Zoom Is Not A Dating App

by Zarya Shaikh, March 31, 2021

I turn on my camera and answer questions in the chat during office hours and lectures. I welcome private messages (PMs) when someone misses a key point our professor made. After all, as a pre-med student, it is my job to have color-coded notes on everything. I sometimes joke and socialize in breakout rooms to get to know who I am working with. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for someone to perceive my well-intentioned, friendly but professional, actions as flirty or feisty. In Spring 2020, one professor compared me to his ex-girlfriend when I asked about the status of a pending grade. I laughed it off as a joke and rephrased my original question. 

On the last day of classes in the Fall 2020 semester, I was attending classes via Zoom while grocery shopping. A classmate I had not spoken with before PM’d me during our final lecture, wishing me luck on my finals. I wished him well, too. He sent another PM, but I lost wi-fi. I finished grocery shopping and re-joined the lecture once my internet connection returned. I continued the conversation: 

I had received a wink from three other individuals without any prompting by that point in the semester, and I was not sure what to make of it. It reminded me of my classmate *Peter who would PM me at the start of the semester. He would comment on the content we were currently reviewing in the ongoing lecture and then ask for my social media in the same conversation. After answering his lecture-based questions, I would politely try ending the conversation by noting I do not use social media, and it was time for me to focus on the lecture (see screenshot below). He persisted in the following three Zoom lectures, and I was exhausted. I caved and gave him my Snapchat username. I never added Peter back, and he stopped asking. 

I was stunned by how committed Peter was considering I had expressed I was not interested in different ways on several occasions. He could see from my video feed how uncomfortable I was whenever he messaged me. It felt like Peter was in my room with me. He would know I chose not to respond to his message the next time I sent a general chat during lecture. So, I responded out of obligation and did not know if I was overreacting. I was used to second-guessing myself and questioned why I did not simply turn off my camera. 

In person during Fall 2019, I had developed a habit equivalent to turning off my camera. My two male classmates, *Imran and *Rahul, heckled me from the back of our Frey lecture hall. “Zarya beti!” (daughter in Urdu). I could hear it from the front of the large classroom. My professor heard it. My classmates heard it. I would turn around and tell them to stop distracting me and others around me. They persisted, and I could not focus. We had several conversations in which they agreed to stop. They did not.

Imran had the audacity to not only mock me during class but also ask, “Can you ask your friend to go out with me?” at the end of every lecture. In one case early on, I asked my friend (who I sat with every lecture) if she wanted to go out with him. She declined. Imran looked at me as though I had told him he missed an exam. He had been referring not to my friend but to another female classmate *Asma I randomly sat next to once. Following our conversation, Imran figured out where *Asma sat in our lecture hall and insisted that I ask her to go out with him – even though I had never spoken with her. Imran made it his life’s mission to make Asma and her friends uncomfortable by frequently turning around in class to look at them. In the meantime, Imran and Rahul built the courage to start sitting next to me in class. I used to arrive 10 minutes early to Frey, so I could get the seat I wanted. I eventually developed a habit of coming in after the class started, so they couldn’t easily change seats to where I was sitting.

To make the situation more complex, Imran and Rahul were both in my workshop section. I asked my graduate teaching assistant to change my group since Imran was in mine, too. Little did I know that Imran and Rahul would both appear at my desk at random times of the workshop and ask to go out with my group member. I became uncomfortable to the point where midway through the semester, I started watching lectures from my dorm room and finishing workshop exercises in 15 minutes just so I could leave before they arrived. 

Zoom classes are simply another space where I have felt the need to hide. 

A 2015 study found that among 385 female college students, 90.4% experienced verbal harassment and 80.0% experienced nonverbal sexual harassment.1 Individuals who were nonverbally harassed were “12 times more likely to experience psychological distress.”1 It is alarming that my experience of nonverbal sexual harassment is not a unique one; we are looking at a common issue that does not stop at the collegiate level. These statistics are only one preview of the sexual harassment that “38% of women and 13% of men across the US” endure in the workplace.2 “About 72% of sexual harassment charges” are met with retaliation from employers.3 It is disheartening that I was hesitant to reach out to my professor or the Title IX office. My fear stemmed from the notion that there would be retaliation if I reported Imran, Rahul, or Peter as there was in the cases of those surveyed. I look forward to replacing that fear with a network of support on campus for those who experience sexual misconduct.

*Names have been changed to protect students’ identities. 


References

[1] Mamaru, A., Getachew, K., & Mohammed, Y. (2015, January). Prevalence of physical, verbal and nonverbal sexual harassments and their association with psychological distress among Jimma University female students: a cross-sectional study. Ethiopian journal of health sciences, 25(1), 29–38. https://doi.org/10.4314/ejhs.v25i1.5

[2] Chatterjee, R. (2018, February 22). A new survey finds 81 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/21/587671849/a-new-survey-finds-eighty-percent-of-women-have-experienced-sexual-harassment

[3] Frye, J. (2017, November 20). Not just the rich and famous. Retrieved from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/news/2017/11/20/443139/not-just-rich-famous/

Rated E for Education, Graded F for Failure

by Zarya Shaikh, January 12, 2021

***FALL 2020 CONTEST WINNER***

In 2014, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio launched Pre-K for All to encourage “free, full-day, high-quality pre-K.”1 The program increased enrollment in Pre-K among different communities, especially within low-income families. Its success led to the creation of 3-K for All1 and yielded similar outcomes: “[o]f the 52,741 children enrolled in pre-K, 37 percent were Hispanic, 30 percent [B]lack” with no ethnic majority.2 One would expect that a student body with multiple ethnicities represented would have access to a teaching curriculum tailored to different backgrounds. The Pre-K for All handbook’s page 21 includes a list of “ emotionally responsive books about being safe” which says otherwise.1 Of the three books presented, all are written by white authors. This booklist is not an anomaly; authors of color are missing from the handbook and the curriculum itself. An analysis of the Pre-K For All curriculum reveals that “there are 0 Black authors, 0 Native authors, 0 Middle Eastern authors, 1 Latinx author, 1 Asian author, and 40 white authors” of the 42 total texts available.3 The number of white authors to authors of colors writing for younger ages is grossly disproportionate. It exemplifies the concept of a dominant culture – a “relatively small social group that has a disproportionate amount of power” – represented by the 17% of white students enrolled in the program.4 Some may argue that this is not an issue since there are Black characters in some texts. It is important to consider that “20 of the 22 books that center Black characters are written by white authors”3 who have not genuinely experienced life from the standpoint they’re writing from. The author may thoroughly research what would be their character’s background beyond the book and consult individuals who identify with the character’s community. Regardless, they may still inadvertently overlook or dismiss important details about the culture or traditions associated with their character’s identity.

The Introduction to Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies textbook defines institutions as forms of stratification among individuals by “gender, class, race, ability, and sexuality”.5 The Pre-K for All curriculum is, unfortunately, another example of an institution prioritizing white students over students of color. As coordinator Natasha Capers of the Coalition for Educational Justice phrases it – how can students of color “create a world view” from the books they read “[i]f they never see themselves in it”?4 Teaching students of color with textbooks and educational sources that do not reflect the perspective and struggles associated with their ethnic background is unfair and demeaning. Returning to the idea of the curriculum as one aspect of an institution, the common thread is neglecting authors of color and perspectives of BIPOC by BIPOC in favor of instilling at a young age that the normal “thought and behavior” is to exclude, misrepresent, and misunderstand BIPOC.5 Although the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional in 1954, racial discrimination continues well into the 21st century since we are still “teach[ing] these expectations . . . to younger generations” with alarming confidence in the school system to change course.5 BIPOC students should have the opportunity to see themselves represented in the education system as their white classmates do. That liberty should extend beyond elementary school as well. 

Education as a service to the LGBT community fails to deliver similarly in the reading curriculum. In the Ready NY CCLS and EL Education middle school curriculums, “there are no main characters that identify as LGBTQ+.”3 It would be beneficial to increase the representation of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities as written by individuals who identify with either or both within school curriculums. 


References

[1] NYC Department of Education. (n.d.). 3-K for All & Pre-K for All Handbook for District Schools and Pre-K Centers. New York, New York: NYC Department of Education. 

[2] Potter, H. (2016, September 20). Diversity in New York City’s Universal Pre-K Classrooms. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://tcf.org/content/report/diversity-new-york-citys-universal-pre-k-classrooms/?session=1

[3] Education Justice Research and Organizing Collaborative. (n.d.). Diverse City, White Curriculum: The Exclusion of People of Color from English Language Arts in NYC Schools. New York, New York: NYC Coalition for Educational Justice. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://www.nyccej.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Diverse-City-White-Curriculum-3.pdf 

[4] Elsen-Rooney, M. (2019, December 09). More than 80% of books in NYC schools’ curriculum for pre-K to eighth grade written by white authors: Report. Retrieved October 03, 2020, from https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/ny-school-curriculum-diversity-20191204-b mpmgjusevgtxnofdalchpq6ti-story.html 

[5] Kang, M., Lessard, D., Heston, L., Nordmarken and Kang, S., & M. (2017). Introduction to Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies. Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries. 

[6] Sergent, J., & Bravo, V. (2019, June 14). 7 maps show the mess LGBT laws are in the USA. Retrieved October 01, 2020, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/06/14/lgbt-laws-hate-crimes-religious-exemptions-a doption-differ/1432848001/