Academic journal article Community College Review

Sexual Harassment Policies and Computer-Based Training

Academic journal article Community College Review

Sexual Harassment Policies and Computer-Based Training

Article excerpt

After summarizing the concepts and legislation involved in the need for a well-stated sexual harassment policy in a community college environment, the author links computer-based training to successful policy implementation and provides an overview of software designed to instruct employees about an institution's sexual harassment policies.

Whether student-to-student, employee-to-employee, or encountered by undergraduates from persons at an educational institution in a position of authority over them, the literature is clear: Sexual harassment exists at educational institutions. The nature and probability of the harassment varies by gender and scholastic level. Females are more likely to encounter harassment than males, and graduate students are more likely to encounter difficulty than undergraduates (Taylor, 1989). According to Taylor (p. 32), "sexual harassment is the misuse of power that involves two people of perceived unequal authority and status, in a situation which has sexual overtones." Although it is primarily a problem for women (Williams, Lam, & Shively, 1992), it is also experienced by men.

Background

Several court cases, including the 1986 Supreme Court ruling in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, have established that sexual advances by co-workers, which would encompass peers, professors, and administrators in an educational setting, that create a "hostile work environment" are the prime determinants of sexual harassment (Little, 1989). Sexual harassment includes unwanted sexual leering, suggestion, comments, and objectionable physical contact (Beauvis, 1986). The Meritor Savings Bank ruling and others derive from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Civil Rights Restoration Act, and other legislation. When considered in total, legal actions that involve sexual harassment point to the inescapable conclusion that any educational institution without a sexual harassment policy invites litigation regardless of the degree of plaintiff suffering (Taylor, 1989). Although the courts will generally apply a "reasonable person" standard to determine the severity of the "hostile work environment," the courts hold employers liable for employee conduct that employers knew or should have known was improper and for which immediate remedial steps were not taken (Shephard, 1993).

In addition to unwelcome conduct, Little (1989) suggests no less than three other potential exposures of institutional litigation. Exposure occurs when welcome conduct becomes unwelcome. Remember that in an educational setting, both faculty and administrators represent leverage and power. Second, parents may cite unprofessional conduct in an allegedly consensual relationship; and third, classmates may claim unequal and disadvantaged treatment in comparison to that enjoyed by the consenting student. Therefore, to the educational institution, implementing a sexual harassment policy involves not only defining a policy and proper professional conduct, it also involves evaluating behavior (Taylor, 1989). Sexual harassment policy must be clearly defined, and it must be widely known (American Council of Education, 1986). Implementing policy requires training, open and periodic systemic communication, and the message that violation begets penalty (Frierson, 1989). Discipline must be mandated for infractions, and, finally, policy effectiveness must be measurable.

A review of the literature confirms the view of Riggs and Murrell (1995) that the issue of sexual harassment is relatively unexamined at the community college level of education. Does this mean that the community college network is not touched by sexual harassment litigation? The findings of a national search in April 1998 of a legal system database (Lexis-Nexis, 1998) provided data on sexual harassment suits involving community colleges. By combining the descriptors community college and sexual harassment, almost 400 situations could have been examined. …

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