Last Friday Night: Be a ‘Silence Breaker’


Karli Wachtel

The back half of 2017 has flown by quicker than I could have imagined.

I am closing this semester knowing I have about five months left at Lehigh. I am left thinking to myself, “How am I going to leave my mark on this campus?”

Will I leave Lehigh having challenged societal norms?

Will it be an improved place once I leave?

It will take more than five months to achieve pure change. But five months is more than enough time to start.

With the first snowfall, I am reflecting on how different the world is, compared to when trees had green leaves and people wore t-shirts, relaxing in their backyards.

In October, victims of sexual harassment and assault began to utilize the media as a battering ram — one that would breach the comfort state predators have contently been resting in.

Women from all backgrounds have had the courage to speak up about their suffering regarding sexual harassment and assault, using the media as their support system. Now, powerful men who previously deemed themselves untouchable and flew under the radar are finally being exposed.

Almost every day for the past two months, I’ve woken up to notifications on my phone saying another powerful person has been accused of sexual misconduct.

I can’t decide what to think. I guess it is scary knowing how often this poisonous behavior occurs, but comforting and liberating to witness the unrest surrounding complacency as it becomes more mainstream.

Luckily, it seems like the logical and moral people in this nation are willing to publically acknowledge sexual misconduct as a societal problem. So much so that on Wednesday Time Magazine released their 2017 “Person of the Year” as the Silence Breakers.

“Person of the Year” is a title defined by Time as “a person (or people) who has had the most influence over the news in the last 12 months.”

Reporters Stephanie Zacharek, Aliana Dockterman and Haley Sweetland Edwards were the female trio who reported on this monster of a story. They rightfully aided in the exposure of “untouchable” CEOs, celebrities and icons. The reporters used their power to share the stories of the “Silence Breakers,” who are frustrated with being stepped on and taken advantage of by others.

The trio wrote, “This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries.”

Sexual misconduct has been at the forefront of our conversation since President Donald Trump was elected. I remember when the 2005 sound bite of Trump’s “locker room talk” with Access Hollywood reporter Billy Bush came out in 2016.

“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” our president said casually. “You can do anything… grab ‘em by the pussy.”

I, along with everyone around me, was astounded — and quite frankly, still am — that such crude wording could escape the mouth of someone admired as a leader by millions of people.

Yes, I am aware this information has been available to the public for more than a year. However, this is especially relevant in today’s changing social climate. Like Zacharek, Dockterman and Edwards said themselves — this type of talk has occurred throughout lifetimes and is not okay, regardless of how much money you make, the positions you hold or the country you lead.

Although predatory behavior has been going on behind closed doors for countless years, powerful men like Trump and Harvey Weinstein are being called out for their unacceptable actions. This conversation isn’t the classic “hot news,” typically spoken about for two weeks and then dropped for the next enticing subject.

This subject should no longer be dropped.

In early November, the student body was vaguely notified about a professor under investigation for sexual misconduct. This is an understandably difficult subject to talk about, but the university should make an actual effort to show love and support for anyone who is brave enough to come forward about this hardship when all odds are seemingly stacked against them.

The board of trustees, Lehigh and all of its students should actively, not passively, allow due process for the accuser as well as the accused. This conversation will not be forgotten or dropped.

I am hopeful that in light of the recent allegations in the media, as well as the support around the country, when I leave Lehigh there will be a culture that denounces sexual misconduct. I want to leave a university I am proud of. I want to tell my friends and family my university and its students, faculty and staff stick up for what is right.

But for now, it is still our job to stop sexual misconduct in its tracks. Stop remaining complacent. Be a Silence Breaker.

Karli Wachtel, ’18, is a columnist, reporter and future Editorial Pages Editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected].

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