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The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

SBCC student chalks sidewalks to raise awareness about catcalling

Marlena Hughes
City College student Rebeca Adam chalks a quote from a sexual harassment story at Santa Barbara City College in Santa Barbara, Calif., on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. She chalks sidewalks at least three times a week to share stories of sexual harassment and assault that are messaged to her on her instagram, @catcallsofsantabarbara.

City College student Rebeca Adam sprawled out across the sidewalk with chalk in hand as she wrote a large quote on the ground outside the Sports Pavilion Friday.

Passers-by sidestepped to avoid her but stopped in their tracks as they read the words.

“Hey, you’re looking good today. I like it rough baby,” the quote read in giant letters, unavoidable on the high-traffic path. 

The quote came from one of Adam’s Instagram page followers, who said a boy in her math class had pulled her hair before whispering that he “liked it rough.”

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Adam, the admin of the Instagram account @catcallsofsantabarbara, spends hours a week writing followers’ stories of catcalling and public harassment in chalk on the streets of Santa Barbara.

“They’re colorful, they’re in your face, you can’t ignore them,” said Adam of the drawings.

Her Instagram page is part of the nationwide Chalk Back movement, which aims to raise awareness about street harassment. The movement began in New York City in 2016 by student Sophie Sandberg as a school project.

“People have never been encouraged to share their stories of harassment,” said Sandberg. 

The account and the movement are ways to “listen to the person who is facing harassment,” she said. 

Adam has received dozens of submissions and left 22 chalk quotes across the city after only a month of working on the project.   

Activists from all over the world have started Instagram accounts for their cities, filling the streets with quotes such as “Let me be your Harvey Weinstein” (London) and “I’d like to take you right now, baby girl” (New York). 

All quotes written on the street are from real-life experiences sent in by Instagram users through direct messages. 

“I knew it was an issue in Santa Barbara but I didn’t know how big an issue until everyone was dm-ing me their stories,” Adam said, mentioning that many of the stories sent in are from 13 to 14-year-old girls, often involving encounters with older men. 

“It’s disproportionately young girls,” said Sandberg. Many of the submissions she receives in New York City are from 11 to 13-year-old girls. 

“No kid or anyone should have to fear being sexualized,” Adam said. 

The chalks of real-life catcalling incidents that now pepper the streets of Santa Barbara and Isla Vista serve as a wake-up call to viewers, and a way to denormalize street harassment. 

“It’s not just an Instagram account,” said UCSB student Lauren Jennings, who frequently assists Adam with her chalking. 

“Having this account is, in a way, having a support group,” Jennings said. “There are people who will see that… and feel a little bit more empowered.”

While the issue of street harassment does affect young girls at a disproportionate rate, Adam wants to encourage people of all genders to feel comfortable speaking up about their experience. 

“I want it to grow and I want more people to submit,” she said. 

Adam invites anyone to help her write the quotes in places such as State Street, Del Playa, and throughout Isla Vista. 

“You feel the community on social media but when you do your own chalk it’s pretty empowering,” Adam said. 

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