Sexual Harassment's Persistent Patterns Examined in Videoconference

Article excerpt

Washington -- With the national consciousness about sexual harassment at an all-time high, the rules about acceptable -- and legal -- behavior between the sexes are coming into focus.

What exactly are the rules? And is society in general -- especially the male segment -- more sensitive to the issue of what is sexual harassment and its impact on its victims? These and other key questions were at the heart of the issues discussed in the latest in a series of videoconferences held by Black Issues In Higher Education, "Sexual Harassment 1996."

Discussing the sometimes controversial issue with the moderators were Dr. Michael Greve, executive director of the Center for Individual Rights; Beth Wilson, attorney and assistant provost at Columbia University; Ellen Vargyas, legal counsel with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; Emma Coleman Jordan, attorney, Georgetown University law professor and co-editor with Anita Hill of the book, "Race Gender and Power in America"; Dr. Anne Bryant, executive director of the American Association of University Women and just-named executive director of the National School Boards Association, and, via satellite from the University of Oklahoma, law professor Anita F. Hill.

"Many had given up believing that anything would ever be done about it," Hill said of sexual harassment. The former EEOC staffer's assertions during the 1991 Senate confirmation hearings for then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas about her relationship with then-EEOC director Thomas, helped elevate the subject in the public debates.

Five years later, sexual harassment remains a hot issue despite advances in political, economic and cultural spheres for women. The reason, according to videoconference moderators Kojo Nnamdi and Julianne Malveaux, is that the female is still sexually objectified at all levels of American society -- especially in schools, the work place and the media.

"Most men think of sexual harassment as Tailhook, or street harassment but not of situations with themselves," Nnamdi said. But sexual harassment is "the willful and unwanted sexual pursuit of another human being. And now that it has been made public we understand that sexual harassment has what can be a lifetime effect on the individual who is sexually harassed."

Despite the efforts of many in society to downplay the significance and even the existence of harassment, "it exists and is real and remains a major impediment to advancement, equity and respect between the sexes. It is not a device used by streetfighter feminists to promote anti-male ideologies," Nnamdi said.

And because sexual harassment is so pervasive, Malveaux said, we should not ignore it. "As a society, if we regulate faulty wiring in a factory, then we should regulate sexual harassment. It's about the terms and conditions of work -- it diminishes productivity and creates a hostile environment for workers and students who are entitled to go about their business without sexual harassment impeding their work," she said.

Speaking from Norman, OK, Anita Hill said that prior to the hearing that catapulted her to forefront of the sexual harassment issue, her career path was leading toward commercial law. …