Walk This Way: Female students subjected to sexual harassment by construction workers

October 2, 2014

Christina Libre

As Georgetown breaks ground on the many construction projects planned for the next two years, several female students have raised concerns for their personal safety in response to incidents of alleged sexual harassment from construction workers on campus. These complaints have  prompted University administrators to address this problem and devise solutions to better enforce boundaries of behavior for the construction workers on campus. 

“It started over the summer with the Healy Family Student Center. I could hear [workers] talking about me,” Aloysia Jean (COL ‘16) said while recalling her first experience with construction workers catcalling her as she walked through Henle Village. 

The behavior of these workers made Jean so uncomfortable that she later altered her route on her way back to her apartment in order to avoid their inappropriate whispers. “I happened to be going out, so I was dressed nicely,” she said. “I could hear them talking about me and it wasn’t anything shouted at me, but I could feel them looking at me. I purposely chose another route because I knew they were going to talk about me.”

Jean recalled another incident that occurred over the summer while she was working for the  summer housing operations crew. According to Jean, the Office of Residential Living had contracted outside workers to assist the student workers with moving heavy boxes across campus. In order to better coordinate, Jean shared her cell phone number with one of these workers.

“After they left for the day, they thought it was okay to text us, and his friend was trying to get my number,” Jean said. After she declined to give out her personal number to the worker, he continued to ask for other information from Jean, such as her Facebook profile. “He was still pressing on. I didn’t feel comfortable with that,” she said. 

Other female students have also come forward to share their experiences with this type of harassment coming from contracted workers. Marlene Cox (COL ‘16) said that construction workers harass her on a regular basis. 

“At least once a week—it has been pretty bad,” Cox said. “I have actually been dressing down lately because when I was being catcalled, I dressed up those days. When I think about how I have to hide my femininity, it can become very taxing.” 

Cox recalls one of the most recent incidents of construction workers catcalling her. “I was walking past and a worker just said. ‘Hey, hey you.’ He kind of followed and just kept saying, ‘Hey you with the big booty.’”

Cox went on to suggest that this behavior is not limited to construction workers and recounted an incident in which an employee of the University bookstore knocked on the window of the bookstore to get her attention, and proceeded to follow her through the Leavey Center. “He came out of the bookstore and walked, following me, to Bulldog Alley,” Cox said.

According to Title IX Coordinator Rosemary Kilkenny and Director of Student Health Services Carol Day, their offices have not received official complaints about the behavior of construction workers on campus. Kilkenny and Day first heard about these complaints last Friday when Haley Maness (NHS ‘15) brought them forward at a Sexual Assault Working Group meeting. 

“Because the contractors are working on university grounds, they are temporarily considered to be a part of the Georgetown community and must behave as such,” Maness wrote in an email to the Voice. “Street harassment goes against university policy and threatens the university’s safe atmosphere.”

Now that this problem has been made known to University officials, they have begun taking steps to find solutions. “We certainly want to get on top of this matter and take appropriate action. We should not have to tolerate this. This is unacceptable,” Kilkenny said. 

Kilkenny and Vice President for Planning and Facilities Management Robin Morey plan to meet with the construction company managers to set clear boundaries about the way workers interact with students. “We have zero tolerance for this type of behavior. We have written our contractors to reinforce Georgetown University contractual requirements, policies and expectations regarding this issue,” Morey wrote in an email to the Voice.

As of now, the University does not have any official records of these incidents or harassment. Kilkenny stressed the importance of filing reports either through the bias-related incident reporting system, which can be found on the University website, or directly through a Title IX coordinator at the Office of Student Affairs. Jeanne Lorde, the University’s additional Title IX coordinator, was unavailable for comment. 

Neither Cox nor Jean felt they should have reported these incidents to the University. “I just let it go and I kept walking … I don’t want to cost somebody their job,” Cox said. Jean held a different reason for not reporting the incident. “It never even occurred to me that I could report someone for saying something because I have no way of proving it, so I just tried to ignore it and keep on moving,” she said.

Because the University uses multiple contracting companies who employ subcontractors to work on campus, Jean was unable to clearly identify the company affiliation of the workers who allegedly harassed her. “It was very unclear as to what relationship he had with the university… Most of these [construction workers] are nice guys and will say ‘Good morning’ to you, but Georgetown has to choose better contractors,” she said.

Jean believes that the Georgetown bubble effect can create a false sense of security among students. Her interactions with construction workers thus far have only further shattered any illusion of Georgetown as a safe haven. 

“[Harassment] happens on this campus and people tend to forget,” she said. “When those instances break through that facade, it’s just a reminder that just because I am on this campus, that doesn’t mean I am actually safe.”

Additional Reporting by Ryan Greene

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