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Protesters Bun Harassment Book

By Jeremy Hylton
Editor in Chief

A group of students burned copies of the new guide to harassment yesterday afternoon at Senior House to protest what they saw as a variety of problems with the guide.

The guide, "Dealing with Harassment at MIT," was distributed to students through Institute mail yesterday. It was prepared by a group headed by Samuel J. Keyser, associate provost for Institute life.

"This publication is part of an ongoing process at MIT to create an environment of civility and mutual respect, one in which everyone can pursue their studies and work unhindered," Keyser told Tech Talk last week.

Many of the 20 or so protesters gathered in the Senior House courtyard at 5 p.m. were concerned that the Institute unfairly abridged students' First Amendment rights in its efforts to prevent harassment, they said.

"That's the [complaint] that convinced lots of people to throw their [guides] onto the fire," said Laurence T. Yogman '96, one of the protesters.

Protesters frequently cited page 18 of the 68-page booklet, which explained the Institute's position on the relationship between freedom of speech and harassment.

The guide says that freedom of expression and freedom from harassment are both essential to the mission of the university. "Members of the educational community are encouraged to avoid putting these essential elements of our university to a balancing test," it reads.

One protester carried a sign that said, "Anything you say can and will be used against you (in a kangaroo court)."

Another protester, Nicholas L. Cassimatis '94, likened the Institute to a "big brother" figure.

Protesters were also concerned that MIT's harassment policy, as described by the guide, is "a multiple option system," and that the harassment guide was too long to be effective.

Steven R. Shaw '95 said, "We don't like the fact that there's 60 pages of rules that we have to interpret to find what behaviors are acceptable."

Much of the guide, however, describes how to pursue and resolve harassment cases, rather than what kinds of behavior constitute harassment. "This format was suggested by the fact that many people who have been involved in the subject of harassment have asked to know what kinds of information are given to other parties in a complaint, and bystanders have asked for information on how they can help to support a colleague," Keyser wrote in the guide's introduction.

The protest involved little advanced planning, according to participants. They received the guide in their mailboxes at 4 p.m., skimmed them in the Senior House television room, and arranged for a burning an hour later, they said.

Even though the protesters only skimmed through the guide, "The parts we saw were bad enough," Cassimatis said.

"It's pure censorship. ... [it] defines harassment as hurting somebody's feelings," Cassimatis continued. Student decided to start the burning because "people are afraid to speak out about this," he said.

Elizabeth S. E. Nesseler '94 agreed that the length of the guide was a problem, but was also concerned by the decentralized harassment policy it described. Instead of having many channels to pursue harassment complaints, there should be a single student-student office, she said.

The guide explained that MIT's policy has multiple options "so that different people may find an option for stopping harassment that is appropriate for them."

The different options provide more or less privacy for the complainant, affect for much evidence is necessary for proceedings, and determine the style of resolution, the guide says.

(Eva Moy contributed to the reporting of this story.)