Sexual Harassment in Higher Education

By Bruns, Diana L.; Bruns, Jeff W. | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Sexual Harassment in Higher Education


Bruns, Diana L., Bruns, Jeff W., Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract

Countless claims of sexual harassment have been filed throughout American companies, colleges, and universities. During the early 1980's, the impact and scope of sexual harassment problems were recognized on college campuses. Due to increased awareness of the problem, the frequency of complaints on college campuses and universities has dramatically increased. Relevant issues regarding sexual harassment in higher education including its history and policy issues are addressed.

Introduction and Background

Long before sexual harassment was identified as a problem for women students in higher education, it had been recognized as an external barrier to the adjustment of women in the workforce (Fitzgerald et al., 1988). "The central concept of sexual harassment is the misuse of power, whether organizationally or institutionally, in a manner that constructs a barrier to women's educational and occupational pursuits" (Fitzgerald et al., 1988, p. 174). Harassment often forces a student to forfeit work, research, educational goals, or even careers. Evidence exists that harassment can result in serious psychological and practical consequences for female students (Dziech & Weiner, 1984; Townsley & Geist, 2000; DeSouza & Fansler, 2003).

Kaplan and Lee (1995) indicated that victims of sexual harassment as well the harassers themselves are both male and female; suggest that, any and all members of academia are at risk. However, the bulk of complaints of sexual harassment come from female students, faculty, and staff (Kaplan & Lee, 1995; Kelley & Parsons, 2000; Cummings & Armenta, 2002). When the definition of harassment is expanded to include sexist remarks and other forms of gender harassment, the incidence rates among undergraduate women exceed seventy-five percent (Fitzgerald, et al., 1988; Hobson and Guziewicz, 2002). The Office for Civil Right (OCR) stipulates that sexual harassment can be categorized into two areas: quid pro quo and hostile environment. Quid pro quo essentially means something for something. Harassment involves making conditions of employment (hiring, promotions, retention) contingent upon the victim's providing sexual favors. (Kracunas v. Iona College Nos. 290, 879 August Term, 1996). In the late 1970's, Courts began to recognize that quid pro quo sexual harassment violates Title VII. (Korf v. Ball State University., 726 F. 2d 1222).

To prove quid pro quo sexual harassment it is necessary to prove that a person was a member of a protected class (pertaining to gender, race, age, and religion); the person was subjected to unwelcome sexual harassment; the harassment was based on sex, and the person's reaction to the harassment affects tangible aspects of her or his compensation, terms, concessions, or privileges of employment. A quid pro quo example relating to higher education could involve the request for sexual favors in exchange for a passing score in a course. Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome sexual conduct reasonably interferes with an individual's job performance or creates hostile, intimidating or offensive work environment. The harassment does not have to result in tangible or economic job consequences, that is, the person may not lose pay or promotion. To prove hostile environment sexual harassment, it is necessary to prove that the harassment was unwelcome; the harassment was based on membership in a protected class (a group named in law as protected from discrimination); the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to create an abusive working environment, and the employer had actual knowledge of the environment, but took no prompt and remedial action. A hostile environment could include a faculty member's persistence with unwelcome behavior toward a student. Whatever the case, sexual harassment is illegal because it is a form of sexual discrimination that is prohibited by Federal law (Hobson & Guziewicz, 2002; DeSouza & Fansler, 2003). …

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