Harmless tradition or unsolicited harassment: hollering at students as they walk through campus creates an unwelcoming and hostile environment.
Like many first-years at JMU, a main pull factor for me to attend the school was the welcoming environment of energetic and outgoing students. Coming to JMU with this idea of what the atmosphere would be like, I was shocked and disappointed by the behavior of some students driving around campus.
The first remarks I heard from upperclassmen drivers — “freshmen” or “first-years” — didn’t phase me. I figured it was all in good spirits, some harmless hazing to put us freshies in our place. I began to take issue when the remarks I heard became direct attacks on individuals, including derogatory, vulgar and even ableist insults. When a friend of mine from back home came to tour campus, he was greeted on our walk to D-Hall by a car full of jeering boys, one of whom shouted, “Nice beanie; do you have cancer?”
To make such comments demonstrates lamentable immaturity and blights the entire student body as well as the Harrisonburg community.
On another occasion, I was singled out by a group of boys driving at night. It was one of those nights where your Freshens smoothie gets taken by someone else with your basic name — I will henceforth be ordering under “Katara” — so it was already off to a bad start.
On my walk back to East Campus, I was looking down at my phone and didn’t notice as the boys sped around in their car. They pulled right up to the curb where I was walking and started yelling at me all at once. I don’t think anything they said was coherent, nor was it meant to be — their clear intent was just to spook me.
They were successful; I looked up and jumped out of my skin, worried that I was about to be hit by their car. Then they sped off laughing. Why it’s such fun to shout at a girl walking alone in the dark for the sole purpose of scaring her is something I can’t understand, and it sits differently with me than the playful calls of “freshmen!” during the day.
As students of JMU and members of the Harrisonburg community, we have a responsibility to cultivate an environment to be proud of. No visitor or prospective student should have to leave JMU thinking that it’s a hostile place where they’ll be ridiculed and harassed while walking about minding their own business. No student should be made to feel unsafe on campus by their peers.
During the painstakingly uneventful days under coronavirus-related restrictions to student activities, shouting from cars at freshmen walking through campus seems to be an especially popular pastime. I know COVID-19 has made things a little slow around campus, but there must be a better way to pass the time than asking a kid in a beanie if he has cancer. As Dukes, we represent something larger than ourselves. Let’s start to act like it.
Alex Davis is a freshman business management major. Contact Alex at email@example.com.