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End bullying at Notre Dame

| Friday, January 26, 2018

Yesterday, a friend came to me with a text message sitting on the screen of her phone. Through the chatter and noise of the dining hall surrounding us, I pulled the device closer and scanned what was printed: Staring back, in unmistakable black iPhone lettering surrounded by a grey text box, were the words “you fat a– sl–.”

Profound disbelief and disgust instantly coursed through my body, as was evidenced by my caught breath and gaping jaw. This message was irrefutably meant to harm the woman sitting next to me, and I could not believe that anyone could conceive of, let alone follow through with, sending such a note. I was even more jostled, though, to discover its sender was a fellow student at Notre Dame.

Through boiling blood, I eventually left behind talk of the message and continued with my meal. Just as happens any other encounter with college drama, I expected to shake the emotions associated with this incident within hours, despite the egregiousness of the situation. What I saw in the eyes of my friend, though, made this simply impossible. Usually, I encounter a sharp and bubbly young woman; instead, I was met with emptiness, exhaustion and indescribable anxiety and pain.

Confronting her anonymous assailant would not be a productive use of time or energy, as drama and attention is the last thing my friend should face following this abuse. Here I am though, in an attempt to distill a generalizable conclusion from this seemingly random act of misogyny and interpersonal violence, directed at a young woman with whom each of us lives and learns.

To my fellow students at Notre Dame: This behavior is, by definition, bullying. We have heard the term repeated endlessly in high school assemblies and talks with our parents, but it is astoundingly relevant to our social experiences today. To send this form of message toward another human transcends mean-spiritedness; its intention is to force another into emotional submission. This manipulation of power is wrong, and we as a community cannot accept environments where this form of interaction is tolerated.

To my fellow students at Notre Dame: This behavior is harmful — both to those to whom the language is directed and to others. To shame someone’s physicality and sexuality inevitably, and potentially irrevocably, undermines a victim’s self-confidence and self-worth, leading to unpredictable consequences. More broadly, though, it injects toxicity into a community that, at least in principle, stands against it. There is simply no excuse not to recognize that our words (whether texted, spoken or thought) have real, tangible impacts on the lives of others, and we must be accountable for what these effects and implications are.

To my fellow students at Notre Dame: This behavior must end. This form of anonymous interpersonal expression, put blatantly, cannot be tolerated as acceptable as part of our campus community. There are around 4,000 undergraduate young women at the Notre Dame, and I refuse to stand idle in the face of their victimization — as must we all. Derogatory, inflammatory and offensive language has no place at our University. It’s time we hold one another accountable to ensuring this is true.

Katharine Janes


Dec. 9

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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