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200 Protest Sexual Harassment

By Hyun Soo Kim
Associate News Editor

Between 150 and 200 MIT students, administrators, and members of the Cambridge community assembled at noon on Friday to rally against sexual harassment on the steps of 77 Massachusetts Avenue. The rally organizers demanded that MIT revise its sexual harassment guidelines to include more uniform grievance procedures' and gathered 181 signatures for a petition that was presented to President Charles Vest.

The rally was organized by the Peer Advocates Against Harassment, an ad hoc committee of the Graduate Student Council. "We're here to express our anger against MIT for not having a good sexual harassment policy. The present guidelines are not sufficient," said Corrie E. Lathan G, a rally organizer and member of PAAH.

The first speaker at the rally was Marina R. Erulkar SM '92, who filed a sexual harassment suit against Professor of Management Gabriel R. Bitran, her former supervisor at the Sloan School of Management. On November 6, a jury acquitted Bitran of harassment charges. MIT and Bitran were also acquitted of discriminating against Erulkar in enforcement of contracts with her.

While Erulkar spoke, eight MIT students at the fringes of the gathering held up signs with slogans such as "Quit Your Bitching," "She Wanted It," "Stop Harassment of Bitran," "Sore Loser," "Liar," and "Don't Flatter Yourself." Erulkar responded to the counterprotesters in her speech, saying that the signs could not bother her after all she had gone through.

In her speech, Erulkar described her case and the jury's verdict. "The jury found . . . that I'd not been harassed enough," Erulkar said. She concluded her speech by saying that "any harassment is too much."

Barbara Johnson, Erulkar's attorney, spoke next, followed by Anne Russo, a lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and a member of the 1989 Ad Hoc Committee Against Sexual Harassment. Russo criticized MIT's sexual harassment policy, saying that MIT is legally responsible for getting a policy and a set of comprehensive guidelines.

"First, MIT does not have a centralized staff and office to deal with sexual harassment, but has a multi-access system with people who are not trained," Russo said. "Second, people at the Dean's office are not sympathetic. . . . Third, there is nothing written for students to follow. Students are encouraged not to follow procedures. There is no clear policy on confidentiality. The information you give can be used against you," she continued.

The rally ended with speeches by Stephen Brophy, a library senior staff assistant and member of Gay, Bisexual and Lesbian Employees and Supporters at MIT, and by Literature Professor David M. Halperin. Both called MIT's current policy of handling sexual harassment cases inadequate.

According to Halperin, "MIT's persistent failure to institute a formal grievance procedure for handling cases of sexual harassment is a scandal. MIT just has a pathetic booklet -- just a list of phone numbers."

Although the posters announcing the rally demanded that Sloan Dean Lester C. Thurow not be considered for a position in the incoming Clinton administration, this issue was not pursued at the rally itself.

After the rally, approximately fifty chanting protesters walked to President Vest's office to deliver the petition, which called for MIT to develop effective harassment guidelines. Two Campus Police officers were at the entrance, and only three people were allowed in to deliver the petition. President Vest was not available at the time, so three administrators received the petition in his stead.

Arthur C. Smith, dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs, said the rally was one-sided. "As a rally to stop harassment, it is something I would applaud," he said. "In terms of information presented on the case, they presented only one side. They implied we ignored completely the need for guidelines. That is not true. Things are happening." Smith added that the protesters also ignored the possibility that MIT will apply higher standards for determining harassing behavior than those used in the courts.

Associate Provost for Institute Life Samuel J. Keyser later defended MIT's policy. "The guidelines the Ad Hoc Committee put out involve basically a centralized grievance procedure; the guidelines we have are multi-access. There are differences of opinion on which way it would be best to go. I don't see at this point any movement away from a multi-access system. It provides flexibility for a person to tailor their grievances," he said.

Lathan, the president of the GSC, and Jennifer E. Carson '94 will meet with Keyser next week to discuss new guidelines, Lathan said. Carson is president of Students Against Sexual Harassment, an anti-harassment group that participated in the rally.

Keyser said MIT will have a new set of sexual harassment guidelines by next semester. "We have one version of them and we hope to get more community input for the next."

Lathan said the counterprotesters were a perfect example of the culture they were fighting. "We couldn't have set it up better to make our point better. That's what we're trying to show the administration -- that this is the atmosphere we are dealing with."

The protesters describe themselves as the New Right Wing. One protester, Eric E. Fitch '95, who was holding up the "She Wanted It" sign, said, "We feel that in Massachusetts the left wing has a incredible amount of publicity, and we think it's bad that this happens, because people think that's the only view there is. . . . The rest of the country doesn't share the same opinion. People that live here don't understand that people like us exist."

"I thought they were disgusting," said Gargi Sircar '93, a bystander at the rally. "They are indicative of what a lot of people think at MIT. They were eight to ten white males holding up reactionary posters. . . . Every single poster they had put the blame on the victim."

"We feel Bitran was found innocent through the American judicial system. He's the one being harassed. We have faith in the American judicial system," Fitch said.

Jeremy S. Pitcock '94, another counterprotester, said that the reason he got involved in demonstrating at the rally was due to the postering of Bitran's class on Nov. 16, when a group of students filed into the back of his classroom holding signs. "I'm for treating sexual harassment as a real problem, but I think Bitran shouldn't be harassed. The postering of Bitran's class was completely out of line. It was a personal affront against him," Pitcock said.

According to Lathan, the rally and the postering of Bitran's class were totally separate events. "Both events involved some of the same people, but it was their individual choice to be involved in the postering. The events were totally unrelated," Lathan said.