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Institute needs clear guidelines on harassment

"Why is it difficult to be a woman at MIT?" Just at MIT? It is difficult to be a woman anywhere. Overt and subtle harassment are a part and parcel of every environment, especially

in institutions like MIT where women are a minority.

"Harassment of any kind is unacceptable at MIT." Yet to translate the ideal into reality, MIT needs a formal policy on sexual harassment. The Institute currently lacks any specific standardized procedures that clearly document how cases of sexual harassment are to be handled, what kinds of support should be available to victims, and what the possible penalties for harassment are. As a result, harassed individuals are discouraged from seeking help, no clear provisions exist to stop harassment or prevent recurrence, and the victim is solely burdened with ensuring that such incidents do not recur.

The Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Harassment, a dedicated group of MIT undergraduates, graduate students and staff, has developed a set of policy proposals to rectify this situation. The new proposed policy draft offers specific options for action, specific guidelines for a formal grievance hearing, a provision

for the resolution of anonymous complaints, clear possible punishments for those found guilty, and specific outlines for maintaining confidentiality.

MIT also currently lacks a system for keeping records of sexual harassment complaints. This has resulted in the absence of any information to assess the trends or the extent of MIT's sexual harassment problem. Problem areas, that is specific departments or living groups that have a high incidence of complaints, cannot therefore be identified. And the lack of information impedes efforts at enhancing awareness and educating the community. The new proposed policy prescribes a detailed procedure for record-keeping to retain confidentiality so that data are available for statistical purposes and an annual report can be compiled in order to design preventive measures.

The Institute needs a staff specifically dedicated to dealing with harassment complaints. Presently, harassed individuals do not know where to seek help and no structured programs exist for increasing awareness in the community at large. One of the proposed concrete measures is making available to victims a trained advocacy staff that will handle harassment cases and mobilize a campus-wide educational effort.

Priyamvada Natarajan '90->