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Profemina Seeks More Awareness

By Judy Cheng
and Brian M. Smith

Fluorescent orange and pink flyers appeared recently in the Infinite Corridor with messages such as "If a tree falls in the forest, would it do more to stop harassment than MIT?" The flyers were posted by Profemina as part of an effort to raise awareness about sexual harassment at MIT, according to the group's spokewoman.

The posters serve a two-fold purpose, Rebecca Widom '94 explained. The first and most important is to get students to talk and think about the issue of harassment, she said. Secondly, "they provide a vent for the frustration that many in the group feel for MIT's treatment of the problem."

Profemina will work with Office of Residence and Campus Activities this year to start an advocacy center. Staffed by people who understand MIT procedures, the center will provide guidance for harassment victims. The center is necessary, Widom said, because "MIT is not dealing with the issue of harassment well."

Widom said that MIT has a "complicated multi-access system" for reporting harassment. Victims report to an MIT administrator, who usually is not trained to deal with harassment issues. MIT has a counseling system, but the power is vested in the wrong authorities, Widom said. Counselors can only comfort and sympathize with harassment victims, but have no ability to take action against the perpetrators.

Students react to flyers

Students responded in various ways to the flyers posted in the halls. "What's Profemina? I don't know anything about it," said Catherine D. Conley '96.

Another female student said,"They [the flyers] do help in a way because they attract your sight, but on the other hand, it's not a substantial step against harassment."

Lucas M. Macri '95 commented, "The posters are too strong, radical. But I guess they're right. [Profemina] needs people to pay attention to the issues that they raise because they're important."

Others have made a jest of the organization; one mock poster attributed to "Profemyna" reads, "It takes a big man to cry, but it takes a bigger man to laugh at that man."

In response, Widom said that she mostly worries that people may confuse the two groups. Otherwise, she said, "I would rather [that opposition] be humorous than vicious. It's probably the least harmful."

Widom added that not everyone may want to put themselves behind a group like Profemina. "I know a lot of people who don't like our strategies," she said. Profemina's current strategy is postering.

"It is difficult to gauge how much we have accomplished," said Widom, and she added that by no means is Profemina unique in its purpose. There are many groups, both around campus and outside of MIT, who are trying to halt harassment by informing the public, she said.

In Profemina's first meeting this year, members discussed their ideas and opinions on how to solve the problems of harassment. Although they gained no new members, Widom said the meeting went fine. Presently, the group is not highly structured and does not have an official leader, she said.