North Carolina State University was ordered to pay two former students $300,000 for ignoring their complaints about it.
George Washington University did not renew a professor’s contract because of it. And women in the U.S. Military and Naval Acadamies deal with the hardships caused by it everyday.
“It” is sexual harassment. For those of you who think it does not happen here at Fairfield, you are largely mistaken.
“I can certainly tell you there have been sexual harassment instances here at Fairfield,” said Mark Reed, dean of students.
However, when asked to describe a particular incident, he declined.
“Yes, there have been instances. However we haven’t had what we consider to be a large number of them,” he said.
According to Reed, when it comes to sexual harassment, we cannot look at the incidents as black and white. Incidents can range from a student feeling uncomfortable about a comment to a student being sexually assaulted. It also includes improper advances by a professor toward a student.
“We cannot ‘blend the lines’ between sexual harassment and sexual assault,” said Reed. “Harassment and assault are dealt with differently, as there are two separate policies for each.”
In the university’s most recent crime report, mandated by federal law, there were not any instances of forcible and non-forcible sexual assault at Fairfield in 2004, versus a high of eight in 2001.
Fairfield, like many schools, uses the student handbook to warn about sexual harassment.
The university “does not condone or tolerate any behavior (verbal, electronic or physical) by a university employee, student, or visitor that would constitute sexual harassment,” according to the Fairfield student handbook.
Faculty members also get a letter warning them about the subject.
Dr. Orin Grossman, academic vice president, said that sexual harassment can include a wide range of inappropriate behaviors, ranging from direct solicitation of sexual favors to creating a hostile learning environment in the classroom.
“There is hardly a school in the country that has not dealt with these issues in some form,” he added.
However, Grossman would not comment on any accusations made by a student against a professor, in the past or present, nor would he comment on any instances in the past where a professor had been terminated because of such charges.
Nationally, it is teacher-student harassment which seems to be generating the most buzz. NC State found itself in a predicament when two students sued the university over sexual harassment by a professor. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that NC State lost this case because the university failed to “follow its own zero tolerance policy.”
With the onslaught of litigation concerning sexual harassment and sexual assault at higher education institutions, it is becoming detrimental for schools to make sure policies are available.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported just last week that Brett A. Sokolow, president and founder of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, a consulting firm, said that sexual harassment and sexual assault accusations have become the number one source of liability claims against colleges.
It precisely for this reason that policies are intact. When asked why Fairfield has a sexual harassment policy, Reed replied, “Legally it is good to have this policy…but it is good practice also. Our policy defines what sexual harassment is and provides a process or procedure by which someone who is an alleged victim of that type of harassment can seek a regress of their concerns.”
When it comes to dealing with specific incidents, the nature of the allegations and the allegations themselves need to be addressed at the forefront.
“Sexual harassment deals with gray issues…that are really hard to confront head on because it can be very subtle at times,” Reed said.
“If a situation reaches my office it is usually because there has been an allegation of a policy violation and in that case we could handle it through the student behavioral violation process,” he added.
“There have not been many complaints regarding professors, and those are the only complaints that would get to me,” said Grossman.
The problem with “policies” is that many students and even teachers are unaware of what the school’s policy even is or that it even has one.
“I was not aware of Fairfield’s policy for dealing with sexual harassment
until you asked me these questions and I looked up the policy,” said Irene Mulvey, secretary of the general faculty and professor of math.
Mulvey said that she does not know if Fairfield even has a problem with harassment or not because if there were allegations of sexual harassment against a faculty member, she would simply “not be informed.”
Students can relate to Mulvey about not knowing what the policies are or if a problem exists. Some students choose to rely on personal instincts about what sexual harassment is and is not, as well as how to deal with it.
“Yeah I am sure there is sexual harassment on campus,” said Lauren Donaldson ’06. “If I were involved in an incident I would use my judgment about how to deal with it.”