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Harassment Guide Is Valuable Reference

With reference to your article, ["Protesters Burn Harassment Book," Nov. 2] a few of us who actually read the harassment guide would like to respond to those who can no longer read their own. While they received front page coverage in The Tech, the actions of some 20 students should not be assumed to reflect the views of the student body as a whole. We believe that the handbook is actually a valuable resource and a good step in dealing with harassment at MIT.

This handbook, "Dealing with Harassment at MIT," attempts to address the issue of harassment at MIT. Harassment is not a joking matter. Not only does it happen with significant frequency, but nobody who is being harassed really knows how to respond. On a personal note, there were two instances this summer in which we were approached by real people dealing with harassment here at MIT. Harassment primarily concerns offensive behavior, not offensive speech alone, and it is a very touchy and complicated issue.

Oh yes, it is easy to criticize. Those complaining about "free speech" issues are worried that the guidebook goes so far in protecting people from harassment that it endangers the rights of others. Others, anticipating the publication of this handbook, were worried that the guide wouldn't go far enough in dealing with this issue. As founders of the speech and debate teams here at MIT, we instinctively recognize the need to periodically reaffirm our rights to express ourselves without penalty. And when we take a look at the problems on campus today, we find that freedom of speech issues are much less of a problem than instances of harassment. That the MIT administration should take up this topic is commendable. That they should be willing to put into writing, "What to do if you are harassed or accused of harassing another person?" -- is caring. This guidebook would have been very helpful this summer.

This guidebook has merit. It is long, not because it is complicated, but because it is redundant. Issues of harassment are very complex; what may be harassing to some may be downright amusing to others. When people from widely varying backgrounds interact closely, allowance needs to be made for different attitudes. Because of this, there are options presented in the guidebook to help people with many types and degrees of harassment. Redundancy in this handbook is important because, when we deal with a particular case of harassment, the authors want us to find all the information that we need in a few pages. This is a guidebook, meant to be referenced and not read from cover to cover.

Harassment is a serious issue and attempts to deal with it are easy to criticize. However, we believe that the administration's attempt to deal with this issue is valuable. Perhaps if the protesters had thought about this, they would not have tossed their guides into a fire after a brief skim. Burning these books is truly a remarkable way to reaffirm our right to remain ignorant of the issues of harassment.

Albert Hsu '96

Per Juvkam-Wold '94