College Consortium: Sexual Harassment and Catcalling on College Campuses: What Colleges Could Be Doing Better

Nov 09th, 2021

By Caroline Stroh, Program Intern

Sexual harassment is pervasive across different settings: in the workplace, on the street, on college campuses, and online. In a 2019 nationally representative survey, 81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime. (UCSD Center on Gender Equity and Health, 2019). More than three in four women (76%) and one in three men (35%) experienced verbal sexual harassment and 68% of women experienced sexual harassment in public spaces (UCSD, 2019). Specifically on college campuses, 89% of students say that sexual harassment is occurring among students, but less than 10% report to a faculty or Title IX staff member (Hill & Silva, 2005). Many college students around the country, including the University of Maryland’s (UMD) Preventing Sexual Assault group, are bringing light to the issue of sexual harassment and the mental and emotional toll it takes on college students. Sexual harassment should be taken seriously as a societal issue and college campuses should take proactive steps to break down the normalization of sexual violence in our culture so all people can feel safe. 

Sexual harassment includes both verbal and nonverbal behaviors, aimed to objectify someone because of their gender, to provide favorable treatment in exchange for sexual activities, or to display unwanted sexual advances (NASEM, 2018). Sexual harassment can lead to hostile work and learning environments, victims having to change their behavior to protect themselves, and, overall, contributes to a lack of safety. Women are most commonly the victims of sexual harassment, alongside members of the LGBTQ+ community and people of color. Women of color experience sexual harassment at higher rates than their white counterparts, highlighting how common racial harassment and sexual harassment occur simultaneously (NASEM, 2018).  These behaviors are very common and often continue unchecked because they may not be recognized as a form of sexual violence. 

One common form of sexual harassment is catcalling, a type of street harassment in which an individual or a group shout comments or make other noises at someone as they pass. Many perpetrators of catcalling do not see it as a big deal or not a form of sexual harassment, but rather as a remark on their appearance to show interest. For victims of catcalling, this is far from the truth. Many women report feeling unsafe, intimidated, objectified, and experiencing mental and emotional harm from being catcalled. (Hamilton, 2021). 

Many victims do not report sexual harassment, including street harassment, because they may not be taken seriously or see their own experience as important enough to report. Perpetrators of sexual harassment may never be held accountable because of this, contributing to the belief that this behavior is harmless. 

College students are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment on their campuses, and this can be damaging to students’ mental health, emotional well-being, and education experience. Two-thirds of college students report being a victim of some form of sexual harassment, and these experiences occur everywhere on campus — in classrooms, in dorms, on campus grounds, and online (Hill & Silva, 2005). On top of the effects felt by victims of sexual harassment listed above, college students may become disappointed with their college experience, find it hard to pay attention in classes, avoid certain classes or buildings, lose motivation, and experience fear, anger, and embarrassment. 

College campuses should be supportive, respectful environments, and students should not have to be afraid that they may be harassed in every setting. Formally reporting this conduct may be burdensome for students, and one-time occurrences of sexual harassment may be disregarded because they are not pervasive. Furthermore, the sheer amount of sexual harassment on campus has led students to expect these experiences, which should be viewed as unacceptable. 

Students across the country have taken the initiative to bring attention to the issue of street and sexual harassment on their campus. Sexual violence, of all forms, is common on campuses, and students fear that not holding perpetrators of sexual harassment accountable is contributing to even more violent acts. One Google search reveals news articles from several universities, such as Fordham University, Northwestern University, and Arkansas Tech, with stories from students who have experienced street harassment and want changes to be made. Closer to home, the University of Maryland’s Preventing Sexual Assault group wants to bring attention to how common sexual harassment is on its campus with a project called Catcalls of College Park. Inspired by the Catcalls of New York social media movement, the group collected 30 anonymous stories of catcalling from students, and these stories can be seen all over campus written in chalk. 

Highlighting victims’ stories will hopefully show bystanders or those who have never experienced catcalling how horrible these comments make victims feel. Stepping in and helping someone who has been harassed or telling your friends to stop if you hear them using harassing language is a start to challenging the idea that sexual harassment is something that will always be around. 

Changing the normalcy of sexual harassment requires students and faculty to condemn this behavior at every level. Colleges should implement new policies and practices to better target sexual harassment that empower the victim. Some of the policies that students themselves support are: increasing the number of reporting options including informal and confidential options, developing a range of disciplinary consequences that correspond with the severity and frequency of harassment to shut behavior down before it reaches the Title IX definition of sexual harassment, and implementing anti-harassment training that explicitly outlines behaviors that are off-limits (NASEM, 2018). Overall, building a healthy, safe, and positive environment for all students includes prevention and appropriate response to sexual harassment. 



Anselmo, J. (5 May, 2021). UMD Senate Approves Revisions to Clarify Campus Title IX Guidelines. The Diamondback. Retrieved from: 

Hamilton, L. (2021). The History Of Catcalling: Meaning, Motivation, And Intentions. Regain. Retrieved from: 

Hill, C., & Silva, E. (2005). Drawing the Line Sexual Harassment on Campus. American Association of University Women Educational Foundation. Retrieved from: 

Measuring #MeToo: A National Study on Sexual Harassment and Assault (2019). UC San Diego Center on Gender Equity and Health. Retrieved from:

Morris, L. (8 March, 2021). UGA Students Discuss Catcalling in Athens. The Red and Black. Retrieved from: 

Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2018). National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The National Academies Press. Retrieved from: 

Ziegler, H. (23 Oct, 2021). At Slut Walk, Hundreds of Students Blast UMD on Handling of Sexual Assault on Campus. The Diamondback. Retrieved from:

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