On our final episode of Beyond the Report, we meet author and Texas Tech University PhD candidate, Jessica Smith. She’s lived all over the U.S. and has experienced all forms of sexual harassment…Lubbock is no exception to that. Now, she strives to hold a mirror up to society and highlight the microaggressions that lead to much larger problems.
“Sexism is everywhere,” she says. “Sexism is in the air we breathe it just manifests differently, or people feel more comfortable in different places maybe. I was surprised when I got to Texas Tech, maybe how foregrounded the commentary was.”
During her time working towards her PhD at Texas Tech, she’s dealt with a number of sexist remarks from colleagues and even some professors. She recalls one incident that stuck out in her memory.
“I wanted to start a graduate-run reading series and I went to the dean and asked for money, and I prepared what I thought was a very professional proposal, and clearly laid out what I wanted. And when I was granted this money, more than one male PhD student, and one professor as well made comments to me about, what did you wear to meet the dean, who’s also a man. You gotta teach me your tricks, what kind of mascara do you wear. Things like that that they thought were funny.”
“Three or four years ago I probably would have laughed along with them to be part of the club that they were presidents of,” Jessica says.
According to a new survey 81 percent of women have experience sexual harassment. This new survey defines sexual harassment in much broader terms. It incorporates behaviors like cyber harassment and even catcalling—something Jessica has had a few experiences with.
“With catcalling, I’m not really sure how to explain to someone who doesn’t think that it’s damaging why it’s damaging. I like to run and women die or get attacked a lot running. Lubbock is a lot more sparse, that’s been the hard thing for me, just being in public. When I lived in a dense city, you could just pop into a store, grab someones forearm if something happens to you. I mean I got catcalled more in New York city than here, but here I’m alone and there’s no one near by and it tends to linger longer and it tends to escalate faster.”
Jessica has formed a community of artists and yogis to surround herself with. When she’s not working towards her PhD, she’s teaching classes at the YogaStand. She even got married and is expecting a baby…a little boy. By the time this story airs she’ll probably have already given birth. With all these positive changes in her life, she still utilizes her experiences as motivation for her work.
“I write a lot about power dynamics between men and women and intimate partner violence,” she says. A lot of the inspiration comes from personal experience. Right before coming to Tech she had just left an abusive relationship. He was a fellow writer, which helped build the false narrative of their love story. That eventually came crashing down when she faced the reality of what she was living with.
She explains, “When I did come out of it and I was in therapy, and I started doing a lot of research to try and figure out how this had happened to me, who thought she was so feminist and thought she was so empowered. I think in doing that research it helped me realize that there is this nexus between, what we’re talking about everyday sexual harassment, microaggressions and things like domestic violence, intimate partner violence, sex trafficking. I think clarvey Watkins said, you have to do the little things, you have to see someone as inhuman before you can take those next more violent steps. And so I just saw the way that like he had and I had both been bread by the culture in some ways.”
Watch Jessica’s full story and all episode of the Beyond the Report series at BeyondtheReportLBK.com.