Disclaimer: this article contains graphic, sexually charged language.
A faculty guest — a professor and researcher — was verbally assaulted on campus Wednesday as she tried to find a parking spot.
Dr. Alexis K. Ault, assistant professor in the department of geology at Utah State University, was looking for a parking spot near the Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building on the U’s campus. She had an appointment there in the nanofabrication laboratory.
Ault eventually found an empty spot: a back-in space on Wasatch Dr., near the baseball field. When she stopped and moved to back into the space, she saw a car through her rearview mirror drive up too close for her to be able to park. She stopped and saw the person inside — she could only see a shadow — throw their hands up in exasperation. So she rolled down her window and called out, “Could you please give me some space?” She tried to explain why she was blocking the road, saying, “I am trying to park and get out of your way.”
Next, according to Ault, a young man got out of the car and approached her, yelling. She describes him as cold and calm when he asked her, “Are you a c—?” She says she was shocked and could only manage to say, “What?” in return.
“Did you just yell at me?” she said he asked her.
In response, she told him, “I was asking you to give me space so I could get out of your way.”
He responded, “So you did yell at me. You are a c—. F— you, you c—.”
He repeated himself, “F— you, you c—.”
Ault said she couldn’t say anything as he got back into his vehicle and drove away while making eye contact with her and flipping her off. She “sat in her car and sobbed.”
A second car pulled up behind her, a young woman getting out this time. She walked toward Ault’s car and asked if she was okay. The young woman explained that she had witnessed the verbal assault. She couldn’t hear what the young man had said but had seen him get out of his car, had seen how upset Ault looked and was uncomfortable with it. Ault tried to tell her what had happened, but was so shocked and upset that she couldn’t.
The witness asked if she could hug Ault, so they hugged in the street and cried. They discussed what to do and whether they should call the police, but Ault decided against it since she was now late for her appointment at the nanofab lab.
But when she arrived, she was upset and distracted. Other researchers there encouraged her to call the police.
Ault thinks that this was something beyond simple road rage. The campus police officer who took her report agreed with this sentiment. She says, “This was cold and calculating and demeaning. […] As a young woman in science, I’ve had experiences where I felt I didn’t get as much respect as others” because of her gender, but this was something else.
Campus police couldn’t be reached for comment.
The Daily Utah Chronicle does not typically name victims of crimes, but Ault agreed to be named, saying “This country is so polarized right now. Some don’t see this as a problem.” She explains that she felt the verbal assault on both a personal level and a social level.
Personally, she says, “I am not a c—. I am a woman, a geoscientist, a wife, a friend, a family member, a researcher, a teacher, a mentor, a mom to furbabies, a mountain biker, a person.”
But she says the sexually charged verbal assault also struck her deeply on a social level. “This should not be acceptable in our society.”
Dr. Ian R. Harvey, Associate Director of Utah Nanofab, was in the laboratory that day. He agrees, saying the gendered attack “is not okay. This is a blatant violation of the fundamental social contract we have between human beings.”
Ault says she’s willing to share what happened to her, despite the fact that it’s painful, because “there should be a light shown on [this] very dark act so this [kind of behavior] can be stopped.”
She asks, “How do we want to treat one another?”