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Institute Readies New Guidelines on Harassment

By Rahul T. Rao
Staff Reporter

In an effort to eliminate confusion and further awareness, MIT will release a revised version of its sexual harassment guide sometime this spring.

Samuel J. Keyser, associate provost for institute life, said the revision was prompted in part by criticism from many in the MIT community that last year's sexual harassment guide was not detailed enough. "The community's attitudes and awareness of the problem changes with time," also making a revision necessary, he added.

Keyser emphasized that the revision is unrelated to the controversy surrounding the recent sexual harassment lawsuits involving Marina R. Erulkar SM '92 and Professor Cynthia G. Wolff.

Jennifer E. Carson '94, president of Students Against Sexual Harassment, said last year's booklet was inadequate since it "simply listed a bunch of phone numbers." Many of the contacts suggested in the booklet have no power to take action in harassment cases or were not properly trained to handle the situations they could encounter, she said.

Keyser emphasized three specific issues that will be expanded in the new guide: confidentiality of records, standards of proof, and appeals. Other than saying that "confidentiality of records has always been of concern," Keyser would not elaborate on details of the expansion of these issues.

The revised booklet will also include more procedural information for the accused than the previous version, he added.

Keyser also said that the Institute may modify its sexual harassment policy but that these issues are still being deliberated. He refused further comment on these changes.

More options for students

The booklet will once again include a "road map" to the various resources available in MIT's multi-access system. This system provides students with a variety of places to begin when filing a sexual harassment complaint. Several new options will be added to help keep the "individual filing the complaint in control of the process for as long as possible," Keyser said. Each harassment case is unique, and having many options is necessary for the victims, he said.

Carson disagreed, saying that rewriting the booklet on guidelines will not help until the policies have also been changed. "The present multi-access system simply confuses many people and makes them feel lost," she said. Having a centralized resource system, as suggested by the ad-hoc Committee on Sexual Harassment, would be less traumatic for victims, Carson added. Listing more options in the booklet is a bad idea and will further delay the creation of a centralized resource system, she said.

One new step in the revised procedures is the suggestion that the person filing the complaint write a letter to the accused explaining his or her view of the situation. Keyser said that though such a letter will not be suitable in all cases, it would be a good idea in many situations.

Carson called the letter-writing suggestion inappropriate. "There have been cases where these types of letters have been later used against the individual filing the complaint," she said. Carson pointed out that because the Institute does not encourage letters from the accused to the victim, the new step results in an inappropriate disparity in procedures.

Keyser emphasized that the booklet does not reflect significant changes in Institute procedures but is a more detailed compilation of the various resources available. Some of the changes reflect continued implementation of the suggestions set forth by the Committee on Sexual Harassment in 1989, he said.