Out of Respect for Future You, Report Sexual Harassment

By Mary Dwyer (EE ’19)

Twice in my life, I have been sexually harassed to the point of debilitation. Twice in my life, a boy sitting next to me in Calculus hid behind the screen of his cell phone and sexualized me until I could not do Calculus without questioning my worth. Twice in my life, I had to speak about respect. Respect for your fellow human, classmate, academic equal.

During my junior year of high school, a couple of boys added me to a group chat in which they vulgarly, demeaningly described a sexual encounter with one of my female classmates. I still don’t know why they did it. I had all of my AP classes with them. I saw them almost every period of every day. I did not even know the girl who was the subject of their depiction all that well. For some reason though, they wanted to hurt me. They wanted me to read what they were writing to incite an emotional reaction from me and to undermine what I came to school to do everyday.

Sexual harassment is ubiquitous—a problem grander than the scope of my academic career—but my most upsetting interactions with harassment have dealt with boys in my higher education classes. When I go to school everyday, I expect a certain sense of professionalism: I am very conscientious about my behavior, work ethic, and academic success. When a classmate reduces me to anything less than what I contribute to the classroom, humiliation and self-doubt consume my everyday academic life. It’s not something that I can simply shake off; it upsets my perception of my school and my peers.

The night of the incident, I was silenced. I felt embarrassed, shocked, unimportant. I could not believe that I could be eating dinner at home with my family, and unwarrantedly be attacked by people whom I called friends. When I finally told my parents what happened I was hysterical, but I gathered myself and my emotions—and I wrote a speech.

Without exposing the boys, I told our story to the 250 members of National Honor Society and reminded our school of what it means to have good character. If I had reported them, the boys would have been suspended from school for their behavior. Their futures at elite institutions would have been ruined. But they were just boys. We were growing up, and learning together what it means to be adults. Though they had the insensitivity to jeopardize my academic future, I refused to do the same to them.

Since coming to Cooper, I became the subject of a more severe case of sexual harassment. It is important to note that this harassment goes beyond joking amongst friends, insensitive comments that can be discussed until mutual respect is reached, or unweighted words that are followed by apologies. Sexual harassment is blatant disregard for the emotional, academic, and personal dimensions of a classmate through unwarranted sexualization, and the internal refusal to admit that said classmate deserves respect.

“Sexual harassment is blatant disregard for the emotional, academic, and personal dimensions of a classmate through unwarranted sexualization, and the internal refusal to admit that said classmate deserves respect. “

The stories I am sharing are incidents in which someone used specific sexual language to exert power over or to humiliate me. The boy who harassed me at Cooper disturbingly used the fact that he thought I was pretty as a “consolation” and only apologized to me “out of respect for [my boyfriend].” Through his supposed apology, my harasser exposed that I simply did not matter to him: me and all those like me were worthless. We should use these examples as a lens to examine harassment behavior that does not use sexualization, but uses bias over what one perceives as a weaker class.

Yet I spent weeks contemplating how to react to his harassment appropriately. Because he harassed me, I ended up allotting him more respect than he ever had me. The nature of a victim is to analyze: to question what warranted disrespect and to try to define the severity of the situation. I did not want to hurt the boy who harassed me. I did not want him punished. I wanted to end the systemic abuse that had become commonplace in my education and work.

Once again, after the incident took place I reached out to my parents. My mom is a practicing engineer, who has undergone much of what I am going through. While advising and consoling me, she shared stories of harassment that she experiences at work. Through her stories I realized that if I did not do anything, harassment would follow me through my higher education and to my career.

This is why schools, corporations, and governments establish rules that address harassment—to educate the people whose environments did not teach and cultivate respect. We must hold harassers accountable for their actions so that they may learn, and we as a culture and community may grow together.

I reported my harassment case to Chris Chamberlin, Dean of Students. At first I shared my story hypothetically, still unsure if I wanted to legitimately report my harasser. After learning what the protocol was, I felt comfortable enough to share my harasser’s name. It was the right thing to do—it was a step I took as an individual toward shifting the classroom at Cooper to one of comfort, respect, and equality. After naming my harasser, I had a meeting with Dean Chamberlin and Dean Mitchell Lipton, who is the Title IX Coordinator on campus. Throughout the entire process, they ensured I was heard—they ensured that the response would not be a punishment, but an opportunity to educate.

We are a new generation. We have a greater understanding of what is right and wrong. We have the voice to protect ourselves. Whether male or female, if you feel that your classmates do not respect your academic equality, and you question whether their character belongs at an elite institution, have the confidence to report them; the future of you and all of those around you will be grateful.

“We are a new generation. We have a greater understanding of what is right and wrong. We have the voice to protect ourselves. “

Report Sexual Harassment, Even If It’s From Your Friends

By Ruchi Patel (ChE ’18)

Girls at Cooper (yes, I speak for all of them here) are all too familiar with the casual inappropriate sexual comment that goes unnoticed by everyone else, and when it is noticed, it ends in a patch-up hug and is never spoken about again.

This has happened to me before. I was once waiting to cross a street with a group of all boys, my friends, and one of them said to the others: “We could gangbang Ruchi right now if we wanted to.”

No. I understand that this suggestion might be lighthearted and not considered true to his intentions, but his articulation reveals two things:

First, some boys think that they are in charge of situations in which girls are the minority. It is not okay, in any case, to “gangbang,” and a boy thinking that he could allow it if he “wanted to,” reveals a major flaw in his upbringing and his understanding of society.

The action of gang-rape is a cruel crime against girls (and their parents and brothers and sisters and friends and the rest of humanity). Gang-rape is theft and no one has the right to steal another’s dignity in this way (or in any other way, as a matter of fact). Theft is never justified, and to think that it may be justified in regards to a minority is a dangerously severe delusion. It is the equivalent of thinking that stealing is okay if someone else isn’t watching, or if whoever is watching is insignificant.

But even saying, not only doing, is a violation. “Gang-rape” is a heavy word with harsh implications and a presence that cannot be ignored. Words like that are not to be thrown around casually—they hit hard. The implied possibility of gang-rape is almost as atrocious as carrying through with it. Such callous comments are disorienting because girls do not expect that someone, especially a friend, could be capable to thinking or saying them.

“But even saying, not only doing, is a violation.”

This kind of thinking isn’t generational. It is not by chance that boys think this way or say these things. We should not shrug off sexual harassment as something that is inevitable, or that comes and goes in a lifetime. Sexual harassment comes from a lack of moral integrity and a lousy upbringing. And this is born in the individual, not a group. Every harasser is at fault because of his independent breach and lapse in judgment and humanity.

“Every harasser is at fault because of his independent breach and lapse in judgment and humanity. “

Second, some boys believe that they could articulate something hurtful, even if they didn’t mean it, just because it has been said or done before by other boys. Saying hurtful things, knowing they will hurt, is never okay, no matter how lightheartedly they are said. When someone says “Whoa, that’s not okay. You can’t say that,” you can’t say that! In any circumstance. To anyone, ever. You can’t ignore the reaction or end it with a hug. You have to apologize and then never do it again.

And when you apologize, you have to be sincere and self-aware. Apologizing out of a fear of consequences against you is not apologizing. It’s compromise. But compromise can only get you out of one situation. So be self-aware. Understand why you have transgressed, and find the self-control to never do it again. If you cannot understand, then you are morally weak and deserve no mercy from the girls who are the subjects of your depravity.

But where is the guarantee that boys will learn? There isn’t. We cannot hope that all boys will amend with one incident. That is impractical and naïve, and girls cannot afford to approach a breach in humanity with impractical and naivetés. The best we can do report each incident with the trust that the message will reach one harasser at a time.

Girls: be it verbal or physical harassment, report it. Yes, there might be social consequences. We’re taught that no one likes tattle-tales. But does reporting a personal offense qualify as snitching? You are protecting yourself, and it’s called personal safeguarding. Speaking out for others is policing. Neither of those things are wrong. In fact, they are undoubtedly right. Those who ostracize you for reporting are just as ignorant as those who sexually harass, and they don’t matter, because they have some learning to do themselves. If reporting your personal incident will protect your dignity and others’ too, then it is not “snitching.” It is a calculated move with no immediate rewards, but only the satisfaction of hoping that you’ve stopped one harasser in his tracks.

Report the sexual harassment whenever and wherever you see it. Not reporting is being passive, which is worse than being labeled a thin-skinned snitch. If enough cases are dealt with passiveness, then sexual harassment will never become the big fat deal that it needs to become. Reporting is not just “bitching about it.” It’s confronting the oppression that has plagued women through all of history. Don’t let your case become the one that hinders this change instead of pushing for it.

“Not reporting is being passive, which is worse than being labeled a thin-skinned snitch.”

If I could, I would ask all parents to raise their girls as if they were boys and raise their boys as if they were girls. But parenting is not under my control. And neither can I convince each harasser of his ignorance. Such ignorance is a result of his shitty morality, and this shitty morality comes from a shitty ethical education.

It is too late to expect complete rectification. So I speak to the girls who are in my situation and desperate for action, to the girls who want to fight for each other, and to the girls who will listen: REPORT!

*Please review the following flowchart: Should I Report it?

Wanted: Financial Monitor

By Daniel Galperin (ChE ’18)

On September 2, 2015 the lawsuit between the Board of Trustees (BoT) and the Committee to Save Cooper Union (CSCU) was settled with the issuance of a Consent Decree. Among its many demands and resolutions, the Consent Decree calls for the appointment of an independent Financial Monitor. According to the Consent Decree, the Attorney General was to select the Financial Monitor by December 1, 2015, however to this day Justice Bannon has not signed the Consent Decree, which means no selection can happen.

The independent Financial Monitor would have a duty to analyze and report the state of financial affairs at Cooper, and would also evaluate Cooper’s compliance with the terms of the Consent Decree itself. The independence of the Financial Monitor is understood as the selection of an unbiased reporter who only answers to the mandates of the Consent Decree in analysis of Cooper’s finances. This external oversight is a significant change in the governance at Cooper, as there is now a fiduciary responsibility from all parties to provide a good-faith effort to return Cooper to a full-tuition scholarship model.

“The independence of the Financial Monitor is understood as the selection of an unbiased reporter who only answers to the mandates of the Consent Decree in analysis of Cooper’s finances. “

There is a sentiment that past demands made towards the BoT have sometimes been agreed upon and not carried out fully or effectively. The appointment of a Monitor that can oversee compliance with the Consent Decree allows for the presence of an impartial arbiter that can urge action, justification or change where it is needed and demand it where necessary. Further, the Financial Monitor is given open access to all BoT meetings, including those of the Finance and Business Affairs Committee and Free Education Committee.

The Free Education Committee is another mandate of the Consent Decree and is meant to work with the Financial Monitor in order to decide when financial conditions would allow for a return to a “full tuition scholarship model that maintains Cooper Union’s strong reputation for academic quality.” These committees, along with the Finance and Business Affairs are hopefully steps in the right direction for Cooper, however they only come into effect once the Consent Decree is signed.

Moreover, the Financial Monitor is expected to “report annually, beginning on February 15, 2016”. These reports would be made public on the Cooper website and would outline the financial conditions at Cooper as well as the extent of compliance of the BoT with the Consent Decree. More specifically, it would state whether or not the Financial Monitor believes that the board’s actions were made in the best interests of Cooper. There would also be an analysis of the feasibility of the Free Education Committee’s plan to return Cooper to a full-tuition scholarship model. Appointing a Financial Monitor on December 1st would have allowed for two and a half months to prepare for such a report. Delaying the process of selection of the Financial Monitor allows for even less time to prepare a first annual report, which would likely push back the entire timeline at a very critical junction for Cooper.

Most of the community is aligned in the belief that this is a period in Cooper history where it is simply not possible to delay critical evaluation of finances any further for fear of financial insolvency. Hopefully the Consent Decree is signed post-haste so that coordinated and deliberate efforts can be made to rescuing Cooper from financial turmoil.

Dear Everyone, It’s Time to Reset Your Moral Compass

By Brandon Quinere (CE ’19)

The opinions in this article are the author’s alone and do not reflect the opinion of The Pioneer as a whole.

With the recent protests at American universities such as Yale and Mizzou regarding racial justice and freedom of speech, I find myself astonished by the response of the general public to these events. For the most part, it is generally understood that racism and discrimination are objectively bad things. We live in a society where most children are taught to see their peers as equals, regardless of differences in skin color and so, we applaud them for their “colorblindness.”

Yet, there lies the issue: people choose to erase the experiences that are attached to a particular skin color, for it is that way that they can allow themselves to see everyone equally. But “colorblindness” is not the moral way to fully eradicate discriminatory behavior. It’s time to get uncomfortable; let’s have an honest discussion about race and political correctness.

What those against the actions of student protesters at Yale and Mizzou fail to understand about the situation is that protecting safe spaces is more than just an act of political correctness run amok. There is a great stigma attached to PC culture that suggests colleges are becoming less and less representative of the world beyond campus gates. And so, as a result, college students are reduced to coddled individuals, oblivious to the realities of the outside world.

The public may find it easy to point fingers and laugh at young POC wanting to shield themselves from words and ideas that may make them uncomfortable. At what point, however, does the mere notion of “being uncomfortable” become rooted in something much bigger? The truth is, it doesn’t take much for a casual offensive remark or action to take the form of something largely oppressive.

Take the situation at Yale, for example. If students ask that certain cultures shouldn’t be appropriated in Halloween costumes and an administrator questions the need to do that, the college is essentially allowing prejudicial exploitation on campus. While miniscule on the surface, that minor attack is rooted in years and years of struggle for marginalized groups, especially black individuals. And colleges allow it to happen.

It is not humane to simply brush off racial disturbances, regardless of whether they are small or big in magnitude. It is that sense of apathy in universities toward students of color that allows racial tensions to escalate into extremely unsafe circumstances. Student protesters are speaking out for a good reason: their administrations are not maintaining the safe learning environments they were promised upon entering the school.

It is these same establishments that might have accepted students of color for the sake of creating a more diverse campus, but they are not just faces to have on the covers of brochures. Students of color are individuals with different struggles and experiences that have voices to speak out about them; stop erasing these voices.

This year, the phrase “institutional racism” was used by a candidate in a presidential debate. It is clear that there is no better time than now to acknowledge there is a larger issue at hand here. It will just take a lot of effort for campuses to recognize that political correctness can be a step in the right direction to combat this problem.

A large number of the general public that are against PC culture fear that their right to free speech is not being upheld, and they never forget to cite that our very country was founded on those rights. Why are people so quick to defend their freedom of speech, but not the consequences that come with it? The Constitution does not protect you from social ramifications, so it’s useless to defend derogatory actions just because you have the right to. “It’s just a joke, bro” is a weak argument, anyway.

Why are people so quick to defend their freedom of speech, but not the consequences that come with it?

Just like black lives, the student voice matters. As part of an angry population of students against discrimination of all types, I am not speaking out against a person’s right to say something offensive, but more so on why people feel the need, in 2015, to say such offensive things in the first place.

Faces of Cooper - Hakner - Photo by Yifei Simon Shao ME '19

Faces of Cooper: Professor Jeff Hakner

By Anthony Passalaqua (ME ’18)

Where are you from? 

New York, New York, born and raised.

Can you tell us about your educational and professional background? 

I went to Hunter High School, a lot of people went to Hunter High School. Professor Fontaine went to Hunter High School. Kevin Slavin, on the Board of Trustees, went to Hunter. In fact, he was actually my classmate—he sat next to me in seventh grade. And then I came to Cooper to study electrical engineering. I have a bachelors and masters degree. I’ve worked mostly here, though I did some work at the transit authority and some independent consulting, too.

What is your role here at the Cooper Union? 

My primary responsibilities are technical administration. All of us on [the 8th floor] are considered “administrators,” but we all have some academic responsibilities as well. I can teach no more than one course per semester, since that’s what the union contract says. I usually teach a computer engineering class, typically a higher level elective class. I’m doing operating systems right now, and I’ve done computer security, compilers, and a bunch of other courses that don’t exist anymore. I’ve been teaching, well, ever since I started working here, so that’s over twenty years.

Primarily, my responsibility is to be the plumber for bits and bytes. I do the less visible part of IT services, the infrastructure. The cable plant that ties all of our buildings together, the core network switches and routers, and some of the back end servers. I don’t have anything to do with web pages, with datatel, or any of those forward facing things, just infrastructure. I’m basically responsible for how everybody’s packets get in and out of the internet here.

One of my first acts upon starting at Cooper Union was to get us on the internet. That seems laughable now, but in the 90’s most colleges were not on the internet. We even had email, but it was done with dial-up modems. Our first full time internet connection was 9600 bits per second, which was faster than anything you could do with dial-up at the time. Then we gradually worked our way up to the multi-megabit speeds that we know today. I’ve handled every single one of those internet connections, from the first install to the most recent one. We’re always upgrading our connectivity; I just bought a four hundred megabit per second link for the school, and turned it on this summer. It’s all fiber, everything comes in fiber optics these days.

You said you’ve been teaching since 1993, so that makes 22 years. I would have guessed you were in your mid-thirties! 

Yeah, 22 years of teaching. My first course was in the fall semester of 1993. But you’d be wrong on the age, I graduated high-school in 1987.

To students who aren’t familiar with you, you’re known as “the professor who really likes trains.” Why trains? 

Yep, that’s a considerable part of my extracurricular activities. I was mainly attracted to trains because of the electrical engineering aspects of them, how the power, and the signals, and the electric motor all fit together. Now I’m so involved with a number of rail preservation organizations that it’s just become entrenched. I wind up covering all of the bases, except maybe chemical engineering. I do electrical work, civil work, mechanical work… well maybe with the paint of the batteries that’s chemical engineering, I guess. I learned a heck of a lot about civil engineering, though not here. But being here is great because no matter your question or discipline, there are so many talented faculty members and students. Do you know what this is?

(At this point, Professor Hakner showed me an old surveying level and spent a good five minutes showing me how it worked.)

It’s great that it still works. With only so many moving parts, how much can go wrong? 

[laughs] Unless you drop it! It’s well over a hundred years old. I’m president of the Shoreline Trolley Machine, where I’ve done a lot of work restoring old cars and fixing old electric motors. I build buildings, I lay track, and it’s all what I call my extracurricular activities.

How do you like your job here at the Cooper Union? 

I love my job. My job is great, and my boss is great, and I think all of the people who work for Bob Hopkins would tell you the same thing.

Do you have any advice for students? What would you tell the Hakner of 1987-1991?

Well time travel is not possible, but I would say find one thing that you specialize in, and really learn it top to bottom, inside and out, drill all the way down. But at the same time don’t allow that to cause you to lose your focus on the broader picture. So try to take in a little of everything, even stuff that’s not in your discipline. It’ll all be useful one day. Things that I thought were totally useless when I went to school and paid no attention to, like mechanical drafting, turned out to be very important later on when working in industry. You never know exactly what industry you’re going to wind up working in. It’s important to have a broad range of interests, but at the same time it’s important to not be so broad that you don’t know anything at all. If there’s something that turns you on, really drill down into it, master it.