I was 19 then, a socially anxious freshman with time on my hands and a tendency to procrastinate. I wanted better time management skills and, more importantly, money for books and Panda Express. After Winter Break was over, I immediately emailed two people at the library about potentially working there for a few hours per week. The supervisor replied promptly, asking for a meet-up the next day. I’ll call him Matt.
I was told to meet up with Matt and another supervisor at the café on the first floor of the library. I was a little jittery — this was my first time applying for a job on campus — and, after all, I knew I might not get it. Matt and a woman showed up soon, and we all sat down at a small table in the corner. They asked for my schedule and résumé, which they quickly glanced over, and Matt smirked at. When I said I needed a little time to reflect before I signed up for shifts — my class schedule was up in the air — Matt said he was not a scary person to work with.
Something about the comment and the way he stared almost piercingly made me feel slightly uneasy, slightly creeped out and caught off-guard. He had white hair, he’d hardly smiled during the conversation and he was in his 50s, at least. I left the interview feeling a little worried, pondering my next step. I was possibly overthinking it. I was prone to jumping to conclusions.
I emailed Matt two days later, saying I was ready to start at the earliest date possible. I needed a few signatures from him before going to the Student Activities Building and getting my documents finalized. He replied quickly, asking me to meet him for a cup of coffee at the same café.
It was around noon; students and staff were flocking in and out of the doors and gathering around the couches. I bought a small coffee and sat at a table in the middle of the crowd, pulling my phone out to check the time. I felt someone lightly tap me on the shoulder before he pulled a chair across from me and sat down.
Matt looked quite excited. He was wearing a tight turtleneck sweater, he reeked of cologne and sweat and his glasses tilted on his nose. I asked whether the other supervisor from last time would join us. He said no, seemingly pleased. He then proceeded to ask me how my day was going, what classes I was taking, what I liked doing in my free time, etc. It appeared friendly and innocent, but something felt disconcerting. I tried to bottle the feeling of apprehensiveness rising inside me. I attempted to divert his attention toward the papers he needed to sign so I could get up and leave.
He signed slowly, lifting his hand up and pausing, a smile protruding in the corner of his mouth. He leaned in, peering closer — I abruptly saw his white eyelashes — and placed his hand on both of mine. He gave them a squeeze and asked smoothly, “Are you going to hire me?”
“What?” I sputtered after a few seconds. “N-no.”
He repeated, squeezing my hands again, laughing quietly.
I got up, feeling flabbergasted and numb. He immediately came over to my side and pulled out my chair for me. I left, muttering a goodbye and running toward the bus stop. My legs felt heavy, a little shaky; I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what I should be doing. As I waited, I saw that he’d followed me to the bus stop. When he caught me glancing, he turned around and struck up a conversation with someone else. The whole thing felt bizarre, violating and wrong. During classes, I wondered and worried.
I ended up not taking the job. For a while, I tried to force myself into taking it, believing that nothing would happen. I could manage it, I thought. I just had to make sure that the two of us were never alone in a room. I blamed myself, wondering why I didn’t say anything to his face, why I felt a sense of cowardice enveloping me then. I also didn’t feel like going to the library anymore, and I’d gone there almost every other night to study. Occasionally seeing him there — even as I tried my best to avoid him — made me feel queasy and angry. I understood that what he’d done wasn’t something huge, but there was a chance that something more could’ve happened. I sensed it, I felt it in my gut and I knew I wouldn’t be able to fend for myself if the situation got worse.
I hated that I had to worry about fending for myself in a workplace, even as it boasted about having zero tolerance for sexual harassment. I hated that I didn’t know who to tell, that my incident would get chalked up to nothing and that I’d be going against an experienced supervisor who was also a white man. I’d seen it happen to others too many times to imagine my situation would’ve been different. I knew if I joined his team, I’d dread seeing him every day.
I kept quiet for three years and moved on, but I remembered it. I remembered it when I applied for another job on campus and hoped that it wouldn’t be a man who’d interview me. I remembered it when I seated myself far away from male co-workers and professors in cramped offices.
I remembered it well enough to know that everything I’ve felt back then does matter. It might not be a big deal when compared to many other cases, but it was still humiliating, unnecessary and violating of my personal space. It was still sexual harassment. It was still the same story about a man inappropriately touching a woman and getting away without any consequences.
Sami Matin is an LSA senior.
If you would like to share your story, learn how to submit to our series here. The submission deadline for the fall 2017 semester is Oct. 26, 2017 at 11:59 p.m., but after that you may submit your piece as an op-ed.