Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Betrayed by the Academy: The Sexual Harassment of Women College Faculty

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Betrayed by the Academy: The Sexual Harassment of Women College Faculty

Article excerpt

Sexual harassment has long been a hidden problem in society and on college campuses, and one that betrays the idyllic image of faculty and students working together on intellectual endeavors. Writing a decade ago, Dziech and Weiner argued that "higher education faces a problem of epidemic proportions" (1984, p. 15) with regard to sexual harassment. The magnitude of the problem continues to be startling. In reviewing the literature on sexual harassment, Sundt (1994) concluded that nearly one-third of all women college students face sexual harassment each year. Although this statistic does not reveal the nature or the severity of the harassment these women experienced, others have noted that each year about 2 percent of women college students face "direct threats or bribes for sexual favors" (Hughes & Sandler, 1992, p. 1). It also needs to be recognized that it is not just women college students who are being harassed: between 9 and 12 percent of male students report having been sexually harassed (Sundt, 1994). Taken together, these numbers suggest that as many as 4.8 million college students may be experiencing sexual harassment annually (Paludi & Barickman, 1991).

Due in part to concerns about the magnitude of the problem facing higher education, colleges and universities have been creating, adopting, and implementing sexual harassment policies, while researchers have continued efforts to document the scope of sexual harassment (Sandier, 1990; Paludi & Barickman, 1991). Unfortunately, relatively little attention, either in terms of policy work or research, has focused on women faculty members who experience sexual harassment. Although the work devoted to the task of unmasking the problem of sexual harassment among college students is important, we need to recognize that an important population within higher education--women faculty--is sometimes ignored and forgotten.

The central goal of this study is to focus on both the incidence and the apparent effects of sexual harassment among faculty women. Using a nationally representative sample of faculty at several hundred different colleges and universities, this study has four specific objectives: to document the prevalence of sexual harassment among faculty women, to profile the characteristics of women faculty who have been sexually harassed, to examine the factors that may lead to sexual harassment, and finally, to explore the outcomes of sexual harassment. The results from this study should add much to what is known about the harassment of women faculty and help bring additional focus to the challenges facing women faculty within the campus community.

Research on Sexual Harassment

In setting the context for the present study, we will review four related bodies of literature that are directly applicable to our effort. These are research on patterns of reporting sexual harassment experiences, definitions of sexual harassment, models of sexual harassment, and research specifically focused on the harassment of women college faculty.

Reporting Sexual Harassment

The study of sexual harassment, regardless of the focus, is limited by the underreporting of harassment incidents (Brooks & Perot, 1991). There are two primary causes for not reporting incidents of sexual harassment. First, some who have been harassed may simply not want to tell about the experience due to embarrassment, shame, or fear of repercussions (Brooks & Perot, 1991). Second, individuals may fail to report incidents of sexual harassment due to nonrecognition of certain situations as sexual harassment; some women may be harassed and fail to conceptualize themselves as being harassed. These individuals have been referred to as unacknowledged harassment victims by Brooks and Perot (1991, p. 32). Goodwin, Roscoe, Rose, and Repp (1989) found that the majority of their sample did not report sexual harassment, but had identified experiencing unwanted behavior that constituted sexual harassment. …

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