Consent is Key: Respecting Personal Space

    I dread hallways. In fact, I tend to dread any sort of pathway where you can potentially come in close contact with unsavory characters. Sidewalks, alleyways, the list goes on. Sometimes, I even get slightly uncomfortable walking my dog in the neighborhood. Not only because of the harmless, yet potentially awkward, interactions that can occur with a person on the other side of the street (“I don’t know them. Should I say hi? Wait, they have their earbuds in. I’ll just look straight ahead and act like I don’t know they’re there. Aaand they said hi to me. Great.”), but because when you’re out in public alone, the fact of being a woman is impossible to ignore. 

     Initially, when someone catcalls you or invades your personal space, you might not even internally acknowledge that it’s a huge deal. You start to gaslight yourself. “They were just being nice.” “I took it the wrong way.” “That wasn’t their intention.” You may share your experience with others, and they might tell you the same things. Ladies and gents, stop right there. Your judgment is sound. You’re not overreacting. You know better than anyone how that person made you feel. No matter how “minor” an interaction may be and no matter if you know the offender or they’re a total stranger - you did not give your consent, your personal space was violated, and your feelings about it are always valid.  

    The other day, I was walking from Moody Library to my apartment building, talking to my roommate on the phone. It was getting dark, and I wanted to feel more secure walking by myself. I was slightly on edge the whole time, but as it turns out, I was worried about the wrong part of the journey. I let out a small sigh of relief before I stepped on the elevator and started walking down the hallway. In the distance, I could see a guy wiping his feet on the welcome mat of an apartment and talking to a girl who lived there. As I approached, he was taking up the majority of the hallway, so I kindly said, “Excuse me.” Instead of moving out of my way to let me pass, he turned towards me, slowly looked me up and down, and said, “How you doin’?” 

     I’ll always be thankful I was wearing a mask so he didn’t see how flustered I was. I felt my cheeks get hot and softly uttered, “...Good.” As I walked away, I heard him chuckle behind me, and a chill went down my spine. 

     I talk such a big game, and when it comes to situations like this, I fantasize about giving the person a piece of my mind, shooting off a witty retort (“Nice try, Joey Tribbiani” would’ve been excellent, if I do say so myself), and giving them the finger. But when faced with reality, I shrink away from the fight, especially if it’s a stranger. What if they curse me out? What if they threaten me? What if they actually hurt me?

     Another unfortunate hallway surprise occurred last year in my dorm. I met this guy at Line Camp, and we really hit it off. As the semester progressed, we started spending more and more time together, and I began to develop feelings for him. Clearly, it was mutual. He would ask to hang out all the time, and while it was cute, I love my independence. If you were to look at my list of pet peeves, “clingy people” would certainly be near the top. 

     One Monday, he asked me if I wanted to study together at Moody or get dinner, and I declined. I was totally swamped, with two papers due that week and multiple exams to study for. So, that evening, there I was, editing my paper, when I received a text from him asking if he and his friends could come up to my dorm room. I simply ignored it. I had already explained that I wasn’t available - why should I have to tell him again? 

     Less than five minutes later, there was a knock at my door. My roommate and I slowly looked at each other in confusion. I hesitantly got up and opened the door to see none other than the guy with his two friends standing there. 

     “Hi!” he said cheerfully, but I could tell he was nervous. One of his friends stood behind him with her arms crossed and the other was leaning against the wall with the most smug grin on his face. I was dumbstruck. Another one of my top pet peeves: people arriving at my place of residence unexpectedly. My first thought was, “How the hell did they get up here?” My dorm was all-female, and you could only swipe your Baylor ID to get in with any success if you were a resident. “How’s your...homework going?” the female friend said mockingly, implying that I was lying about being busy. I was attempting to comprehend how many breaches of trust had occurred. This guy had obviously read my text messages to them, for a start. He had asked my permission to come over, and when I didn’t respond, he came anyway with two friends and essentially broke into the building. I had so many different thoughts and emotions racing around that I frankly didn’t know how to respond. 

     After an extremely awkward conversation, in which I again asserted that I was busy, I went back into my room, mortified, and explained everything to my roommate. After about ten minutes, I composed myself, grabbed my basket of dirty clothes, and left my room to do a load of laundry. 

     Now, you can only imagine my shock when I went outside to see that they were still in the hallway. The guy from Line Camp and his two buddies were talking to his cousin and her roommate, who lived on my floor. The whole group looked at me as I came out, and I had to pass them twice, once when dropping off my clothes, and once coming back to my room. It turns out that his cousin let them inside and she was under the impression that I was okay with them coming. He apologized profusely afterwards, but needless to say, my feelings for him swiftly disappeared following that incident.

     My goal in sharing my experiences is to let you know, Her Campus Baylor reader, that you are not alone. If someone harasses you or violates your personal space, you have every right to feel the way you feel. Behavior like this is unacceptable; it’s not “normal”. It doesn’t matter if you’ve known the offender for years or this is your first time ever encountering them. You are by no means obligated to report anything that happens to you (I never have), but if you feel called to do so, visit Baylor’s Title IX website for more resources. Don’t let anyone downplay what has happened to you. Don’t let your doubt get the best of you. And please, stay safe out there.