Sexual harassment involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical contact; it is usually found in the context of a relationship of unequal power, rank or status. It does not matter that the person’s intention was not to harass. It is the effect it has on others that counts. As long as the conduct interferes with a student’s academic performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive learning environment, it is considered sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment usually is not an isolated one-time-only case but a repeated pattern of behavior that may include:
- Comments about one’s body or clothing.
- Questions about one’s sexual behavior.
- Demeaning references to one’s gender.
- Sexually oriented jokes.
- Conversations filled with innuendoes and double meanings.
- Displaying of sexually suggestive pictures or objects.
- Repeated non-reciprocated demands for dates or sex.
Sexual Harassment is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. Common reactions of students who have been harassed is to doubt their perceptions, wondering if it was a joke, did it really happen or, if in some way, they have brought it on themselves. A student may begin to participate less in the classroom, avoid or drop classes, or even change majors.
- Listen carefully to the student, validating her/his experience.
- Separate your personal biases from your professional role – maintain objectivity.
- Report this situation to the Office of Student Rights, Responsibilities and advocacy. (718) 482-5180
- Encourage the student to keep a log or find a witness.
- Help student seek informal advice through a department chair, supervisor or advisor.
- Do nothing. Taking no action invalidates the student’s already shaky perception and puts the college in a vulnerable position should this behavior continue.