When yet another complaint surfaces about the sexual harassment of students and faculty, we can be thankful for the attention and seriousness that Title IX efforts bring to this ongoing problem. This feels especially true during our current “Weinsteinian” climate.
In a previous life, I taught college English at several community colleges and universities in California and Virginia. I can tell you firsthand how much students need to be able to trust and depend on their advisors, professors, mentors, and others who teach and guide them. Students need a harassment-free environment in order to excel. An environment devoid of any sexual threat when going to an instructor for help after class or during office hours. One with no worries about an instructor “accidentally” touching students inappropriately. One with absolutely no question concerning what is and is not acceptable conduct.
Any environment, be it a college campus or workplace, lacking in clear rules, policies, and boundaries regarding sexual misconduct and harassment puts people’s physical safety and emotional wellbeing at risk. And it’s not the job of the students to make the environment safe or to correct the problem. It’s the job of university and college administrations, hence the function of the Title IX coordinator and accompanying processes.
Think about the courage it took Emma Eisenberg to file a complaint against former professor, John Casey, a distinguished writer and scholar who teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Virginia where Ms. Eisenberg was previously enrolled. Thankfully, Emily Babb who helps administer UVA’s Title IX compliance efforts, made the right choice by removing Casey from the spring 2018 teaching schedule while the investigation is underway.
What can we do to ensure the safety of our students? To make certain those in power don’t abuse that power, believing they can get away with it? For starters, we talk openly about the problem. We educate students about what harassment looks like. This way, there’s no question in their minds as to whether or not they have a legitimate complaint.
Why is it important to help students understand what constitutes harassment?
Because women are conditioned to think that the innuendos, the touching, the jokes, the name calling, etc. are all par for the course. Women are often embarrassed. They fear there may be consequences for speaking up. In our society women often, unfortunately, question whether or not they have “really” been harassed or if what they have experienced is worth exposing. We are obligated to help reverse this message.
Something else we can do is make it easier for students and others to submit a complaint either anonymously or with identifying information. We can streamline how we communicate when complaints have been registered and are being investigated by the proper authorities. How frequently are people subjected to harassment and discrimination compared to how often they actually report it? It’s hard to answer this, of course. However, if the process of filing an official complaint is difficult and time consuming, we can, I think, safely assume that the ratio is severely imbalanced.
I don’t teach college English anymore, not right at the moment anyway. I probably don’t have to say this outright, but I’m still very passionate about learning and teaching and supporting students in their efforts to better themselves and be contributing, productive citizens. While I don’t currently teach, I do work for a company that develops an awesome complaint management software.
One of our senior sales representatives, Ashley Frame, attended the 2017 ATIXA conference to educate herself more on Title IX and to speak with administrators and others about Issuetrak’s complaint management solution. We’ve worked with several colleges and universities to help them get a system in place that helps their Title IX Coordinators track, escalate, and report on complaints submitted. We’re also helping these institutions set up web forms on their websites that make it incredibly easy for students, faculty, and staff to submit complaints about harassment as well as other campus life issues such as grade appeals, financial aid appeals, dormitory concerns, staff and admin complaints (unrelated to harassment), and more.
If you want to learn more about how Issuetrak can help with your complaint management needs, please call us today at 1-866-477-8387. Read more about complaint management: 3 Common Higher Education Complaints to Watch For