Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, Higher Ed, Public Health, Students

Addressing discrimination, harassment and related misconduct

December 5, 2017

[This post is adapted from a memo on sexual harassment sent Dec. 5, 2017, to Gillings School faculty, staff and students. – BKR]

Context for discussions about sexual harassment. Over the past several months, complaints about sexual harassment, assault and sexual misconduct have reached a crescendo in the news, calling out well-known individuals in a variety of high-profile fields, including government, media, entertainment and sports. Complaints about sexual harassment are not new. What is new are the number and prominence of the alleged abusers and the high level of media attention accorded the stories. While in the past, accusers might have been minimized and then ignored or discredited, that is not so prevalent now.

In the past week, The Chronicle of Higher Education published excellent articles on the topic. One, in particular, “Here’s What Sexual Harassment Looks Like in Higher Education,” makes it clear that academia is not immune from what is happening in other industries. The author reported that, according to an Association of American Universities (AAU) study, one in 10  graduate students at major research universities reported being sexually harassed by faculty members. That’s appalling. While more complaints come from women than men, men also are subjected to harassment, and it is likely that many events experienced by men and women go unreported because of fear of reprisals. Neither are LGBT individuals immune to sexual harassment; in fact, they may be singled out for it.

In the Dec. 3 New York Times, Sallie Krawcheck, chief executive officer of Ellevest and a UNC graduate, wrote in a commentary titled, “The Cost of Devaluing Women”:

Illustration by Katherine Lam, as published in The New York Times.

What we are only beginning to recognize is that demeaning and devaluing women is an insidious, expensive problem. It’s not just the eye-popping settlements in some cases, like the $32 million paid by Bill O’Reilly to settle a harassment claim. Nor is it just the high salaries network stars have been making while allegedly assaulting subordinates, like the $20 million, or more, for Matt Lauer. It only starts there.

The bigger cost derives from how women’s ideas are discounted and their talent ignored.

Academia and sexual harassment. We are unlikely to be insulated from a behavior that is widespread in society. There are many reasons why sexual harassment may be under-reported. Given the power differentials among students, staff and faculty of varying levels of seniority, fear of reprisal will make some people afraid to speak about what happened to them. This is a societal problem, and we are part of society.

UNC Policy. At the end of this blogpost are key sections from the University Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Related Misconduct. I encourage you to read the policy and be familiar with it. I’ve discussed discrimination before and repeatedly have said that it won’t be tolerated in this school. Now, I want to say unequivocally, for the record, that we will not tolerate discrimination, harassment and related misconduct.

If, at any time, you have reason to question how you have been treated or you are sure you have experienced one of the behaviors described in the policy, the web page at the link contains a section with information about what to do, to whom you can talk and how to report the offense. (See “How to Report an Incident and Get Help.”) Within the Gillings School, Todd Nicolet, vice-dean; Laura Linnan, senior associate dean; Charletta Sims Evans, associate dean for student affairs; Steve Regan, assistant dean for human resources, and I are here if you need us. We will have your back.

In the coming weeks, likely in January, we will hold a session about harassment in the workplace, which includes academic settings. It will be an opportunity to gain a more nuanced understanding of the issues and get your questions answered. We’ll provide more information soon.

No one at the Gillings School should live in fear or experience discrimination, threats, violence or fear of retribution due to sexual harassment or related behaviors. It is against our laws, policies and human decency. I and others will act in accordance with policies if discrimination, harassment and related misconduct are reported.

The section of the UNC policy that focuses on prohibited conduct is included below.

UNC-Chapel Hill Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Related Misconduct

The University is committed to providing a safe, diverse and equitable environment to all members of the Carolina community. This policy addresses acts that are contrary to these values. These acts include discrimination, harassment, sexual assault or sexual violence, interpersonal (relationship) violence, sexual exploitation, stalking and retaliation. https://eoc.unc.edu/our-policies/ppdhrm/

Prohibited conduct:

The descriptions below are short summaries of the full definitions of prohibited conduct, which can be accessed on pages 5-12 of the Policy.

  • Discrimination: Treating a person differently than others based on that person’s protected status when it is sufficiently serious to unreasonably interfere with or limit the ability to participate in, access, or benefit from the University’s programs and activities. Discrimination can include failing to provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities.
  • Harassment:  A type of discrimination that happens when verbal, physical, electronic or other behavior based on a person’s protected status interferes with their participation in the University’s programs and activities and it either creates an environment that a reasonable person in similar circumstances and with similar identities would find hostile, intimidating or abusive; or where submitting to or rejecting the conduct is used as the basis for decisions that affect the person’s participation in the University’s programs and activities.
  • Sexual or gender-based harassment: Conduct that may: include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal, physical or electronic conduct of a sexual nature that creates a hostile, intimidating or abusive environment; involve verbal, physical or electronic conduct based on a person’s sex, gender, sexual orientation or sex-stereotyping that creates a hostile, intimidating or abusive environment, even if those acts do not involve conduct of a sexual nature; or include harassment for displaying what is perceived as a stereotypical characteristic for one’s sex or for failing to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity, regardless of the actual or perceived sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of the person(s) involved.
  • Sexual assault or sexual violence:Having or trying to have sexual contact with another person without that person’s consent. Sexual contact is intentional touching or penetration of another person’s clothed or unclothed body by another person with any part of their body or any object in a sexual way. It also can include causing another person to touch their own or another person’s body in this manner. Think A.C.E. for consent – 100% agreement (freely made and conscious decision), communicated clearly (words and/or actions), every time. See page 9 of the policy for more information about consent. 
  • Sexual exploitation:Taking sexual advantage of another person without their consent (see consent above), taking advantage of another person’s going beyond the consensual sexual contact you both agreed to without the knowledge of the other person, for any purpose. Here are just a few examples (see page 8 of the Policy for more information):
    • threatening to disclose a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression;
    • observing another person’s nudity or sexual contact, or allowing another person to do so, without the knowledge and consent of everyone involved; or
    • streaming images, photography, video or audio recordings of sexual contact or nudity, or distributing these things, without the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.
  • Interpersonal violence: Encompasses a broad range of abusive behavior committed by a person who is or has been in a romantic or intimate relationship with the person reporting the conduct or who is a spouse or partner, family member; or a roommate. Interpersonal violence includes physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that a reasonable person in similar circumstances and with similar identities would find intimidating, frightening, terrorizing or threatening.
  • Stalking: Repeated, unwanted attention; contact that is either physical, verbal or electronic (e.g., email, social media, text messages); or any other conduct directed at a person that is sufficiently serious to cause physical, emotional or psychological fear or to create a hostile, intimidating or abusive environment for a reasonable person in similar circumstances and with similar identities.
  • Complicity: Knowingly aiding, assisting, promoting or encouraging another person through your actions to commit an act of conduct that is prohibited by this Policy.
  • Retaliation: Acts or words taken (e.g., intimidation, threats, coercion or unfavorable employment or educational actions) against a person because the person participated in good faith in:
    • the reporting, investigation or resolution of an alleged violation of the Policy;
    • opposing policies, practices or actions that the person reasonably believes are in violation of the Policy; or
    • requesting accommodations on the basis of religion or disability.

The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

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The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.