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Fall Retreat: Gender Violence and Harassment

Other articles in the September 2018 newsletter:


The second half of the Senate Retreat focused on “Gender Violence and Harassment.” A panel of three speakers was followed by four breakout sessions and report-backs. The goal of the panel discussion was to frame issues around gender violence and sexual harassment, understand the “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine” (STEM) report’s recommendations, infuse intersectionality into what we do at USC, and discuss power dynamics between faculty, staff and students.

Chaired by Trisha Tucker (Dornsife), the panel discussion focused on gender violence and sexual harassment generally, and specifically on gender violence and intersectionality.

Shafiqa Ahmadi, (Rossier), presented on “Understanding Gender Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Gender Violence.” She focused on the intersection of laws and policies and their impact on postsecondary institutions. She clarified that both Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 apply to all students, faculty, and staff. In that, staff-on-staff complaints and faculty-on-faculty complaints, both of which are employee-on-employee situations, fall within Title VII. She stated this was settled law since 1982 when the Supreme Court upheld Title IX regulations that prohibited sex discrimination in employment (North Haven v. Bell 456 U.S. 512 (1982)). She defined two types of sexual harassment: 1) Quid Pro Quo – unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when submission to such conduct is used as a basis for employment decisions, grades, etc. and 2) Hostile Environment – unwelcome (uninvited), conduct of a sexual nature, that is so severe, persistent or pervasive that it unreasonably interferes with a person’s ability to do their work or creates a hostile, offensive or abusive work or educational environment. She stressed that while compliance with laws and policies are important, postsecondary institutions should strive to do more than just comply. Mere compliance is a very low bar, she said. Postsecondary institutions should do the right thing, taking on a leadership role in shaping the conversation and changing the culture of being complicit in order to eradicate sex discrimination and harassment from occurring in the first place. She asserted that rather than being reactive, colleges and universities need to be proactive and have preventive measures in place. She stated that  leaders who are thoughtfully engaged and proactive understand this, and that we at USC should, too.

Ahmadi was followed by Ruth Wood (Keck), who presented on “STEM Report Summary/Recommendations.” She stated that there are higher incidents of sexual harassment in the STEM field because it is male dominated and hierarchical, conditions which isolate women. She asserted that we should pay close attention to the STEM field because: 1) those who are sexually harassed are unlikely to report the harassment; 2) sexual harassment undermines professional and educational trajectories for women; and 3) those who are harassed are more likely to leave the STEM field. She stressed that working through the legal system alone is not enough and assuming that targeted individuals will promptly report sexual harassment is inaccurate. Instead, she stated that organizations must not only create policies and training that focus on compliance with current law to avoid liability, they should also provide preventative measures to address sexual harassment, particularly harassment related to the power dynamics between faculty and students. She added, in order to change the culture and climate of higher education we need to: 1) have strong and effective leaders; 2) reduce power structures and diffuse the amount of power that faculty have over students; 3) offer training to reduce sexual harassment; 4) support women by providing formal and informal reporting mechanisms to increase reporting; 5) eliminate confidentially and non-disclosure agreements that isolate those targeted and shield the abusers; and 6) provide transparency and accountability. This will allow for more diverse, inclusive, and respectful environments.

The final speaker on this panel was Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro (Dornsife), who spoke about “Intersectionality, Gender, Race and Ethnicity.” She highlighted categorical multiplicity, the idea that everyone can identify across many categories like race, gender, class, sexuality, etc.  Centering the identities of marginalized faculty, students, and staff, such as members of racial/ethnic and religious minorities, LGBTQ populations, as well as the intersection of these identities that create multiple burdens of oppression are essential to the health of USC community. She stated that over 300 women have come forward that Tyndall has abused them, and many of these women were women of color, so how do we address sexims and racism in this situation? What is the substantive issue of social justice that should be addressed? And, how do we tie it to policy and policy reform? While there are policies, there is a need for better communication of the policies so that  people know their rights, better training must be offered, creating a safe environment for everyone is important, and following up and following through with investigations related to gender violence and harassment is essential.

The panel was followed by four breakout sessions: 1) “Faculty Mentoring and Supervisor Issues” led by Ruth Wood and Yaniv Bar Cohen; 2) “Communication and Transparency” led by Trisha Tucker and Ruben Davila; 3) “Gender/Sexual Harassment” led by Jody Armour and Shafiqa Ahmadi; and 4) “Other Important Issues to Consider” led by Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro and Paul Rosenbloom. In the breakout sessions, issues of gender/sexual harassment were explored in depth and each group reported back to the larger group.

Participants in the breakout session indicated that there is a lack of trust in general, and a lack of transparency of process, negative consequences to those who report, lack of clear consequences, and a lack of conviction after independent investigation specifically. Additionally, they reported that the process matters as much, if not, more than the end result. They asserted that we need a transparent process, protections for everyone involved, and communication about results of investigations. Thus, if the process is perceived as fair, participants are more satisfied with the outcome, even if they disagree with the outcome.

All four breakout sessions indicated that we need a culture change in which women’s voices are heard, valued, and given equal care and concern, particularly student women’s voices. We need to address lateral and hierarchical power dynamics on campus, in off-site placements, as well as in online education. Interventions should be evidence-based (diverse data) that lead to prevention. We need better ways to message expectations of mentors for students, and to empower students/mentees to report inappropriate behavior. Given the power imbalance between a student and a faculty member, even when one claims that a romantic relationship is consensual, the department, school, and university should create policies that ban such relationships. Furthermore, we need to hold leadership accountable and train provosts, deans, chairs, faculty, and others in leadership positions to: 1) create a safe environment for all; 2) report complaints to OED rather than handling them “in house;” 3) communicate what resources are available; 4) create formal as well as informal methods of communication; and 5) report back what actions were taken after the complaint was  investigated. Since retaliation can be very subtle, we need to provide protection and support for those who are retaliated against. We need to create a culture of learning where faculty and staff have a safe place to share, receive feedback, and learn.

To discuss, please go to our Facebook post.

Thank you,

Shafiqa Ahmadi
Academic Senate Executive Board Member-at-Large
Co-Director, Center for Education, Identity & Social Justice
Associate Professor of Clinical Education
Rossier School of Education