Sexual Harassment Preventive/protective Practices at U.S. Colleges and Universities

Article excerpt

Sexual harassment of students continues to be a pervasive problem on many college campuses. A written survey concerning 13 recommended preventive/protective practices was distributed to 1,246 4-year U.S. colleges and universities. Completed surveys were returned by 536 (43.0%) schools. A majority of responding institutions had formal sexual harassment policies (518, 96.6%), offered counseling to student victims (493, 92%), and investigated all complaints (482, 89.9%). Relatively fewer schools provided student access to faculty disciplinary records (8, 1.5%), conducted mandatory student training (95, 17.7%), published campus harassment statistics (100, 18.7%), or provided mandatory faculty training (100, 18.7%). Institutions interested in developing successful prevention programs should seriously consider combining multiple specific strategies to address all major aspects of the harassment problem.

Sexual harassment of students is a major challenge facing every college and university in the United States. The problem can have a devastating impact on student victims and their families, as well as unresponsive institutions faced with potential lawsuits and negative publicity.

The Legal Advocacy Fund of the American Association of University Women (2000) estimated that over 75% of female college students are affected by sexual harassment, a total of more than 5 million victims. Sandler and Shoop (1997) reported that incidence rates tend to be higher for women of color, graduate students, and those receiving financial aid.

This widespread problem can have a devastating impact on students (Dziech & Weiner, 1990; Fitzgerald, 1992; Katz & Vieland, 1993; O'Donohue, 1997; Paludi, 1996; Sandler, 1993; Sandler & Shoop, 1997). Dziech and Weiner provided shocking and detailed accounts of professors inflicting grievous harm on their less powerful student victims - the overwhelming majority of whom were women.

Damage to victims can occur in one or more of the following areas: physical/medical (rape, assault, ulcers, sleep disorders, eating disorders, high blood pressure, impaired immune system functioning), psychological (stress and anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, low self-esteem, inability to concentrate, decreased motivation, suicidal thoughts), and behavioral/ academic (increased tardiness and absenteeism, lower grades, higher incidence of class withdrawal, forced changing of majors/ institutions, greater likelihood of quitting school). Legal Framework Overview

Within academic settings, Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 provides the legal framework for addressing sexual discrimination, and thus sexual harassment. Although Title IX does not refer to sexual harassment by name, it prohibits sex discrimination at all educational institutions receiving federal funding. Specifically, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving financial assistance." (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 1982, p.1681).

Title IX also required institutions to establish grievance procedures to process complaints and created the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) as the enforcement agency for the Department of Education. The OCR formulated a general definition of sexual harassment as, "verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature imposed on the basis of sex, by an employee or agent of a recipient that denies, limits, provides different, or conditions the provision of aid, benefits, services or treatment protected under Title IX." (Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, 1997, p. 12038).

The OCR also described two major categories of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile environment. The first type of harassment within an academic environment occurs when a school employee explicitly or implicitly conditions a student's participation in an educational program or bases an educational decision on the student's submission to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. …

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