Editor's Choice: Sexual Harassment Education on Campus: Communication Using Media

Article excerpt

Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem on our nation's college and university campuses, one that can have devastating results. Educational institutions had been shielded from liability for sexual harassment until the late 1990s, when two landmark Supreme Court decisions set forth a new standard for liability of institutions where students are harassed. This shift in law, plus recent legal imperatives indicating that training is an important prevention tool, has encouraged institutions to strengthen their anti-harassment training. This article discusses the educational program at Hostos Community College, a program that utilizes a multimedia approach coupled with discussion. This blended approach successfully meets both the current legal prevention requirements and satisfies the needs of a complex environment of a metropolitan college.

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We think of sexual harassment as a problem unique to the business environment, but this unlawful behavior is commonly found on our nation's college and university campuses. Most studies have found that 20% to 40% of female college students, employees, and professors report some form of sexual harassment (Kelley & Parsons, 2000). According to various studies, 20% to 30% of women students report being sexually harassed (Dziech & Weiner, 1990). Harassment can have a devastating impact financially, personally, and professionally on staff, faculty, and students. (Dziech & Weiner, 1990, Fitzgerald et al., 1988). Educational institutions had been shielded from liability for sexual harassment until the late 1990s, when two landmark Supreme Court decisions set forth a new standard of liability for educational institutions where students are harassed. This shift in law, in addition to the indication by recent legal imperatives that training is an important prevention tool, has encouraged educational institutions to attend more vigorously to this issue and to strengthen their anti-harassment training.

This article will discuss the educational program crafted by Hostos Community College, a program that utilizes a multimedia approach coupled with discussion to educate its academic community about sexual harassment. This blended approach has been successful in both meeting the prevention requirements under current law and satisfying the needs associated with the complex environment of a metropolitan college. While recognizing that a college community is composed of many different constituencies, including faculty, staff, and students, this article focuses on the program's success at educating and sensitizing the faculty, composed of men and women of various ethnicities.

Hostos Community College (Hostos) is a two-year college in the City University of New York (CUNY) system. CUNY, the largest urban university campus in the United States serving more than 400,000 students per year, is composed of 19 colleges, including senior, community and technical colleges, a graduate center, a law school, and a medical program. A majority of the student population and much of the staff and faculty at CUNY are minorities, most predominately African-American and Latino. The student population at Hostos, notably, has the highest number of minorities and women of all the CUNY colleges.

Legal Background

Sexual harassment law is governed by our country's most significant federal civil rights legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits sex discrimination by employers. A 1986 Supreme Court case, Meritor Savings Bank FSB v. Vinson, defined sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 extends this same protection to students and other academic community members at public and private educational institutions and training programs that receive federal funding. Academic institutions must adhere to both employment and academic laws relating to sexual harassment since their communities are composed of both employees and students. …