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GSC Resolutions Address Harassment

By Sarah Keightley

Associate News Editor

The Graduate Student Council adopted a resolution which addresses three problems with the current sexual harassment policy and recommends changes to solve these problems. Along with these suggestions to the administration, the GSC plans to create a student help group for victims of sexual harassment.

Mary E. Herndon G, who worked on the resolution as part of the GSC Housing and Community Affairs Committee, said "the university needs to be a little more serious in dealing with harassment... . There are a lot of people in the administration who really care, but there's no enforcement."

If a victim wants to file a complaint, "there is no formalized procedure. [This] definitely should be changed because it discourages people from coming forward." The administration thinks "it's all okay now because they've handed out the brown booklet [Stopping Sexual Harassment at MIT]."

The GSC resolution, adopted at its Feb. 20 meeting, is a petition asking the administration to change certain parts of the policy. "We listed three problems we found in the current policy, and we made some recommendations we would like to see MIT adopt," Herndon said.

The first problem is that there is no "set of official guidelines for how individuals who receive complaints should deal with the complaints," though there are seminars, Herndon said. Cases are currently handled in different ways with "unsatisfactory and even unjust outcomes," and confidentiality is not provided because of a "lack of a standardized policy," she added.

"Our recommendations are that the MIT administration come up with a clear, specific, and standardized sets of guidelines for administrative response," she said. "Strict attention" must be paid to the confidentiality of both parties and to the prevention of retribution by the alleged harasser. She added that the timeliness of complaint resolution is also an issue.

The second problem with the current policy is that although the published guide lists numerous people who can be contacted about harassment incidents, there is no official requirement that these individuals be trained, Herndon said.

"This seemed contradictory to us... . There's no guarantee if you go to someone in the department that the person you see even understands the rules of confidentiality or will handle your case properly," Herndon said.

"One of the things that is kind of irritating" is that an employee's status as a harassment contact "is not even in their job description -- it's really kind of crazy when you think about it," Herndon said.

The resolution cites a lack of centralization as the third problem. There is "no systematic record-keeping of sexual harassment complaints."

Herndon said the resolution recommends that MIT adopt a standardized procedure for documentation of harassment complaints, including those made anonymously. This could be accomplished if there were a central office in charge of sexual harassment, according to Herndon.

Peer counseling group created

Another part of the GSC's work is creating the Advocates for Victims of Sexual Harassment at MIT. The group would provide peer counseling for students, staff, and faculty.

Herndon said harassment is often different for graduate students than it is for undergraduates. "They've done one survey [for undergraduates]; they haven't done anything on graduate students ... the university doesn't take it seriously enough to even find out if there's a problem with graduate students."

Julie Gupta G disagreed. She does not believe MIT is biased one way or the other. She also does not think the incidence of sexual harassment is "higher than that of undergrads, even though the graduate departments are more highly male."

Herndon believes the incidence of sexual harassment among graduate students is quite notable. She said of her female graduate student friends, "I can't think of one who hasn't had an incident, though it might be very minor." Herndon has been harassed.

The Ad Hoc Group on Sexual Harassment, formed by students in 1988, came up with its own policy, which the administration did not adopt. Herndon said the GSC recommended that this policy or a similar one be adopted. The ad hoc group was instrumental in the GSC's work, she said.

Some women at MIT have also written an underground guide to sexual harassment. The GSC is planning to publish this guide and make it available free to graduate students.

Herndon said, "The reason women really care about this issue is we want to be treated like equals -- it doesn't have anything to do with anger towards men."