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Institute Booklet Addresses Sexual Harassment

By Eva Moy
Staff Reporter
____A booklet, Stopping Sexual Harassment: A Guide to Options and Resources at MIT, was sent to all students, faculty and staff during the fall.

The booklet, one of a number of recommendations made by the MIT Committee on Sexual Harassment, defines sexual harassment, suggests ways people may deal with harassment and lists people and organizations to which people can turn if they have questions or need help.

The committee, chaired by Samuel J. Keyser, associate provost for educational programs and policy, released a report which addressed the problem of harassment on campus and expressed concern about its impact on free speech. It included representatives from the Academic Council, faculty, administration, staff and students.

The report revised the current Institute policy on harassment and suggested eliminating harassment through the use of "policy, education and prevention and procedures."

In addition to describing MIT's policy on sexual harassment, the booklet includes examples of actual harassment cases. Keyser said the examples were included "because the discussion about sexual harassment tends to become very abstract without examples."

The booklet also deals with "religious, ethnic and other" forms of harassment. "I'm hoping that sensitivity to gay and lesbian harassment will be heightened," he said.

Harassment: `Unreasonably interfering'

MIT's policy defines harassment as "any conduct, verbal or physical, on or off campus, which has the intent or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's or group's educational, work or living environment."

The booklet suggests several options for any student, faculty or staff member who experiences sexual harassment, including reporting to a housemaster, faculty advisor, ombudsperson, department head, the Committee on Discipline or the Office of the Dean for Student Affairs. Such reports would be followed by investigative procedures, mediation or more informal procedures.

John M. Deutch '61, provost when the committee was established, suggested that the committee's recommendations be incorporated in the Institute's Policies and Procedures, that harassment statistics be kept and that the committee's new definition of sexual harassment be incorporated into the basic rules and regulations for MIT-approved living groups.

Harassment on campus

At a faculty meeting just before the booklet was mailed out, Keyser released the results of a survey of 2700 faculty and staff members. Of the 994 respondents, 183 said they had been involved in a harassment incident. Keyser reported that about half the reports were of gender- or sexually-based harassment, one-third were of general harassment and the remainder were of racial, ethnic or other forms of harassment.

Based on responses about how much time was spent dealing with the incidents, Keyser estimated that harassment costs MIT between $750,000 and $1 million per year, a figure which includes an estimated 2500 work hours lost as well as settlement and court costs.

Keyser also reported on harassment complaints received by the MIT ombudspeople, Mary P. Rowe and Clarence G. Williams. Between the summers of 1990 and 1991, Rowe and Williams received 776 complaints, 320 of which were sex-or gender-based.

A third survey focused exclusively on harassment of undergraduates. Prepared by the house governments of East Campus and Baker House, the survey focused on harassment between undergraduates and harassment from people in positions of authority, such as faculty members or teaching assistants. The survey asked if a student had "personally been subject" to a variety of harassing acts at MIT.

The preliminary report presented to the faculty includes 359 responses, or 49 percent of the Baker House and East Campus residents surveyed. Seventy-four percent of the undergraduate women who responded had received "unwanted teasing, jokes, remarks or questions of a sexual nature" from another student, and 12 percent had received similar remarks from someone in a position of authority. Thirteen percent of female respondents reported having been victims of an "actual or attempted rape or sexual assault" from a peer, and one individual reported such an incident from a person of authority.

The survey also asked how students responded to the incident or incidents. Fifty-four percent of the men and 51 percent of the women said they ignored the incident, while 24 and 62 percent, respectively, chose to avoid contact with the offender. Seven percent of the females filed a formal complaint with a member of the faculty or staff, as did two percent of the males.