Sexual Harassment in the 1990s

By Kelley, Michelle L.; Parsons, Beth | Journal of Higher Education, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Sexual Harassment in the 1990s


Kelley, Michelle L., Parsons, Beth, Journal of Higher Education


A University-wide Survey of Female Faculty, Administrators, Staff, and Students

Introduction

Much of the existing research examining sexual harassment was conducted when awareness of sexual harassment was low and policies were uncommon. Several factors in recent years may have affected the prevalence of sexual harassment on university campuses. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protected employees (including student employees) at academic institutions from sexual harassment, however, sex discrimination against students was not prohibited. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the struggle against sex bias and discrimination in schools and universities intensified (see Shoop, 1997). This led to the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which applied Title VII standards to Title IX. Specifically, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities that receive federal financial aid. Although Title IX law has evolved slowly and had Little early enforcement, it is now the primary tool against sexual harassment ( Shoop, 1997).

Beginning in 1976 with students from Yale University, students have sued their institutions for failing to stop discriminatory behavior including sexual harassment (see McKinney & Maroules, 1991; Sandler, 1997; Shoop, 1997, Watts, 1996). More recently, in Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that institutions could be sued for compensatory damages for intentional violation of Title IX. As a result of litigation and changes in the law, as well as recent events such as the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, the Navy "Tailhook" scandal, accusations of sexual harassment toward female military recruits, and sexual harassment allegations against President Clinton, academic institutions increasingly have responded by developing policies concerning sexual harassment. The purpose of the present research was to examine the experiences of women in academia in a university that has a publicized policy and procedures regarding sexual harassment.

Prevalence of Sexual Harassment in Academia

Most studies report that between 20% and 40% of undergraduate and graduate women experience some form of sexual harassment while a student (Benson & Thomson, 1982; Cammaert, 1985; Dziech & Weiner, 1984; Fitzgerald et al., 1988; Glaser & Thorpe, 1986; McKinney, Olson, & Satterfield, 1988; see Rubin & Borgers, 1990; Sandler, 1997). In her study of 356 graduate women at a major East Coast public university, Schneider (1987) reported that 60% of female graduate students surveyed reported having been sexually harassed by a male professor. Although the figures reported by Schneider are higher than found in most studies, this is not the only research to report higher percentages (e.g., Wilson & Krauss, 1983).

Studies of both male and female faculty members report that anywhere between 6% and 50% experience behaviors that they consider sexual harassment at some point in their careers (Carroll & Ellis, 1989; Fitzgerald et al., 1988; Grauerholz, 1989, 1996; Gruber, 1990; McKinney, 1990; Seals, 1997). Combining the prevalence of male and female faculty members may be misleading, however, because women experience more sexual harassment than men, and women are more likely to consider gender harassment and sexual attention as harassment than are men (Adams, Kottke, & Padgitt, 1983; Carroll & Ellis, 1989; Fitzgerald & Ormerod, 1991; Lott, Reilly, & Howard, 1982; Malovich & Stake, 1990; Padgitt & Padgitt, 1986; Valentine-French & Radtke, 1989). Seals (1997) suggests that approximately 40% of female faculty at colleges or universities report experiencing sexual harassment by other faculty members or staff at some point in their tenure, whereas Fitzgerald and Shullman (1993) estimate that as many as one-half of all female f aculty experience sexual harassment during the course of their education or academic career. …

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