Last year, TIME's Person[s] of the Year were The Silence Breakers, the women who spoke up about sexual harassment (and occasionally worse) that they had endured over the years. While the #MeToo movement only started last October (although precursors go back over a decade), both the problem - and campaigns addressing the problem - are ancient. In this issue, we take a very brief look at it.
The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida will meet tomorrow Friday at noon on USF Tampa in the Marshall Student Center. We will meet in the Sabal Room, on the third floor, to the right and around the corner from Top of the Palms. We will have lunch at Top of the Palms, and all USF employees are invited.
This is the third meeting of the chapter this summer. The remaining meetings will be on the Fridays (at noon) of June 29, July 6, and July 20, locations TBD. The locations will be announced on our temporary website as they are determined. Come and check us out.
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Sexual harassment runs the spectrum from micro-aggressions to assault, with a zone in between occupied by impositions, stalking, and threats. So it might be more accurate to describe sexual harassment as a class of phenomena. The media (including the academic media) have been paying more attention to it lately, perhaps because of recent celebrity cases. But sexual harassment is older than the term and possibly even older than the species.
Focusing on the assault end of the spectrum, during 2014 - 2017, the American Association of Universities conducted an AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct of students, and reported that:
Undergraduates are not the only victims, or the only perpetrators. Another study found that graduate students reported physical (often serial) harassment by faculty, and a thoroughly unscientific internet survey leads with: "The entrenched hierarchies of the academic world, the small size of most scholarly fields, the male dominance of virtually every field other than women's studies, the culture of collegiality (read, evasiveness and pretense) that predominates, and junior scholars' desperate dependency on good references for career advancement, make for conditions in which sexual abuse (and indeed abuse of all kinds) can flourish with impunity."
One of the problems is that most victims are women, and many women are afraid to complain. Another problem is that sexual harassment is not a priority in some arenas. For example, while there seems to be shortage of research into the economic costs of sexual harassment, when 22 U.S. senators asked the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate these costs, the Department declined, so four senators are now pressing the General Accounting Office to conduct such a study.
At the other end of the spectrum are micro-aggressions, which are putdowns targeting the recipient's class, race, gender, etc. (although micro-aggressions are typically not as brazen as trolling). The Biweekly has already reviewed micro-aggressions in the 23 July 2015 and the 5 April 2018 Biweeklies, although those articles focused more on racial rather than sexual micro-aggressions (which seems to be the current focus of work on micro-aggresssions). But one cartoon highlighted by classicist Mary Beard in her Woman and Power: A Manifesto captures much of what is going on: in the 8 September 1988 Punch, at a predominantly male boardroom meeting, the chair says to the sole woman present, "That's an excellent suggestion, Miss. Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it."
In her manifesto, Beard describes some of the trolling that she receives: "...it doesn't much matter what line you take as a woman, if you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It is not what you say that prompts it, it's simply the fact that you're saying it. And that matches the detail of the threats themselves. [The threats] include a fairly predictable menu of rape, bombing, murder, and so forth..."
It is no surprise that on the assault side of the sexual harassment spectrum, harassment can lead to cardiovascular disorders and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Towards the other end of the spectrum, while there seems to be greater attention on the deleterious health effects of racial micro-aggressions, gender-based micro-aggressions likely have similar physical effects.
One effect is to sideline victims. As Beard observed about online abuse, "In its crude, aggressive way, this is about keeping, or getting, women out of man's talk." A female student or faculty member who is abused may not perform as well, may become more timid in dealing with colleagues, and may be less inclined to participate in governance. This may not be the intent - it is quite possible that an abuser, like many a schoolyard bully, has no coherent conscious intent - but it is a likely effect. More generally, the NAS reported (pp. 69 - 72) that sexual harassment of employees reduce productivity, engagement, commitment to the institution, and possibly even retention.
Historically, sexual harassment was a low priority, often dismissed with the remark that, "Boys will be boys, it's only natural." But all sorts of things are natural, including dying young of smallpox. As Katherine Hepburn said to Humphrey Bogart, "Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above." So, how do we get academia to rise above?
One effort is to punish abusers. Recently, there have been some high profile dismissals from academia. Punishment for sexual harassment has the same rationale that it does for other transgressions: it removes the transgressor from the environment, it vindicates the victim, and it deters future transgressions. But while the focus on punishment for other kinds of transgressions tends to focus on how effective punishment actually is in making the community safer, the concern in punishing sexual harassers tends to be in determining what the facts are in individual cases. For example, as one investigator warned, in any particular case, there is the problem of what actually happened, which may be difficult to ascertain. Indeed, since many administrators lack training (and some tend to panic), the American Association of University Professors warned that the federally mandated disciplinary procedure for sexual harassment threatened academic freedom. And while there is evidence that false (or incorrect) accusations are uncommon, they do occur. But sexual abuse victims are too often discouraged from taking any action at all.
A more proactive approach is to educate - and train - people to behave. This means educating men and women about the morality of sexual harassment, and the importance of explicit consent. There are a number of workshops and even online anti-harassment courses, but such lectures and readings appear to be less effective than interactive courses. And these courses were more effective when management was perceived as credible on the issue. Recently, some have turned to Virtual Reality to practice role playing as a bystander, or even empathy-building as a member of the opposite sex facing a potential harasser.
The one thing that should not be done is nothing. At USF, a victim can report harassment to the police or a victim's advocate, or to Title IX. Faculty can help victims within certain constraints: outside of being inexpert in a problem that may require expertise, faculty are required to report sexual harassment, which is why syllabi are supposed to include the verbatim statement on the top of page 6 of the USF syllabus template.
The union can also help UFF members who are subjected to abuse by administrators or colleagues, either by pursuing a grievance or turning to other resources. The union will also represent a UFF member facing discipline as the result of a complaint. If you wish to join, download, fill in, and email the membership form to the chapter secretary today.
Chapter Meeting tomorrow Friday, June 15, at noon, on USF Tampa, in MSC 3700 (the Sabal Room).
Membership: Everyone in the UFF USF System Bargaining unit is eligible for UFF membership: to join, simply fill out and send in the membership form.
NOTE: We regret that the Chapter's off-campus website is down. We apologize for the inconvenience. For the time being, we will be using http://www.ourusf.org, vut our e-mail address is still email@example.com.
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