessary,” said Biabani. “We should feel safe to walk on our own campus without the fear of getting stared at by a group of men or called out by a group of men.”
Both students spoke about the importance of this issue beyond the scope of Vanderbilt’s campus, citing the perpetuation of systemic misogyny, toxic masculinity, and fear. Deegan noted that the Vanderbilt administration and student body should work together to actively fight these issues, and current efforts are falling short. She hopes to help facilitate this change.
“Women get killed all the time in situations like these. I can literally feel myself going into fight-or-flight when it happens because I get so terrified that things will escalate,” said Deegan. “And these men know that.”
Students can access the survey through the following link. If you have experienced street harassment, you can call (615) 343-9875 or email [email protected] to report any issues with construction workers.