I apologize for the potential length of this post - it's a semi-live blog of my sexual harassment training today. I am sitting in a sexual harassment training session that is required of all graduate level TAs and research assistants before they're allowed to interact with undergraduate students. I have no idea how useful this will be at a school that has 3 -4 men for every woman. The people I see around me appear to be (based on the five years of experience I have on this campus) the kind who run when faced with girls, rather than vice versa. However, education on appropriate conduct is never a bad thing.
It's possible that the organizers have a sense of humor. I know this because while we arrange ourselves in the auditorium, we're listening to what sounds very much like the soundtrack to an 80s jazzercise class. I'm not sure that's the best call, as everyone already seems to think this is a joke.
Let's get started, shall we?
8:32 am: "Everyone please move to the front of the room." It can only go downhill from here.
8:36 am: "Please come up front to collect these handouts." There are like 200 people in here. This was poorly planned.
8:39 am: "We want you to know what to do if someone comes to you complaining about sexual harassment, what to do if you observe sexually harassing behavior, and what to do if you're harassed." All awesome topics - but how about 'how not to harass'?
8:44 am: "The key is to establish the difference between welcome and unwelcome sexual advances." Um... yes?
8:48 am: Grad students and teachers are totally allowed to date students as long as the student isn't in the instructors course. I am seriously shocked. A professor can date an undergrad? TV has taught me that that is unacceptable.
8:49 am: "How many of you think consensual relationships go on for ever and ever?" Ha, VP of Human Resources, your humor knows no bounds.
8:59: A graph!
It seems that this here is that line that people cross. Did you know that there is harassment that's low enough in pervasiveness and severity that it's a totally ok level?
9:02 am: Sue and Bob are friends. Sue tells Bob a dirty joke and he laughs. Harassment? Survey of the room says... no.
9:05 am: Bob tells Sue after the fifth joke that it makes him uncomfortable. Now it's harassment. "This is one of those cases where 'no means no'". Wait, there are cases where no doesn't mean no?
9:10 am: New example of harassment - nudie calendar. Again, the harasser is a woman. It's not always man on woman, but this room is 90% male. More evenly distributed examples please.
9:16 am: The formal complaint procedure requires that the complainer suggest a punishment when he or she submits the complaint. I can't help but feel that might make it even harder for people who are nervous about complaining in the first place - that women especially might minimize punishment, regardless of the level of harassment.
9:21 am: Bob is the harasser now! He "tends to harass" women by repeatedly asking them out and not respecting 'no'. This, again, seems to be "one of those times when no means no". Sigh.
9:34 am: How to get someone to stop harassing you, according to HR. 1) Tell your harasser what they're doing wrong (calling you dear, touching your ass, etc). 2) Tell your harasser how what they're doing makes you feel (embarrassed, angry, demeaned, etc). 3) Tell your harasser why you want to stop being harassed (I want to be respected, etc). 4) Request the behavior from your harasser that you'd like to see in the future (don't touch my ass).
9:40 am: Thank you and have a great day.
I'm mostly pleasantly surprised by the content here. No one in the room did a hardee-har-women-only-think-asking-them-out-is-harassment-if-you're-an-ugly-dude bit (unless that's what those guys in the back were giggling about, but I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt).
I do have two concerns. First, not once but twice the VP of HR implied that there are times when no doesn't mean no.
Second, that whole 'how to stop a harasser' thing?
If you are being harassed, your harasser doesn't have to know why it makes you uncomfortable. He or she doesn't deserve to have you lay out what would be more appropriate behavior, either. All someone who is harassing you needs to know is that he or she is harassing you, that you are aware of it, and that it needs to stop. Your feelings are nothing but your business.