“You better keep walking, girl, because we’re gonna grab you if we catch you.”
“Damn, baby, I want to put you in a cage!”
“You look like a f***ing cow.”
These are malicious phrases men have actually yelled at female Alligator staffers as they walked near UF’s campus. Catcalling is unfortunately an inevitable experience in the lives of college women, but rarely does it catch the attention of a university’s president — or police, for that matter.
The Alligator ran a Page 1 story Tuesday about UF President Bernie Machen’s email to the Greek community regarding an incident in which an Alpha Tau Omega brother shouted racial and sexist slurs at a black, female UF student as she walked by the fraternity house. It’s no secret UF has a race problem — last Fall, an Instagram picture of two students dressed in blackface makeup went viral and prompted national criticism — and Machen has proved ineffective in addressing it. His email to the Student Body following the blackface scandal came about two weeks after the Oct. 24 event, and he did not show up to a town hall meeting called to discuss the controversy.
So why, then, does the account of an anonymous individual who was catcalled at — and who never filed an official complaint — warrant the president’s intervention?
Machen has completely mishandled this case.
In his personal letter sent to the Greek Listserv, he targeted a single group of students, made blanket statements and revealed only hazy details about what happened.
Why would Machen attach his name to one letter sent to one organization instead of putting his energies behind a broader effort to stop catcalling in general?
Here are the facts: UF women are catcalled at daily. It may seem harmless to the guys shouting from their trucks, but it’s traumatic for women who don’t know whether the men will keep driving or pull over and assault them. It’s a big problem, and it needs a big solution — not a passive email.
Machen could have used this opportunity to educate the entire university community about making women and people of all races feel safe. Rather than saying how “disappointed and ashamed” he felt, he could have taken real action — something more than a mandatory diversity workshop, which has proven to be ineffective in the past.
As an editorial board, we ask: What were Machen’s motives for acting on this specific student’s behalf, and what does he plan to do to combat racial and sexual harassment overall at UF?
By only addressing one group of students, Machen minimized an overarching issue. Catcalling is not something that happened to one UF student one time because of one moronic frat guy.
But that’s the message he sent.
A version of this editorial ran on page 6 on 10/30/2013 under the headline "The Boys Are the Squarest? Machen misses point"