Report: Campus climate overhaul needed to stem sexual harassment
- A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine calls for a systemic change in the culture and climate of higher education to improve the way women are treated in the academy — particularly in the sciences — and to cut down on sexual harassment.
- Most institutional policies and much of the discourse around sexual assault is focused on compliance, rather than prevention, said Elizabeth Hillman, president of Mills College, a women's college in Oakland, California, and a member of the authoring committee. What this means, she said, is that institutions have gotten "really good at avoiding liability, and not good at preventing violence" against women.
- The report laid out 13 recommendations to prevent further occurrences, ranging from the importance of "creating diverse, inclusive, and respectful environments" to focusing on bystander intervention. And based on the wide range of organizations studied, Hillman said she has "high faith" that the recommendations are not exclusive to the sciences and "could be put into play in a wide variety of environments."
A recent analysis from the Wall Street Journal revealed that 22 systems and universities paid out more than $10.5 million to settle sexual harassment claims in the 2016 and 2017. Most of the settlements were paid because of inadequate responses to sexual harassment claims, and the WSJ analysis concluded the payments were mostly "hush money" to avoid public trials and hits in the court of public opinion.
The reports authors found five factors in particular contribute to heightened occurrences of sexual assault in academia:
- A perceived tolerance for sexual harassment, which is perhaps most highlighted by the WSJ findings.
- A persistent male-dominated environment.
- A hierarchical power structure in the academy that may make people feel they can't report misdoings by someone perceived to be higher on the ladder.
- An emphasis on symbolic compliance with Title IX and Title VII, which limits institutional liability but does not offer protections to victims.
- "Uninformed leadership on campus that lacks the intentionality and focus to take the bold and aggressive measures needed."
Hillman said in an interview with Education Dive that the real issue lies in the fact the higher education is not a truly diverse, welcoming or inclusive or and isn't respectful environment. "The idea that hiring people because of their race and gender is somehow heroic — we need to let go of that," she said, specifically noting instances of white male leaders touting their records on hiring people from certain backgrounds. Instead, leaders need to do a better job of making "people feel like they belong [on campus] and not that they're lucky to be there" — and that extends from those in administration down to students.
It is not sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention that is the biggest issue feeding into sexual assault; it's gender discrimination and an overall perception that women are not as qualified or deserving of being in the place as their male counterparts, Hillman said.
- The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
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