Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

College Students' Experiences and Perceptions of Harassment on Campus: An Exploration of Gender Differences

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

College Students' Experiences and Perceptions of Harassment on Campus: An Exploration of Gender Differences

Article excerpt

Using a campus climate assessment instrument developed by Rankin (1998), we surveyed students (N = 7,347) from 10 campuses to explore the different experiences with harassment and campus climates reported by men and women. Both men and women reported experiencing harassment, although women experienced harassment at statistically significantly higher rates than men. Women reported higher rates of sexual harassment, while men reported higher rates of harassment based upon sexuality. These findings are understood, and implications an provided, using a lens of power and privilege.

How students experience their campus environment influences both learning and developmental outcomes (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991, 2005). Negative campus climates, those in which students experience harassment and/or discrimination, hinder educational attainment and positive outcomes. Conversely, students who experience a campus as supportive are more likely to experience positive learning outcomes (Milem, 2003; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991, 2005; Reason, Terenzini, & Domingo, 2006, in press; Umbach & Kuh, 2006). Recent research indicates harassment based on social group membership (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation) remains a problem on college campuses (Rankin & Reason, 2005), likely negatively affecting the outcomes of a college education. Research also indicates that students experience campus climates differently based upon social group membership (Chang, 2003; Miller, Anderson, Cannon, Perez, & Moore, 1998). Understanding how students from various social groups experience campus climate thus should be important to higher education professionals in designing interventions more effectively and removing obstacles to the success of all students.

While a good deal of recent research focusing on the racial and ethnic differences in perceptions of campus climate has been conducted, genderrelated differences have been largely ignored in the last several years. What research does exist is dated, focuses exclusively on perceptions of sexual harassment, and is outside the student development/higher education literature. The purpose of our study was to explore the experiences and perceptions of harassment on campus for male and female students. We entered this study with the understanding that different experiences likely influence the outcomes of higher education; therefore, exploration and understanding of these differences is essential to maximizing the positive benefits of education for all students.

Literature Review

Student outcomes research (e.g., Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991, 2005) highlights the relationship between perceptions of campus learning environments and student learning outcomes. Another body of research explores the different perceptions of campus climate by social group membership (Chang, 2003; Miller et al., 1998; Rankin & Reason, 2005). Understood from an interactionalist perspective (Evans, Forney, & Guido-Dibrito, 1998), these two bodies of research highlight the importance of continued exploration of differential perceptions of campus climate for social groups. Findings from this exploration can be used to improve campus climates for all students, thus removing obstacles to student success.

Campus Climates and Student Outcomes

Several empirical studies reinforce the importance of the perception of nondiscriminatory environments to positive learning and developmental outcomes (Aguirre & Messineo, 1997; Flowers & Pascarella, 1999; Whitt, Edison, Pascarella, Terenzini, & Nora, 2001). Pascarella and Terenzini (1991), in their comprehensive review of student outcomes literature, concluded that attending an Historically Black College or University (HBCU) related to greater educational attainment, academic self-image, and cognitive development for African American students. Although causal connections are difficult to identify, HBCUs appear to positively influence outcomes for African American students because "black colleges provide a social-psychological environment more conducive to black students' social integration and personal development than do predominantly white colleges" (p. …

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