Drive-by harassment plagues campus

Lachlan Johnson, News Editor & Investigative Director

A college campus is supposed to be a place of learning and safety, but due to harassment from occupants of cars, not all students can traverse Whitman’s campus in peace. Drive-by harassment can range from shouts and whistles to racist threats and being hit by objects thrown from vehicles.

Students of color and women have suffered these incidents for years, and though the topic received some attention from administrators in the last month, solutions remain scarce.

In September, women of color were harassed by occupants of a white truck in four separate incidents, three of which were on Boyer Avenue between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00p.m.. After three incidents were reported using the college’s new reporting tool at, Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland sent an email to the campus community on Tues., Sept. 22 asking students to get a description of the car if they saw another incident take place and asking students to report harassment they know of using the form at

“The nature in which we received these reports really required us to act. We don’t always hear from students about people yelling at them, but these were very specific and very targeted [events] which raised the ante in a way that we needed to respond,” said Title IX Coordinator and Associate Dean of Students Juli Dunn.

Though the report marked the first time students in several years that harassment has been officially reported, sexist and racist insults yelled from cars on Boyer Avenue and Isaacs Street have targeted women and students of color for years.

“There are students who graduated this past year who’d been harassed for four years walking along Isaacs and Boyer,” said sophomore Ione Fullerton, who is co-president of Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment (FACE). “It’s been a consistent problem, and it’s not just at Whitman, it’s a problem in this country.”

Harassment can be a frightening experience. Not only are the perpetrators anonymous, but one can never be certain how severe the harassment will be.

“If somebody yells something at you from across the street– and in some cases students have had things thrown at them too– you don’t know what that person’s going to do next. You don’t know if they’ll get out of their car, you don’t know if they’ll hurt you more,” said senior Shireen Nori, who has experienced drive-by harassment in her time at Whitman.

Within 24 hours of Cleveland’s email asking students to report drive-by harassment online, the college received four more reports of drive-by harassment which had occurred in recent months. Administrators responded by calling a town hall meeting that night, Wednesday the 23. Though only ten students came to the town hall, around 30 students and faculty discussed the issue during the first installment of Continuing the Conversation on Friday the 25. Continuing the Conversation is a discussion series being held every Friday at noon in the Glover Alston Center; the first discussion was hosted by Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Dean of Intercultural Affairs Kazi Joshua.

Though both gatherings led to discussions among administrators, faculty, staff and students about how to address drive-by harassment, no easy solution has been found. The college’s immediate response to recent harassment has been to increase patrols by security officers and ask the Walla Walla Police Department to patrol roads on campus more frequently between the hours of 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., when most recent instances of harassment have occurred.

When drive-by harassment was brought to the administration’s attention several years ago, increased police patrols were perceived as having stopped the problem.

“We contacted the police, they started additional patrols, and then [the harassment] ended. The police pulled over some cars that fit the descriptions, and that effectively ended [reports of harassment],” said Cleveland.

While reports of harassment ended, it is difficult to tell whether actual incidents were less frequent, and, if so, how long the decrease lasted. Students have experienced drive-by harassment regularly in the years between then and now. This year, the administration has not received reports of harassment during the dinner hours since police patrols were increased during this time. However, a group of alumni were harassed by a passing car during Reunion Weekend on Sat., Sept. 26 in front of Memorial Hall.

The policy of increasing patrols has drawn criticism from students who argue police are unlikely to be present at the exact moment drive-by harassment occurs. Critics also point out that the increased presence of police can cause students of color to feel less, not more, welcome in their community.

“The only tangible thing that they have said [at the townhall] is I’ve seen more police … [But] it definitely doesn’t make me feel safer,” said senior Gladys Gitau.

In most cases of harassment by someone from off-campus, the college prohibits the individual from returning to campus and threatens to press charges if they trespass. However, because roads are public property, this is not an option for cases of drive-by harassment. College officials hope the most recent offenders are high school students who may be set straight if their parents receive an intimidating visit from the police.

If the perpetrators of harassment are adults or high schoolers who aren’t convinced by a visit from police, the college’s options are limited. Harassment charges could be brought against perpetrators, but only if there are multiple witnesses to a repeated pattern of harassment.

While dealing immediately with instances of drive-by harassment can be difficult, addressing the problem’s long-term causes is also a challenge. At the town hall meeting, several in attendance suggested the college reach out to the city to discuss how drive-by harassment poses a challenge for the entire community. However, these ideas were dropped after other participants pointed out how this interaction may be an example of the college only engaging with the community to achieve something for itself.

“Whitman should always be engaged with the community in mutually beneficial ways. That’s what citizenship is about. The work with schools, farms, and other community organizations. These incidents should not be the sole motivation of engagement,” said Joshua in an email to The Pioneer.

One of the more popular proposals for dealing with drive-by harassment is the suggestion that a shift is needed in campus culture.

“We need to create a culture where, just like [with] Green Dot, there’s a bystander [intervention] approach to [harassment],” said Nori. “If you’re walking down the street and you see somebody get something thrown at them, or somebody says something to them from a car, go over immediately and [say] ‘are you okay’ or try to look at the car.”

As the weeks pass, discussion of drive-by harassment risks fading into the background once again. Concerned students are left with the task of conveying the importance of safety to administrators and the student body as a whole in order to maintain momentum

“The administration will only act if the people on the ground are pushing them to act,” said Gitau. “The onus is on them to keep the students safe, but unless we convey how important [harassment] is to them, they’re not necessarily going to have an incentive to act on it.”