Baylee Morris, Special to the Chanticleer
Claims of sexual harassment appearing in the media is nothing new. It seems to be an issue that is seen in almost every news headline in recent months. On Wednesday, February 21, the students of JSU set out to make this issue a little more prevalent and to see what individuals and organizations can do to make a difference in the world. To raise this awareness about sexual assault and biases in the media, a panel was formed.
Organizations sponsoring this year’s Unity Meeting and the #HereToo panel were the JSU Sociology Club, W.I.S.E., Students for Equality, the NAACP, JSU College Democrats, the Secular Student Alliance, Zeta Phi Eta, Earth Club, Active Minds, Peer Educators and Lambda Alpha Epsilon.
The panel featured Trace Fleming-Trice, Eddie Burkhalter and special guest Veronica Kennedy. All three panel members are respected JSU alumni. Fleming-Trice is an advocate with Second Chance, Inc., and Burkhalter is a former reporter for the Anniston Star. Kennedy worked for the Anniston Star in the 70s and was sexually harassed by then-publisher H. Brandt Ayers.
“He came into the office one Saturday morning and told me I was a bad girl, and he bent me over the desk and spanked me with a metal ruler,” Kennedy said.
One thing that the panel wanted attendees to take away was that people’s values uphold the inexcusability of sexual harassment in and out of the workplace. The panel also addressed the need for sexual harassment allegations to be taken more seriously.
Kennedy opened up recently to Burkhalter about the alleged sexual harassment. She did not come forward at the time because she was embarrassed and afraid of what might happen. She said that what helped her to come forward was the need to move on with her life.
When Burkhalter confronted his editors about the story, they told him not to pursue it. Realizing the importance of this story, Burhalter left his job at the Star and continued to talk to victims, including Kennedy.
At some media organizations, sexual harassment is stopped in it tracks, while some still allow it to continue, the panelists said. They advised everyone to take responsibility to help their fellow human, whether that be by speaking up if they witness harassment or knowing the rules of their workplace.
“We need to confront rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment, and we not only need to confront it from the women’s standpoint but also in the cases dealing with men. The first case Second Chance ever dealt with was a man seeking help,” Fleming-Trice said. “Rape culture stems from power and control, and we have to recognize and challenge that culture.”
While alleged assailants should be innocent until proven guilty, Fleming-Trice stressed that victims should also be believed, particularly women of already marginalized groups, like women of color and LGBTQ women.
“It’s not fair that we as individuals have to be willing to lose if we go forward,” said Burkhalter, pointing out that it can be scary to come forward and risk of losing a job or having the whole organization finding out. Continuing, Burkhalter said that people should go forward and be brave, because without the brave ones nothing will ever be said or changed.
The biggest advice the panel offered was to not be scared. Sexual assault or harassment should never happen. Going forward and being brave and talking about it will make a difference. To witnesses: if you see something, say something, because silence hurts everyone.
*Baylee Morris is a member of the Beta Lambda Chapter of Zeta Phi Eta at JSU. Zeta Phi Eta is the national Communication Arts and Sciences professional fraternity.*
Watch the full panel https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FZetaPhiEtaJSU%2Fvideos%2F564751890573046%2F&show_text=0&width=560” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>here! (Video courtesy of Patrick Yim from Zeta Phi Eta’s Facebook page)