Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Harassment gone wild

I tried to explain what usually goes into a blog to my wife the other day. I explained how many blogs are just link farms, where people post links to other blogs that interest them, with a brief comment. I said that others are very focused, talking about political topics or specific interests. Mine ... is more like a diary, unless I feel like using it as one of those other kinds :).

Today I'm going to talk about a news story, found here:

The story talks about a study sponsored by a foundation that gets paid to put Sexual Harassment Education programs in universities, claiming that 62% of all college students have been sexually harassed. Obvious conflict of interest aside, let's look at how they define harassment:
"Most students are experiencing non-contact forms of sexual harassment -- jokes, gestures, remarks, homophobic name-calling, flashing and mooning are examples of that," AAUW Director of Research Elena Silva said.
Now let's step back a little and think about this. What exactly is sexual harassment? From a legal standpoint, it's defined in the US as "any unwelcome sexual advance or conduct on the job, having the effect of making the workplace intimidating or hostile" (thanks, Wikipedia). Are these college students working on campus and being harassed? With a number as high as 62%, I find that unlikely, but possible.

Now, obviously there are looser definitions of the term which allows people to substitute education for the workplace. So that would be, using the same definition, "any unwelcome sexual advance or conduct in school, having the effect of making the school intimidating or hostile." A study on the subject seems to agree with this interpretation.

And here's where I want to question the fine folks at the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation (the link to the actual study is dead right now, so I can't determine this for myself). Are your students claiming harassment at school (as in: in class, or other school-sponsored activities), or are they reporting unwanted sexual conduct by fellow students outside of the school? If I go to a party with fellow students, and someone tells a dirty joke, is this actually sexual harassment? Is this a problem we need to hire a focus group to investigate?

Let's look at the ERIC Digest link I provided earlier. Here's their definition of sexual harassment:

"Generally, any behavior of a sexual nature that provokes undesirable, uncomfortable feelings in a target can be considered harassment."

This is a dangerous precedent. I don't know about you, but as a teenager, I spent a lot of my time stuck with undesirable, uncomfortable feelings. Your brain is like a chemical experiment gone wrong at that point in life. The whole "learning to date" thing is one big mess of undesirable uncomfortable feelings provoked by behavior of a sexual nature.

I'm not saying that kids harassing other kids is a good thing. But young adults, set loose in college, will stretch the bounds of their social conduct. We have a million "girls gone wild" and "jackass" clone videos to prove this. Some of that behavior will make other people uncomfortable, and unfortunately that's a fact of life. Forcing kids to attend sensitivity training in between their all-night beer pong parties is probably not going to change anything ... except tuition bills.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Ok, their site now has the full study available for download. A quick examination shows that they are attempting to target activities which are officially sanctioned by the school or which happens on school property.

Of course, unfortunately this seems to also include on-campus housing, fraternity parties, on-site dining, and campus life centers. I understand the intent, but I still question the final recommendation.