How Colleges and Universities Should Combat Sexual Harassment

Kathryn B. H. Clancy, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, is the lead author of a paper, calling for steps to reduce sexual harassment in higher education. The authors report that higher education has the second-highest rate of sexual harassment next to the military.

“By far the most prevalent form of sexual harassment is the put-down, or what social scientists call gender harassment: comments, cartoons, jokes, gestures, and other insults,” the researchers wrote. “Sometimes the put-downs are sexually degrading and crude, and other times they are contemptuous without sexual content.”

“It’s easy to think that complying with the law means you are doing what you need to do to eliminate sexual harassment on your campus,” Dr. Clancy said. “But 30 years of research suggests the opposite.”

Dr. Clancy recommends that “leaders deal directly with problematic faculty or staff, rather than abdicating responsibility to a formal reporting process that is unlikely to lead to a finding. They need to initiate conversations early and often, and if instigators are unwilling to change, leaders should consider graded consequences for their actions.”

Among the actions department leaders should take, according to the authors, are a reduction in perks like prime office and parking spaces and appointments to desired committees. They recommend that academic institutions should not invest in quick fixes like packaged video or online training sessions created by outside consultants with little expertise in sexual victimization. Instead, they suggest that such training be grounded in research, conducted by a live instructor, interactively involve participants, and last longer than four hours.

Dr. Clancy joined the faculty at the University of Illinois in 2008. She is a graduate of Harvard University, where she double majored in biological anthropology and women’s studies. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Yale University.

The paper, “Use Science to Stop Sexual Harassment in Higher Education” was published on the website of the Processings of the National Academy of Sciences. It may be accessed here. Co-authors of the paper are Lilia M. Cortina, a professor of psychology and Anna Kirkland, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, both at the University of Michigan.


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