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`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe; all mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe.
Sep 7 '12

My feelpinions about “sexual harassment class”

So here at the lovely, friendly world of KU it recently came to my attention that there is an online sexual harassment tutorial students are required to take.

It is a piece of crap that meets base legal requirements and will do nothing to prevent sexual harassment or sexual violence. It makes no headway in addressing the causes of gendered violence and I am deeply disturbed by the university’s antipathy towards the treatment of its students.

I submitted some feedback. See below. Also I made a few edits, because freedom.

KU’s definition of what constitutes sexual harassment is seriously weak and is obviously designed to protect the university from liability by meeting minimum legal standards rather than protecting staff and students from sexual harassment and/or violence. This is incredibly disappointing to me and reduces the esteem in which I previously held this university.

From KU’s policy, as presented on your website and in this tutorial:

"and is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it interferes with a person’s academic performance, employment or equal opportunity to participate in or benefit from University programs or activities."

This definition is in line with legal precedent but is incredibly limiting and disenfranchises a lot of victims of legitimate sexual harassment. 

All sexual harassment is pervasive. Our culture is built on social structures that entitle (particularly) men to the bodies of others for their gratification and this trickles down into our perception and language. To use ‘pervasive’ as a qualifier shows a lack of understanding of the problem, firstly, and secondly (counter-intuitively) makes it very difficult to meet that qualifier because the policy doesn’t accept the reality of the pervasive nature of gender discrimination. By adding qualifiers such as ‘severe’ and ‘objectively offensive’ KU’s policy deliberately delegitimizes very real sexual harassment so that it doesn’t have to be dealt with in a meaningful way by your institution.

Sexual harassment does not have to be severe in order to be sexual harassment. The vast majority of sexism and sexual harassment is so ingrained in society and social interaction to the extent that perpetrators don’t even notice or realize what they are saying or doing. When sexual harassment - up to and including rape - is normalized it becomes impossible to define any instance as ‘severe’. This,  again, lets KU ignore its moral obligation to act to prevent or respond to sexual harassment claims and instances. Further, as the tutorial noted, the common response is to denigrate the claims of the victim by telling them it is not a real problem and they should accept it, learn how to take a joke or a compliment. Sexual harassment is the status quo in the lives of women and a definition that requires that harassment be interfering with academic life does nothing to challenge this and provides little to no recourse to female students.

A university is supposed to be a hallowed institution of education; a place to better one’s mind and in so doing, improve one’s own life and the lives of those around you. It is obvious to me that your concern is not improving the lives of your students or guaranteeing a safe, equitable environment in which to pursue education, but to avoid being sued. This ‘education’ ‘tutorial’ is designed to meet the bare minimum of the useless legal obligations the university is subject to, in order to be seen to appear to be doing something about a very real problem without having to put any resources or effort into it. 

Correcting gender discrimination requires a serious effort that goes some way to undo the ideas that have been socialized into young men and women for eighteen or so years before they come here. It requires intensive instruction from credible authorities - police, prosecutors, academics (and they must be men - noone listens to women in these matters because we do not have the power and are seen to be rent-seeking) - in the attitudes that underpin sexual discrimination and violence, where these attitudes come from, and why they’re wrong. This needs to happen face to face, so that participants can’t skip through the slides without reading them in order to pass through the questionnaire that isn’t marked (the answer to the second/third question is wrong, by the way - the girl may be joining in but she is under duress because there is a culture of harassment she feels she has to fit into). It needs to be rammed home that sex discrimination is very much a gendered, male problem, where some 95% of perpetrators are male, and even when a male is the victim the perpetrator is still usually male. This program needs to be compulsory - as in, if students do not participate, or do not complete requirements, students will not be permitted to enroll in classes and will be evicted from campus accommodation.

Sexual harassment and sexual violence are not an afterthought, or a minority problem. They are very real issues that affect every woman even in our “enlightened” “modern” “civilization”. The fact that everyone will verbally acknowledge women’s equality when questioned does not represent a shift in internalized attitudes or outward behavior and KU is not taking this seriously. I am seriously disappointed. I honestly feel less safe now that I know that my university doesn’t have my back.

I would love a response to my feedback to [my email] but I don’t expect one because this university clearly does not care.

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