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Nearly Half of Women Surveyed Report They Were Harassed

By Joey Marquez
News Editor

Forty-seven percent of the women and 9 percent of the men responding to a recent survey reported "experiences of harassment which they found upsetting or very upsetting," according to a survey conducted by the housemasters, tutors, and undergraduate residents of Baker House and East Campus.

This survey is the first part of an effort by administrators to "raise the level of [student] consciousness, so they can understand what's going on" with sexual harassment, said Samuel J. Keyser, Associate Provost for Institute Life.

Revised questionnaires have been sent to independent living groups and McCormick Hall residents.

In a letter, Keyser and President Charles M. Vest requested that the entire MIT community "work together to develop ways to reduce, if not eliminate, sexual harassment and harassment of all kinds at MIT."

Keyser said "East Campus and Baker have given a gift to the community ... [the report] holds up a picture of the community to itself. I think that's the first step" toward change.

The survey, sent to 359 people, had a response rate of 49 percent; 158 of 281 women and 194 of 456 men returned questionnaires. The response rate varied among classes: 56 percent of freshmen, 50 percent of sophomores, 46 percent of juniors, and 37 percent of seniors returned questionnaires.

In an article written for The MIT Faculty Newsletter, Baker Housemaster William B. Watson and EC Housemaster Kenneth A. Oye wrote, "As teachers and supervisors, we should realize that these harassment experiences can have a marked impact on our students' ability to function in our classrooms and laboratories."

Oye said analysis of the data revealed that "the good news on sexual harassment is that there are fairly minor discrepancies between women and men on what is meant by harassment." According to Oye, both sexes described sexual harassment as "unwanted letters or phone calls of a sexual nature, unwanted leaning over, cornering, deliberate touching or pinching; unwanted pressure for sexual favors, and certainly, attempted or actual rape or sexual assault."

On the other hand, Oye said the bad news was that the experiences of women and men were different. "Very, very clearly, the experience some young women are having at MIT is not acceptable."

Women and minorities harassed

"One must conclude from these survey results that women at MIT are forced to live and work in an environment that is much more hostile and much more demanding than it is for men," Watson and Oye wrote.

According to the survey's results, "Fifty-eight percent of the women reported that they had been subjected to unwanted pressure for dates; 47 percent reported they had received unwanted letters or phone calls of a sexual nature; 64 percent subjected to unwanted teasing of a sexual nature.

"An astonishing 32 percent reported they had been subjected to unwanted pressure for sexual favors and 13 percent said they had been subjected to an actual or attempted rape or to some other form of sexual assault. However high these figures may seem, they are consistent with the results of other recent surveys of college women," Oye and Watson reported.

Harassment of minorities is also prevalent, according to the report. Responses indicated that more than half the Hispanics surveyed had experienced unwanted teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions based on their race. Oye and Watson also said that nearly half the African-Americans reported such incidents, and more than 40 percent of Asian-Americans had such experiences.

Students criticized survey's aim

The report also included general comments on sexual harassment. Some comments criticized the survey's omission of questions about gender discrimination. Watson commented, "Given the large number of added comments we received on this issue and the character of many other comments from women throughout the survey, gender discrimination appears to be an important factor eroding the quality of life and work of our women students."

Other respondents commented on subjects such as the authenticity of the survey, the constitutionality of MIT's harassment policy, and the First Amendment questions raised by harassment.

Watson concluded, "If a survey like this helps us to understand the pervasive and corrosive nature of sexual harassment and gender discrimination at MIT ... then it will have been worthwhile to get this news out."

Vest and Keyser also see this as a step toward creating "a community where all members treat each other with decency and civility."