Welcome to college. It's a risque experience
DULUTH - Sexual harassment or old-fashioned fun? Incoming college freshmen were greeted Thursday morning in Duluth college neighborhoods with signs from partying upperclassmen and women reading: "Dads, she's in our hands now" and "Free breast exa...
DULUTH - Sexual harassment or old-fashioned fun?
Incoming college freshmen were greeted Thursday morning in Duluth college neighborhoods with signs from partying upperclassmen and women reading: "Dads, she's in our hands now" and "Free breast exams."
Women joined in the raucous welcome with signs describing the size of their bras and their taste for young men -- and the young men's fathers.
One group of men advertised a "Mom dropoff" point but implored: "No fatties!!! (please)."
Duluth police visited the area before noon, advising students their signs were illegal and citing several partiers for underage and public consumption of alcohol.
Frank Jewell traveled Woodland Avenue on Thursday morning and saw many of the signs.
"Here is a main drag and people are barraged by this when they drive by; it's appalling," said Jewell, executive director of Men as Peacemakers in Duluth. "There is a sexually toxic environment, and what you're seeing in these signs ... suggests to these young people that that is OK."
Students along college-area streets such as 21st Avenue East, Woodland Avenue and College Street have a tradition of "welcoming" new students with bawdy signs and lawn parties.
When told that people were complaining about the signs, a student on Woodland Avenue, Erik Doeden, said: "Duluth does not like college students. But we're five blocks from campus and we're having fun."
Many groups, including fraternities and sororities, chose not to take part in the off-campus freshman-"welcome" this year, said Jeni Eltink, the University of Minnesota Duluth's first-year experience director.
"They say this isn't the image we want to project," she said. "There are a lot of student organizations who are doing positive things to welcome students back to campus. The students who live along Woodland Avenue may say this is a tradition, but we're working with other traditions. They certainly aren't representative of all UMD students."
Senior Jason Henke said the parties and signs were a way to meet new students.
"The signs probably aren't necessary, but it does make it more fun," he said.
Other students said the practice was a fun, harmless attempt at humor. They said many drivers honked and seemed to appreciate the revelry.
"When I came (as a freshman), I thought it was exciting to see people out here," said senior Emmie O'Brien, who was standing with girls holding signs with sexual messages relating to fathers. "When I moved in, my dad was freaking out: 'What are all these signs?' Now the dads can laugh at it."
Mary Beth Marciniak was helping move her freshman daughter in at UMD on Thursday. She hadn't seen the signs because UMD had given directions to avoid Interstate 35 construction, thereby sending them to UMD via Arrowhead Road.
When told about the signs, Marciniak called them "incredibly immature."
"I think it's meant in fun, but I think it contributes to violence against women," she said. "If you are coming from a smaller, close-knit community, that can be intimidating and scary."
Her daughter, Liz Marciniak, said she wasn't bothered by the signs.
"People are going to take offense," she said, "but it's not going to affect my day."
Junior Bill Chopp said not all the signs were inappropriate, and girls were holding signs that were just as demeaning as some of those held by males.
"It's all in how you look at it," he said.
Jewell said that while women were participating in the sign-holding, women aren't generally committing crimes of rape and battery.
"Signs that say 'breast checks,' or whatever, it immediately makes you feel unsafe," he said. "An individual event like these guys with signs doesn't necessarily affect things, but it certainly affects women who have suffered some kind of violence."
Duluth police public information officer Brad Wick said several people in the Woodland area Thursday were issued tickets for minor and public consumption of alcohol. He also said police warned some party-goers they could be cited for having disorderly houses and displaying signs in violation of city ordinance.
"They were giving out fliers on city ordinances, what they can be tagged for," he said. "They were advised not to have the signs."
Most of the signs had disappeared before 1 p.m.