But for those that do make it and gut it out, the rewards can be tremendous. You learn about yourself and the limits to which you can push yourself mentally and emotionally. It really does make you stronger, more independent and more resolved to end it the right way and the only way that makes sense. That is to pursue any and all legal means at your disposal to do so.
When I was going through it myself at the University of Connecticut, while studying landscape architecture, I remember a lawyer for a civil rights group explaining to me how difficult civil rights cases can be to win in court and how most people just give up and quit whatever institution or environment in which the harassment occurs long before getting to that point. She said you want to make records, but be smart and that timing was everything when choosing to file a complaint and then taking the next step and getting a lawyer for a means to resolve the issue in a manner that isn't “in house.”
For me, when I was going through it, she was really the only person I found that understood the issue that had some real advice. I of course had the support of my family and friends, but there was really nothing they could do. Surprisingly, the internet really had few resources for people dealing with harassment at the time. There were stories, legal cases and some really strange sites talking about all kinds of weird conspiracy theories that couldn't have been designed better to turn people off from seeking help as opposed to actually pursing it. But, in terms of strategies for dealing with harassment through useful thought out and tried tactics - nothing.
So from time to time, I write about my experience at UConn dealing with harassment in the hopes it may help someone going through it, even if only one person. My experiences aren't necessarily indicative of the entirety of the University of Connecticut, but that's where it happened and that's where I learned the strategies I did for handling it.
At first it can seem particularly daunting. Especially the way harassment happens in today's society. Gone are the days of outright blatant behavior on the part of harassers, especially the older you get. At some point the bigots that engage in harassment realize they can get in serious trouble for their actions - jeopardizing careers, school enrollment, etc. So they learn the ways of subtle harassment. Either from trial and error, by finding others like them and putting their heads together or from older bigots more than willing to train them in the arts.
For the person dealing with that sort of harassment it is immediately intimidating because of the direct threat, and the fact the subtle nature of it makes it really hard to prove. Bigots stick together (at least while the party is going their way), so if and when you choose to complain, it's your word against theirs and that could mean numerous people against just yourself.
Of course, alternately, the fact people harassing you stick together, could also mean good things for you, if you have chosen to stick it out. For example, when things are going well for you, and poorly for your harassers, in terms of the failure or success of their strategies to get to you and cause whatever outcome they seek, you will notice it. They will find some way of displaying their feelings. As time goes on, if you stick it out and really study them, you will find the people among them that have a harder time hiding their feelings of anger, frustration, fear, doubt and so forth.
You begin to see when things have not gone their way through those people, despite others that are better at hiding their emotions, frustrations, doubts, fears or that do it purely for their love of harassing people. Further, you will see what fails and what is more successful. If you just step back a little, and look at this objectively and in a detached manner, you'll discover the specific strategies being employed to harass you and will notice there will be a handful of the same strategies repeated over and over with minor variations here and there, but nothing really surprising after a while. For myself, it started in 2003 and if it was still going I'd bet my life they'd be using variations on exactly the same themes like, “This time!!! Oh yeah! This one will be the big gigantic one! Oh yeah! Wooo!”
You can then begin to formulate counter strategies that will be key to your survival. Things will be hard, but there will be times you can see the efforts of the counter strategies you employ paying off. You will probably notice this in the expressions on people's faces and the way they speak. People can also work hard to cover these things up, and, like Democratic strategist Paul Begala with exactly the same smile on the day Democrats won a super majority in the 2008 election as the day Republicans took back the House in 2010, have practiced expressions. But, there is always a tell if you study hard enough. The more harassers you have, the more weak links there are about you. Look for them.
When you begin seeing the looks that say with every beet red blotch, “man you still here?!” or hearing, “can someone just get him to go?!” when they're talking amongst themselves, you know you're doing well. It's a definite tell. It's your acknowledgement that your efforts at counter strategy are paying off and you are increasingly dealing with people that are getting more and more accustomed to their own failure.
It will still be difficult, intense, isolating and illegal, but you will begin to find the gauges for detecting the depth of their resolution. The more they fail the more they will need to regroup, re-tweak their strategies and take a little time off to recuperate. Remember, they typically expect to meet with success sooner or later, and once both sooner and later have passed them by, they get upset. It will show, you just need to develop the ability to see it, both to help give you a marker for success and to record their strategies, and the most recent tweaks to them.
Once you start hearing them patting each other on the backs with assurances that the next time will be the one for the hundredth time or increasingly lowering the bar for their markers of success, you are winning.
It is possible to beat such people even at their own game. It seems overwhelming at first and that the odds are stacked against you, but I survived so you can too. I graduated, which was my goal, and what my harassers were trying to keep from happening. For me I was being harassed due to my race, but it could be religion, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or whatever. The main issue isn't the why for those that choose to stick it out. The main issue is the how and the markers of where and when. Nobody deserves to have their freedom and liberty denied them whether by a government or a small local petty tyrant. Sticking to it takes work and practice and each situation is unique, but it is possible. For those going through it, good luck and may you meet with success yourself.
To read about my inspiration for this article go to www.lawsuitagainstuconn.com.