Please don’t misuse the word “harassment”

Dear Editors,

While reading Harm Venhuizen’s March 11 article regarding Tuesday, March 9th’s controversial tabling event, I was struck by the following sentence: “Concerned students criticized [Student Senate’s] response in comments, calling it a ‘non-statement’ and claiming that Student Senate had failed to address ‘homophobia’ and ‘harassment’ that occurred on Tuesday.”

I would specifically like to address the word “harassment,” a word Venhuizen reports that the aforementioned students used to describe the actions of Paul Dick and his associates. We in the Calvin community must recognize what a loaded word “harassment” is, carrying with it possible criminal implications.  According to the Michigan Penal Code:

“‘Harassment’ means conduct directed toward a victim that includes, but is not limited to, repeated or continuing unconsented contact that would cause a reasonable individual to suffer emotional distress and that actually causes the victim to suffer emotional distress. Harassment does not include constitutionally protected activity or conduct that serves a legitimate purpose.”

Clearly what Paul Dick and his associates did cannot be classified as “harassment.” Those who disliked their message were easily able to walk away, and such persons were not pursued by Dick or his associates.  Thus, whatever “unconsented contact” offended persons had with Dick’s message was not “repeated or continuing.”

I humbly urge the Calvin community not to misuse such important terminology when expressing disagreement.


David Urban

Professor of English