“Hey girl, why are you walking all alone?”
“Show more cleavage.”
“Don’t wear leggings with an ass like that and get mad when I try to talk to you.”
These are the kinds of catcalls students on the University of Maryland campus have experienced throughout their college careers.
And for the next few days, the university community will see these student-submitted catcalls sprawled across McKeldin Mall in chalk, courtesy of a new initiative the Preventing Sexual Assault organization piloted.
About nine members of PSA gathered late Tuesday evening to chalk more than 30 catcalls students submitted over the last month. Messages shared through the Catcalls of College Park initiative range from statements made by friends to those made by strangers.
“Walking in a UMD parking garage when male UMD students started yelling ‘you brought the cake!’” one message read. “I was in shorts and a T-shirt.”
Other messages imparted a hopeful message to survivors of sexual misconduct in College Park, with one reading, “To the many men who have felt me up at the bars, my body does not belong to you.”
PSA co-president Rachel Salem wants this project to spark a dialogue on campus about catcalls, especially since these instances of harassment often happen in passing, making it harder to spread awareness about them.
“It’s one thing to hear a catcall, but it’s another thing to see one,” the senior management major said. “That immediate effect on bystanders isn’t as obvious.”
PSA used the sprawling chalk display surrounding the McKeldin Mall fountain to show the direct trauma associated with catcalling and sexual harassment at the university. Hailey Chaikin, another PSA co-president, said these catcalls should alert the student body that these statements and worse happen on the campus.
Chaikin had the idea for Catcalls of College Park during PSA’s annual Occupy McKeldin week last semester, where street-artist and gender justice activist Sophie Sandberg gave a guest speech.
Sandberg rose to fame for her Instagram page, “Catcalls of NYC,” where she wrote catcalls New Yorkers around Manhattan experienced in the places where they occurred.
Since Sandberg’s first post on “Catcalls of NYC,” her movement has inspired more than 100 catcall movements worldwide, including ones targeting college campuses.
“Knowing that Catcalls of New York City was such a widespread event, I figured that we would be more than welcome to participate in Sophie’s eyes,” Chaikin said.
The PSA executive board received about 50 submissions for the catcall project but chose to censor some stories of sexual assault.
“That’s something we really had to tiptoe around,” Chaikin said. “We don’t want to be triggering, but at the same time, we want to give that platform.”
PSA co-events coordinator and junior marketing and international business major Amanda Sherman said the shocking part of the chalked messages should be that they happened to students, not their language.
Kofi Akuffo, a freshman enrolled in letters and sciences, said the messages opened his eyes to the prevalence of catcalling on campus. As he read the catcalls on his walk across McKeldin, Akuffo became invested in learning what subsequent chalked messages would say.
He stood over a message that read, “Walking in Old Town when two guys in a car kept yelling @ me to ‘get back here.’”
“This was a really great idea of capturing a normal student’s attention on a busy day,” Akuffo said.
Many of the survivor stories submitted for the catcalls project moved Sherman and her co-events coordinator, senior psychology major Lily Meeks, to tears.
“We were literally crying because of how crazy stories were and how impactful they were,” Sherman said.
Meeks hopes that the anonymity of the catcall submissions helped survivors find a voice, even if they aren’t comfortable sharing their story publicly.
“It personally empowers people since a lot of times, it’s scary to share your story in a situation where you don’t necessarily know how many people are going to be supportive of it,” Meeks said.
PSA leaders originally planned to chalk catcalls on a Sunday night but after a storm washed away their first chalking effort, the group chose to chalk messages close to their annual Slut Walk event on McKeldin Mall, which will take place this Friday.
After comments were made by President Pines about sexual assault on campus and allegations against the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, Sherman said these two PSA-led events are crucial to educating this university’s campus.
“It’s really important that we say that survivors and victims of sexual assault need to be heard and need to be recognized, and not ridiculed or shamed,” Sherman said.