Making Spaces Safer

By: Megan McIntosh

Author Shawna Potter discussed the proper ways to address harassment, especially in a safe and effective way, in a presentation March 20 at Frederick Community College. Potter is the author of the book “Making Spaces Safer,” and the founder of the organization Hollaback.

Potter founded the Baltimore chapter of Hollaback in 2011. She helped run it until 2015, when she stepped down from her position and began encouraging others to stand up to harassment. 

Potter’s program focuses on “the 5 D’s.” These stand for direct, distract, delegate, document, and delay. All of these are a healthy way to step in and help others being harassed.

Being direct is calling out the harasser face-to-face. Distracting is entering the conversation through what seems like casual talk, such as asking the time. To delegate is to seek help from someone better prepared to intervene. Documenting is recording the event for evidence. Lastly, delay is when it isn’t possible to intervene in time so one consoles the victim of the harassment afterwards.

Potter explained that not every D will work for everyone, but that everyone should be familiar with the one that works best for them. Taking the time to recognize what you should do before an event arises will better prepare you to take action if you do witness harassment.

Potter also stresses that recognizing why you don’t step in is also very important. Knowing what stops you will help you overcome it.

Though many people seem to think their help is meaningless, a Cornell study Potter references found that around half of the negative feelings a victim has after harassment is simply from the fact that no one came to help.

“Anyone can be harassed and anyone can harass, the point is we need to stop it,” Potter said. “Sometimes it doesn’t even pertain to how you identify, but how people perceive you. For example, sometimes racially ambiguous people might encounter inaccurate racist slurs.”

“The person harassing doesn’t always have bad intentions, but good intentions or not, it still negatively impacts the person involved,” Potter said. “If we stay silent, it gets worse. When we ignore it, we are telling everyone in the room that it is OK.”

Professor Jill Shultz also organized a breakfast and discussion regarding Potter’s safety guide. Students and staff were welcome to explain their experiences with, and opinions on, harassment. All those in attendance felt that it should be more accepted to talk about subjects like harassment.

“Discussions like these are important, especially right now, because you see these stories every day,” Rachel Rice said. “We know that these things are happening on a basis that is, unfortunately, way more regular than anyone wants to admit.” Rice is the vice president of the feminist club and feels it is important to recognize the issues in today’s society.

“If someone can say or do something, instead of staying silent about it, then it would make everyone feel safer,” Sloane Redd, a member of the psychology club, said. Redd added that she has witnessed multiple dangerous encounters, usually against women in club settings. She hopes that pamphlets like Potter’s can drive organizations to be safer.

Anyone who witnesses or experiences harassment can access information on bmore.ihollaback.org.

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