Many female college students have experienced harassment on town roads during their time in Middlebury.
Although there are systems in place to deal with these incidents once reported, silence often surrounds this issue. Students tend not to report these incidents.
In June, Public Safety reported to the college community that a teenage girl who was not a college student running near Porter Hospital was harassed when a car with two 20-something men pulled up alongside her and asked for directions. The passenger grabbed her arm before she was able to get away.
A Middlebury student, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Campus a similar story. While running near South Street, a pickup truck with male passengers approached her, and a man in the back seat rolled down the window and flashed her.
“They didn’t stop, but I was very rattled from the entire experience, and was afraid they would come back. I was fully aware that I was far enough out that there would be no one to help me if I found myself in a dangerous situation,” she said.
The student also told The Campus that she has been followed on multiple occasions while running in Middlebury, once by a man on a bike.
“I do not run there anymore because I am afraid for my safety, which is a huge bummer because it is a beautiful route,” she said.
Four female students shared similar stories with The Campus.
They shared experiences of walking down College Street, relaying moments they were catcalled and harassed. Although this is commonplace in many cities and towns, it is perhaps unexpected in idyllic Middlebury, Vermont.
“Being catcalled at Middlebury feels different than being catcalled in a city because the population is so much smaller — if I’m alone, there aren’t as many people to potentially witness something and step in,” said another student, who wished to remain anonymous.
“Living closer to town this year, I feel like I’ve been catcalled on my street and then they see me go into my house, which is scary and unsettling,” she said.
It is because of Middlebury’s small size, though, that the college and town can take steps to eliminate these incidents. But students must first feel comfortable reporting these incidents.
None of the students interviewed by The Campus have ever filed a report.
How to Report
Even when incidents like this occur off campus and involve perpetrators who are unaffiliated with the college, students can still report them to Public Safety or the Title IX Office. Public Safety does not have the ability to pursue or stop vehicles, and anything that occurs either off campus or with a vehicle leaving campus will be reported to the Middlebury Police Department.
Students can also go directly to the police department. The police will ask the victim for a description of the vehicle, the vehicle’s location and its direction of travel.
If the perpetrator is a member of the college community, the victim has the same options for reporting: they can talk to the police, Public Safety or the Title IX Office. Additionally, the student can choose to proceed with disciplinary action through the Title IX Office, regardless of whether the incident occured on campus. The Title IX Office deals primarily with instances of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking, but is still a resource for victims of harassment.
“If our students are being impacted by people in town or people who are driving through our campus community, whether it’s yelling things at them or making harmful statements or things like that, we would absolutely want to know because we want to address the behavior and make it stop,” said Title IX Coordinator Sue Ritter ’83. If the perpetrator was unaffiliated with the college, the office would work with police on the issue.
“We don’t have the same investigative power,” Ritter said. “Coordination with the police is really, really important because the evidence-gathering is critical, and to do it right is critical, and we want to make sure we aren’t stepping on each other’s toes.”
On Monday, President Laurie L. Patton announced that Ritter will leave her position on Thursday, Nov. 15. She will replace Dave Donahue ’91 as special assistant to the president, associate secretary to the board and director of community relations (See “Sue Ritter Transitions to New Role”).
The Title IX Office can also work with WomenSafe, Porter Hospital, the State’s Attorney’s Office and other state-wide organizations. The college itself can also report these incidents to the community. It can issue a “timely warning,” part of a federal law that requires colleges and universities to notify their communities of crime threats that are ongoing or may be repeated. The college has issued two timely warnings in the last three years.
Unlike peer institutions, including Trinity, Skidmore and Bates, Middlebury does not have an online reporting system for any type of crime, nor does it have a way to report crimes anonymously to the college.
The college can also disseminate information through the Community Bias Response Team, which alerts the college community to instances of bias, but this ambiguous term excludes instances of assault or harassment.
Ritter acknowledged that more should be done.
“I think probably more needs to be done in terms of town-community discussions around incidents like this when they happen,” Ritter said. “Maybe working more with the Addison Independent and other forums in the town of Middlebury to raise awareness of these types of influences would be a helpful step, too.”