(January 24, 2002, Gazette)
Since May 2000, I have been MUNs
sexual harassment advisor. When I am asked what I do, I now hesitate and
inwardly grin a reaction of some sort is inevitable. Ive
heard everything from, youre a waste of time, your
position is so needed, and, most commonly, can you tell me
how I can get sexually harassed? to a comment from an elderly man
who exclaimed, Oh well, myself and my wife are way beyond that now,
so I wont be needing your services.
Only 34 members of faculty, staff, and the student body have contacted
my office to request individual consultations regarding complaints of
sexual harassment. With numbers as low as this, one would think that Memorials
Sexual Harassment Office is an unneeded expense. The chilly climate of
this campus, however, is more likely revealed in settings that people
associate less with getting someone in trouble for
example, during a classroom presentation, after a sexual harassment awareness
session, over a coffee, in the hallways, or within the context of a casual
conversation. In non-threatening, familiar locations, people tell me their
stories, safely beginning their inquiries with statements such as what
if ...? a friend of mine told me ..., nothing
can be done now, but ..., or is it sexual harassment when
advice on a term paper, a student visits her professor during office
hours. She becomes exceedingly uncomfortable when a pornographic screensaver
appears on his monitor. She leaves his office before getting the necessary
a male-dominated learning environment, female students take complicated
routes to class in order to avoid leering and sexualized, inappropriate
comments from male peers. They also change the way they dress, hoping
that it will make a difference.
student feels alienated and fearful as both professors and students
engage in homophobic humour in his classes and labs. He wonders what
theyll do if they discover hes gay.
the classroom, a professor discusses his love for womens breasts.
A student hides behind her clipboard, hoping that her breasts do not
become the focus of his attention.
of male students on the steps of the University Centre loudly express
that all faggots should be shot.
These are samples of the kinds of stories I now hear on
almost a daily basis. Stories told by members of the campus community
who are looking for simple ways to approach people whose behaviours range
from irritating and insensitive or offensive and hurtful, to hostile and
threatening. Their common concerns are generally for the perpetrators
their peers, colleagues, co-workers, supervisors, students, professors,
friends, or acquaintances. They want the sexual harassment to stop
but they want it stopped quietly, painlessly, without backlash or repercussions.
They think about the consequences of taking action, asking not only what
will happen to me? but also what will happen to him/her?
On Nov. 23, 2001, the new University Wide Procedures for Sexual Harassment
Complaints were unanimously approved and signed by all campus constituencies.
I can now reassure members of the campus community that there are new,
kinder mechanisms in place to resolve complaints of sexual harassment.
I would, however, like to reassure them of more.
As sexual harassment advisor for the St. Johns Campus, the Marine
Institute, and Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, I am now recognizing my limitations.
I cannot address these issues alone. The stories have become too frequent,
too serious indicating a presence of sexism, racism and heterosexism
that requires the attention and involvement of all who work here. Like
other major educational institutions across Canada, Memorials climate
can be quite chilly. And one person, in one position, doing one-shot presentations
to primarily arts students and faculty is not going to warm the climate
of three campuses. Although I have taken creative steps to ensure that
people tune in to my sexual harassment awareness sessions, through, for
example, peer theatre, I cannot physically present to everyone, everywhere.
We all have to take a role in warming Memorials climate otherwise,
when I do enter your workplace or classroom to discuss respectful working
or learning environments, I will be ineffective. How can I advise students,
faculty or staff that their behaviors and attitudes may be inappropriate,
when, all around them, the behaviors and attitudes are tolerated and accepted?
A dangerously held misperception is that issues of gender and sexual harassment
are irrelevant unless a department, discipline, or service is directly
linked to social issues/concerns. Sexist, racist, and heterosexist attitudes,
however, are prevalent in our society and thus on our campus. They
have to be discussed, addressed, and confronted across all disciplines,
within all departments.
These attitudes impact our behaviours the ways we interact with
people. They impair peoples ability to be productive in the workplace
and in the classroom. In order to work or learn, we have to feel that
we belong, that we are respected. On a campus that is becoming increasingly
multi-identity and multi-cultural, sexism, racism, and heterosexism are
counterproductive. We need to know, as do our students, that we are, or
will be, working with people of different identities. Its inevitable,
no matter what the field, that men will work with women, and women with
men; that we will be working and learning with people of different sexual
orientations, religions, ages, degrees of ability, and racial/ ethnic
identities. And what we need to know, in order to be productive, is how
our attitudes impact our relationships with our co-workers, colleagues,
supervisors, and peers.
We need to learn how to practice respect and empathy, to confront attitudes
and behaviors that are disrespectful, and to cultivate work and learning
environments that are inclusive. I am thus seeking the help of the entire
campus community to create a respectful campus. There are proactive faculty
in the arts, as well as in psychology, who work towards making their classrooms
safe for women, gays, and other marginalized groups by not allowing or
practicing sexism, racism or heterosexism, and by being attentive to the
ways they teach. These kinds of initiatives can occur in all disciplines
It is thus my intention to start a campus-wide chilly climate committee.
The goal of such a committee would be for members to educate other faculty
and staff from their departments about hostile environment issues
how to dispel hostility in the classrooms and labs; how to create environments
that are not discriminatory; how to confront sexism/racism/heterosexism
as you see it, etc. There must be ways of dealing with issues of
sexual harassment and discrimination that go beyond this office
responsibilities that can and should be assumed by all who work at MUN.
If you are interested in participating on a chilly climate committee,
or would like to immediately begin warming the climate of your department,
classroom, or lab by inviting me to speak, please contact my office at
737-2015, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Its relevant. Its necessary.
To view the new University Wide Procedures for Sexual Harassment Complaints,
go to: www.mun.ca/sexualharassment.