Monday, March 7, 2016

No Joke

Hard to know why, but some people still think of sexual harassment as a joke.

I was reminded of this sad fact last year when the subject came up in one of my classes and several students (all male) said they wished they could be hit on by a beautiful woman. They seemed surprised and a bit skeptical when I pointed out that sexual harassment was more about power--specifically, the abuse of it--than sex.  They also seemed oblivious to the fact that harassers often do serious damage to their victims' confidence, self-esteem, and overall emotional and physical health, and that victims of this disgusting behavior have often dropped out of school, quit jobs, and had their lives derailed.

So for the record: sexual harassment isn't a joke.  It's a serious violation of a person's civil rights. And it's illegal too.

I tell you this because this is Sexual Harassment Awareness Week at Nassau.  Over the next few days there'll be a number of talks and discussions devoted to educating students about this important topic.

On Tuesday, March 8, Anita Hill will speak at NCC at 10 a.m. and again at 1 p.m. in the College Center's Multipurpose Room.  Hill is a legal scholar, author, and law professor, but she's maybe best known for having testified before the U.S. Senate in 1991 about having been sexually harassed by then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.  Though Thomas denied the charge and was subsequently confirmed to the High Court, Hill's testimony raised the country's awareness about sexual harassment and its impact on victims.

Anita Hill

Besides Hill's talks, this week will feature other important programs. On Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. in the College Center, Affirmative Action officer Craig Wright will talk about what students need to know about sexual harassment--what it is, what forms it takes, and how students can respond if they feel they're being targeted.  Later that day at 2 p.m., there'll be a discussion of a PBS documentary, "Rape on the Night Shift," which focuses on the harassment, including sexual assault, of immigrant women and others who feel powerless to complain.  And at 3:30 p.m. (also in the CCB) there'll be a panel on the subject of student-faculty romantic relationships, an issue that has (on other campuses) sometimes led to harassment charges.

Why should you go to these programs?

Several reasons.

First--and maybe most importantly--sexual harassment occurs more often than most people think. Though stats vary from one study to another, some believe that more than half of all female students experience some form of harassment during their college years.  Though male students report fewer instances of harassment, they too can be victims--and sometimes are.  Since sexual harassment can affect pretty much everyone, it's in everybody's interest to know about it.

We also need to be aware of harassment for another reason.  Discussions of this topic can raise awareness about our own behavior, especially actions that we might think of as harmless but that could make others uncomfortable. The jokes we tell, the offhanded comments we make, may not be intended to offend, but they might, at least under certain circumstances.  Discussions of harassment (in all its forms) make us think about our own behavior and its impact on others--always a good thing.

Finally, knowing about harassment might make it easier for you to recognize when it occurs in school or work settings.  Even if you're not the one making someone feel creepy, it's on you--and all of us--to work toward eliminating a behavior that violates people's rights and makes everyone look shabby.  On the subject of harassment, there's no looking the other way.

So get educated! Take yourself to at least one of these programs over the next few days.  It'll raise your awareness, make you more informed, and stretch you as a human being--a win-win situation all around.        

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