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.
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.
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.
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) implements Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, by issuing interpretative regulations, by handling workplace sexual harassment cases, and by providing legal guidance. The EEOC issued regulations in 1980 that were amended in 1990, implementing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, entitled Guidelines on Discrimination Because of Sex. The workplace regulations in this document (29 C.F.R. [section] 1604.11) spell out two types of behavior that constitute sexual harassment. Each type involves an abuse of power in which physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct relating to sex is unwelcome by the victim. The first type of sexual harassment is quid pro quo, a Latin term meaning "this for that." Quid pro quo harassment generally occurs when a person with more authority exerts power over a subordinate or person of less power by making sexual advances, by requesting sexual favors, or by engaging in other conduct of a sexual nature. With quid pro quo sexual harassment, an exchange is set up whereby submission to the conduct is made a term or condition of employment or academic evaluation, or whereby submission or rejection of the conduct is used as a basis for an employment or academic evaluation. This situation might occur when a faculty member repeatedly asks a student out to dinner even after the student has declined the invitation. A claim for quid pro quo may be made.
The second and more common type of sexual harassment is hostile environment sexual harassment. This type occurs between or among individuals of equal power. The conduct unreasonably interferes with the victim's work or academic performance or has the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or academic environment. This conduct could occur when a group of faculty members consistently joke about women's anatomy during departmental meetings, causing a female professor to avoid those mandatory departmental meetings.
Until recently, academic institutions were shielded from sexual harassment claims. In 1998 and 1999, the Supreme Court handed down two landmark decisions that increased the potential for schools to be monetarily liable in private actions where a student is sexually harassed by a teacher or another student: Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District (1988) and Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education (1999). Both cases require that a number of narrow conditions be met in order for liability to be found, most notably that the school possesses actual notice of the conduct and shows deliberate indifference to that conduct. Although these conditions constitute an onerous burden of proof, making it difficult for most plaintiffs to prevail, the door is now open for future sexual harassment suits against schools.
Prevention and Training: Legal Imperatives
Since the recognition of sexual harassment as a legal action distinct from sex discrimination in Meritor (1986), legal sources have endorsed prevention as the optimal method for the elimination of sexual harassment Seminal Supreme Court decisions and federal agency regulations interpreting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Education Amendments of 1972 initially promoted the enactment of internal policies and complaint mechanisms as prevention tools. More recently, both the EEOC and the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) have issued guidances that encourage academic institutions to add the training of personnel and students to this arsenal of prevention tools.
The EEOC's 1980 Guidelines on Discrimination Because of Sex, which were amended in 1990, provided that the best tool for elimination of sexual harassment is prevention. The regulations further provided that this prevention includes informing employees of their right to raise the issue as well as developing methods to sensitize employees.
In 1998, the Supreme Court handed down two landmark decisions that made employers vicariously liable for sexual harassment committed by a supervisor where a tangible action has been taken against the victim: Faragher v. City of Boca Raton (1998) and Burlington Industries Inc. v. Ellerth (1998). The decisions gave an explicit incentive to employers to prevent sexual harassment. The decisions articulated that where harassment has occurred but no tangible action has been taken, an employer could assert an affirmative defense to liability if it has exercised reason-able care to prevent and correct the sexually harassing behavior.
In 1999, the EEOC issued Enforcement Guidance: Vicarious Employer Liability for Unlawful Harassment by Supervisors, which spells out for employers the components of reasonable care to prevent sexual harassment and emphasizes that employers should be proactive in their prevention of sexual harassment in order to avoid liability. The guidance articulates the necessity of training employees as a prevention tool in conjunction with enacting a policy and procedures for complaints. The EEOC indicates that the employer's duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent sexual harassment involves providing "training to all employees to ensure that they understand their rights and responsibilities" (EEOC, 1999, Policy and Complaint Procedures section, para. 2). Duty to exercise due care also includes ensuring that supervisors understand their responsibilities under the policy and complaint procedures, an understanding which periodic training could achieve.
The guidance specifies the content of supervisor training: "Such training should explain the types of conduct that violate the employer's anti-harassment policy; the seriousness of the policy; the responsibilities of supervisors and managers when they learn of alleged harassment; and the prohibition against retaliation" (EEOC, 1999, Other Preventive and Corrective Measures section, para. 4). Although the EEOC's guidelines have no control upon the courts and do not have the force of regulations, they are relied upon by courts in rendering decisions.
The OCR, which implements Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 by issuing regulations, handling claims of academic sexual harassment, and providing legal guidance, also has indicated that prevention of sexual harassment includes training. According to the OCR's (2001) Sexual Harassment Guidance: Harassment of Students by School Employees, Other Students, or Third Parties, institutions should provide training of administrators, teachers, and staff and should provide age-appropriate classroom information so that individuals can recognize sexual harassment behaviors and know how to respond to these behaviors.
Training as Prevention: The Importance of Communication
Kelley and Parsons (2000) suggest that sexual harassment continues at academic institutions because training has lagged behind the enactment of policies. Riggs, Murrell, and Cutting (1993) provide key elements of good policy and practice for the prevention of sexual harassment at academic institutions. They recommend the three steps for institutional leaders to take to prevent sexual harassment, steps which they indicate are derived from a decade of the experiences of institutions that have attended to this issue. The first two steps involve drafting a policy and developing an accessible grievance procedure. The third step is continuously to educate the entire academic community about sexual harassment behaviors and their potential for harm.
The enactment of policies which provide the rules that identify the behaviors that constitute sexual harassment and procedures which provide the steps for making a complaint is essential as a foundation for prevention. It seems, however, that the policies and procedures must be broadcast so that all persons in the academic community can understand the rules and the complaint mechanism, their rights, and their part in the prevention of sexual harassment. In a study at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Williams, Lam, and Shively (1992) credited the decline in complaints in the years immediately subsequent to the enactment of a college policy against sexual harassment to both the existence of a policy and its effective implementation through publication on campus and through intense educational efforts. Thus, if policies and procedures are not effectively broadcast, they remain ineffectual.
Anti-Harassment Policies and Procedures at Hostos
In 1995, the CUNY Board of Trustees promulgated its original Policy Against Sexual Harassment (Policy) and Procedures for Implementation of The City University's Policy Against Sexual Harassment (Procedures), which are applicable to employees (faculty and staff) and students on all of the CUNY campuses. In January 2005, both of these documents were revised. Because of the complexities inherent in this emerging legal area, the policy and procedures are necessarily complicated and dense. However, the basic message of the Policy is stated unambiguously:
It is a violation of University policy for any member of the University community to engage in sexual harassment or to retaliate against any member of the University community for raising an allegation of sexual harassment, for filing a complaint alleging sexual harassment, or for participating in any proceeding to determine if sexual harassment has occurred. (CUNY, 2005a, Section A, Prohibited Conduct section, para. 1)
The 1995 Procedures required that each CUNY college president appoint a Sexual Harassment Panel to handle complaints and a Sexual Harassment Education Committee (Education Committee) to educate the entire college community continuously by disseminating printed material, including the Policy and Procedures, and holding workshops. The aim of the campus Education Committee is proactively to prevent the illegal behavior. The Procedures also require that a panel be established on each campus to handle the intake of complaints made against the college community members: faculty, staff, or student. The panel's responsibility is to attempt to resolve complaints informally. If no informal resolution is possible, a formal investigation proceeds and the panel coordinator reports its findings to the college president. The president is responsible for the ultimate resolution, including discipline and corrective action.
The Policy and Procedures that were revised in January 2005 substituted the panel with a coordinator and deputy coordinators who retain the same responsibilities. The Sexual Harassment Awareness and Intake Committee (Awareness and Intake Committee) has replaced the Education Committee and is faced with the additional task of performing complaint intake in conjunction with educating the entire college community. The goal of the process remains to provide an informal mechanism for community members to use for resolution of their complaints so no resort to the court system for redress is necessary.
Although the committees recently have been reorganized, the educational component will continue under the new structure.
Anti-Harassment Training at Hostos: The Challenges
The Education Committee at Hostos recognized several challenges to its mission. As discussed, sexual harassment is surprisingly common on college campuses. Women are more likely than men to become victims of sexual harassment on a campus (Fitzgerald et al., 1988). The Hostos community is unusually vulnerable because it is mainly female and minority. As noted earlier, various studies have found that 20% to 30% of women students report being sexually harassed (Dziech & Weiner, 1990). Fitzgerald et al. (1998) found that as many as 76% of female students experience sexual harassment by professors. Paludi and Barickman (1998) have reported that women who are economically disadvantaged and of color are a higher risk for sexual harassment. Dziech and Weiner (1990) hypothesize that minority women are vulnerable to sexual harassment because of their lack of self esteem or because men find these women to be mysterious. Thus the demographics of Hostos place most of its population into those categories of persons who may be at the highest risk for sexual harassment.
The Education Committee also needed to overcome cultural barriers because many Hostos students, staff, and faculty are first generation Hispanic Americans and even recent immigrants. In the cultures that predominate at Hostos, many of the behaviors which are illegal under United States sexual harassment laws are commonplace and acceptable to both genders. In a survey of undergraduate men and women, Kalof, Eby, Matheson, and Kroska (2001) found that while students report being victims of behavior which constitutes sexual harassment, the students' cultural or ethnic background may hinder the ability to label such behavior as sexual harassment.
Finally, it should be noted that anti-sexual harassment training at CUNY is not mandatory, so any program the Education Committee developed needed to be interesting as well as relevant and informative. Holzl (1997) suggests that any pedagogical method instructors employ must engage the students to learn the material and then retain what they have learned.
And in keeping with the limited resources of public educational institutions, the Education Committee was allocated a minimal budget, which has to cover faculty and staff effort, any materials needed for workshops, and the dissemination of written materials.
The Priority: Faculty and Administration
While the Education Committee's ultimate mandate is to educate the entire Hostos community, it decided to focus initially on training faculty and top administration leaders, with a secondary emphasis on administration employees. With a limited budget and time constraints, the Education Committee reasoned that a college's leaders should set the standards for the entire community. It is hoped that training will, at a minimum, discourage these leaders from committing harassment themselves and demonstrate to the community that its leadership supports the effort against harassment. More ambitiously, it is hoped that college leaders will prevent harassment in their classrooms and offices and teach those with whom they interact about the boundaries of acceptable behavior. So the program was initially tailored to the needs of this group, along with those of administration employees.
In terms of college policy and laws, the president, vice president, and academic deans are the hierarchical supervisors of both the faculty and administrative employees. In academia, the administration (top echelons of staff) is responsible and accountable for executing or implementing governmental laws, policies, and procedures for the entire campus. As discussed, the Sexual Harassment Panel (and presently the Awareness and Intake Committee) is responsible for handling complaints, and the college president is responsible for the ultimate resolution of complaints. So the college's top officers were trained first, along with the members of the Sexual Harassment Panel and those of the Education Committee.
Along with its top officials, a college's faculty members are also its leaders and role models, setting the standards for acceptable behavior, both in the classroom and beyond. College faculty members are sexually harassed more often than might be expected. In a small study of university faculty by McKinney (1990), 9% of men and 20% of women reported harassment by a colleague; 19% of men and 22% of women reported harassment by a student. The percentages are different because one is by a colleague and the other by a student. In a study by Dey, Korn and Sax (1996), 15.1% of faculty women and 3.1% of faculty men reported being harassed. A study by Kelley and Parsons (2000) found that 22% of female faculty reported sexual harassment. And Fitzgerald et al. (1988) suggest that 50% of women faculty have experienced sexual harassment.
Moreover, this harassment has a strong effect on how female faculty members view their colleges or universities: A study by Dey et al. (1996) reported that "harassed women are much more likely to hold negative views of institutional norms toward respect for others, fairness toward women, and manner in which the campus administration operates" (p. 166). Dey et al. also found that harassed women had significantly less job satisfaction.
Because faculty members set the tone for a large part of the community, it was hoped that an intervention at the faculty level would have wide-ranging ramifications, in terms of both preventing harassment and demonstrating the priority of sexual harassment at the college. So the education of this group began immediately after the education of top administration officials.
A Program with a Multimedia Approach
The program designed by the Education Committee blends an online course with 90 minutes of material divided into a three-part workshop, which serves as the centerpiece of the program. The workshop is designed for a small number of participants ranging from 5 to 25 faculty or staff that are grouped by office, department, and unit or that represent a cross-section of faculty. Students generally are grouped by classes, as government or club leaders, by work-study status, or as tutors. A study by McCormick, Adams-Bohley, Peterson, and Gaeddert (1989) recommends this approach, concluding that "small workshops, directed at natural groups of students and faculty, may be a more effective approach for teaching people about sexual harassment and convincing them they can and should do something about it" (p. 22).
The online course, entitled "Preventing Sexual Harassment," is a customized program developed by New Media Learning (2005). The course generally is viewed as preparatory for the workshop; it acts to familiarize the learner with the Policy and Procedures, sexual harassment behaviors, and consequences of these behaviors. It opens with the CUNY policy statement by the CUNY Chancellor and CUNY's Policy and Procedures. (This feature is customized by New Media Learning to each college or university's policy statement.) The program then presents a drop-down menu of content areas, which include the salient portions of the sexual harassment law, the most recent case law in the area, pretest quizzes, and exercises. After reviewing these materials, learners take a mastery test. Once the test is passed, the program produces a certificate, which can be printed out. Both faculty members and administrative-administration employees can choose to have this certificate included in their personnel files.
Individualized online learning is an emerging trend in education, especially in the community colleges (Ausburn, 2002). It is useful not only for academic but also for administrative instruction. An individualized approach is a great advantage to teaching a diverse population that varies greatly in many factors which affect learning, such as age, skills, and reading comprehension (Ausburn, 2002). Computer-based instruction facilitates individualized learning by providing lessons in a module format that the learner can access in the sequence, place, and time he or she chooses, as well as at his or her own pace (Ausburn, 2002). This format also affords the learner privacy--a critical feature, given the sensitive nature of the materials.
While online teaching provides many advantages, it may be ineffective for learners who lack adequate reading comprehension skills (Ausburn, 2002). It might appear as if the mastery test would be a good indication of competence, but this test can be taken and passed with just a minimal perusing of the material. In contrast to Wellbrock (1999), who suggests that computer-based training alone is sufficient to train effectively in the area of sexual harassment, the Education Committee views the online course as supplemental to the workshop rather than complete in itself. The Education Committee believes that learning must be interactive and that the subtleties and complexity of sexual harassment demands that the training include both a role-playing and a discussion component.
The three-part workshop involves a video followed by a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation and then a discussion period. The video, which takes about 20 minutes, depicts various scenarios in which students and faculty are interacting; it visually demonstrates subtle crossing of personal boundaries. This method is useful because sexual harassment often deals with interactions that are quite subtle between individuals, making it difficult to explain exactly when a behavior constitutes sexual harassment. Videos can dramatize these subtleties to show what behaviors are prohibited (Waldrop, 1994). Videos also may be another tool to increase students' level of interest (Nowaczyk, Santos, & Patton, 1998). Deloney and Graham (2003) find the use of theatre and the portrayal of doctor-patient interactions beneficial in teaching about subtle issues and promoting attitude change.
Choosing a suitable video can be difficult because many of the works available present actors and situations that are unconvincing and inappropriate. Ideally, the video used for all three college constituencies should be geared to an academic environment. Most videos currently available, however, present exclusively academic or exclusively workplace environments. As a result, the Education Committee uses an academic environment video for faculty, students, and staff members who interact heavily with students and a workplace environment video for staff members who are involved with maintaining and policing the campus and have limited student interaction.
The scenes include various parties under the law--the harasser, the victim, and the third-party victim who experiences hostile environment sexual harassment when the workplace sexual harassment is aimed at another. The scenes portray both genders as harassers and demonstrate equal and unequal power situations--for example, situations where the student is the harasser and the faculty member is the victim.
The PowerPoint presentation, which runs between 30 and 40 minutes, acts as a review of the most important facets of the CUNY Policy and Procedures as well as federal law in a stimulating concise format. Holzl (1997) suggests that teachers using PowerPoint presentations can accomplish their dual mission, which is to engage students in a manner that commands attention and also to assist in the student retention of material. While the online course presents mostly federal law and provides a great amount of detail, the PowerPoint presentation focuses on only the most important facts and concepts, reinforcing the material in a summary form. Mayer, Bove, Bryman, Mars, and Tapangco (1996) found that a concise summary of complicated material is more effective for retention of material than the lengthy version of the material. They further found that a multimedia summary that combines verbal and visual formats with a small amount of text is the most effective for retention.
The discussion period that follows the video is a vital part of the education program. Discussions typically last between 20 and 30 minutes. Participation is not mandatory, but discussions often become quite lively. Workshop presenters elucidate the material through reference to the video, by examples or by answering the participants' questions which usually focus on specific situations and gray areas in university policy or in the law.
Obviously, any discussion of sexual harassment needs to be handled with sensitivity and respect. Workshop presenters (Education Committee members) are trained for 3 days using the model of social identity development (Goodman, 1995). Training ensures first that the presenters themselves have a strong and nuanced understanding of the complex content of the materials so that they can be comfortable and clear in their presentations. Presenters also are trained on the judgment calls they need to make in handling delicate topics. As Goodman observes, culturally based misunderstandings often cause conflicts to escalate (Kochman, 1981; Tannen, 1990; Goodman 1995). To prevent this, the presenters learn to recognize and impart an awareness of cultural differences in communication. Finally--and most important--the presenters are trained to empower workshop participants, first by providing them with the resources and techniques necessary to address mistreatment appropriately and effectively, and also simply by allowing them to talk. As Gullette (1992) observes, "the event of speaking as an agent prefigures acting as an agent--exerting power in the outside world" (para. 8).
The workshop format is extremely flexible. Group size ranges from 2 to 30 people. The program can be modified to meet the needs of a particular constituency, group size or setting, or to serve a particular need, such as responding to an incident which involves a faculty member who already has undergone training. Modifications include omitting portions of the workshop, expanding the discussion period, and offering the online course in lieu of the workshop for a second round of training.
Numerous studies have shown that people learn best when they process material actively (Nunn, 1996). At the least technological level, it appears that students master material better when they articulate that material before a group (Gullette, 1992; Nunn, 1996). In addition, multimedia presentations show particular promise for improving the effectiveness of education and training. At the simplest level, it is evident that students prefer multimedia presentations to more traditional teaching (Nowaczyk et al., 1998).
To supplement its formal training, the Education Committee disseminates the CUNY Policy and Procedures and various supplemental materials through electronic mail and in hard copy several times during each semester. These materials include a summary of the policy and procedures, an overview of pertinent legal statutes and cases, and important and interesting articles in legal and non-legal newspapers and magazines. In addition, the Education Committee has strategically placed campus posters with images that reinforce the anti-sexual harassment message and has created brochures for quick perusal.
The Policy and Procedures also are included in the college catalogue and in a Hostos student publication of laws and policies entitled Annual Student Right to Know Report. These materials are distributed to all students at registration. The aim of these distributions is to ensure that every community member has the policy and procedures in his or her possession and knows that sexual harassment is illegal and that the behavior is not condoned on campus.
In addition to disseminating the established policy and procedures, the Education Committee aims to encourage both faculty and student scholarship on the subject of sexual harassment and its effects. To further this study, the Education Committee has created a sexual harassment subject guide and disseminated a list of sexual harassment materials available in the Hostos library.
Academic institutions have many clear incentives for strengthening their education efforts in the area of sexual harassment--from the need to protect vulnerable college community members to the ability to provide a risk-free environment where people want to work and study, to the consideration of school finances given the looming potential for monetary liability. Studies and important scholarship point to training as an essential tool for preventing sexual harassment. Legal imperatives also indicate that prevention, which includes training of the academic community, may shield against liability.
Hostos' blended program appears to achieve the objectives of imparting legal information and of holding the attention of its audience in a cost-effective and exciting manner. By combining an online course with a multimedia workshop, the program presents a great deal of delicate and complex material in a manner that allows an extremely diverse group of learners to absorb information at their own pace, using their own cognitive styles. The lively discussions that take place during the last part of the workshop demonstrate that the education program has begun to engage its participants in rethinking how their behaviors can hurt others.
The goal of this training is to prevent sexual harassment at Hostos. This is an ambitious mission, given the scope of the problem and the under-awareness of this issue in society. It also is still too soon to see if the program has met this goal. However, it is clear that the program has prompted Hostos community members to address this complex and problematic issue, and it does so in a way that is suited to the college's education, budget, and legal parameters. It allows for privacy as well as interactive discussion. It is cost-effective, flexible, and relatively easy to expand. It can be documented, allowing the university to show that it has met its legal obligation to provide training.
To date, the Education Committee has successfully educated each department on campus. Through its continuous efforts, each faculty member is educated at least once during a three-year period. And while protecting the institution, the program also provides two things that Hostos is dedicated to delivering: empowerment and education. The community's consciousness has been heightened, and faculty members and other campus leaders are aware of the issue.
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Amy J. Ramson is an Assistant Professor in the Behavioral/Social Sciences/Public Administration & Paralegal Department at Hostos Community College (CUNY) in New York City. She is chair of education of the Hostos Community College's Sexual Harassment Awareness and Intake Committee. email@example.com…