Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination in NDT Debate

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination in NDT Debate

Article excerpt

Sexual harassment in academic institutions has become increasingly prevalent. While the incidence may vary, scholars generally agree that at least 30% of college students will experience some form of sexual harassment (Dzeich & Weiner, 1984; Fitzgerald et al., 1988). Further, the incidence of harassment is not confined to any particular institutional setting. For example, Till (1980) indicated that sexual harassment plagues large and small universities, private schools, vocational schools and religious-affiliated schools alike.

The ubiquity of sexual harassment behaviors in academia has prompted many colleges and universities to study harassment more rigorously. The debate community should also examine this issue. The purpose of this paper is to present the results of a survey regarding sexual harassment among women in NDT debate. The survey provided both qualitative and quantitative analysis of the issue of sexual harassment. This essay is limited to a report of the quantitative data based on the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire (Fitzgerald, et al., 1988).



The sample for this survey consisted of 20 female debaters and 6 female debate coaches attending a large national debate tournament. The survey responses represent roughly 50% of the female tournament participants. The average age of debate coaches was 28.8 and the average age of debaters was 19.6.


Permission to conduct the survey during the course of the tournament was obtained from the tournament director. Because of the sensitive nature of the issue, the surveys were distributed personally by the researcher and research assistants. Participants were instructed, in both oral and written form, to return the survey directly to the researcher or to deposit it in a survey response box located at the ballot table. To ensure confidentiality, the survey response box was sealed to prevent unauthorized access. Participants were also instructed to seal their surveys in envelopes. Participation was voluntary.


The survey offered items based on the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire (SEQ) developed by Fitzgerald et al. (1988). The SEQ provided a 28 item survey which assessed five levels of sexual harassment. These levels included:

1. Gender harassment: generalized sexist remarks and behavior;

2. Seductive behavior: inappropriate and offensive, but essentially sanction-free, sexual advances;

3. Sexual bribery: solicitation of sexual activity or other sex-linked behavior by promise or rewards;

4. Sexual coercion: coercion of sexual activity by threat of punishment;

5. Sexual imposition: unwanted: touching, fondling or grabbing.

Two adjustments were made when using the SEQ for this study. First, the time constraints associated with the tournament required offering a smaller number of items. Initially, items were discounted which could not be adapted to the debate context. Since a factor analysis was not available for item loadings, remaining items were randomly chosen for each level of harassment. In this manner, 11 items were included which reflected the five levels of harassment.

Second, SEQ survey items were adjusted slightly to reflect the behavior of debate participants. For example, an item testing gender discrimination included the following illustrator: "Do you perceive that your arguments or questions are treated less seriously than those raised by men?" This particular illustrator essentially substitutes "arguments and questions" for classroom comments. Substitution choices were guided by literature regarding student-teacher interaction (Sexual Harassment Panel of Hunter College, 1990).

For each item, participants were asked to circle the response which most closely reflected their experiences. The response options included 1) never, 2) once and 3) more than once. If the participant circled either a 2 or 3, they were further instructed to indicate whether the person involved was a coach, debater or both. …

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