U curbs sexual harassment with training, discipline

Between 30 and 40 cases are reported each year, but some things go unreported.

Elizabeth Cook

Some reports claim incidents of sexual harassment are becoming more prevalent, but at the University the numbers seem to be decreasing.

According to an online survey conducted by the American Association of University Women, 62 percent of college students said they have been sexually harassed.

The online survey conducted last May polled about 2,000 college students.

The survey defined sexual harassment as unwanted behavior that could include anything from suggestive glances and spreading sexual rumors to forced contact.

University officials said sexual harassment does occur on campus, but their definition differs from the survey’s.

Julie Sweitzer, director for the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, said the definition the survey used was very broad.

Sweitzer said people don’t normally come into her office because of suggestive looks.

Claire Walter-Marchetti, director for the Office of University Women, said the definition given was a broad continuum.

While a suggestive glance could be interpreted in different ways, an actionable behavior is very definite, she said.

Walter-Marchetti said that in the past year she’s had only one staff incident and one student organization incident involving sexual harassment.

Sweitzer said people are more likely to come in because of repeated pursuing and repeated talking about sexual behavior.

Sweitzer said fewer than 10 percent of contacts with the office in the past two years have been for sexual harassment.

In that time there have been between 30 and 40 reported cases a year. This is down from previous years, when there were about 60 incidents reported each year. These numbers represent students and employees.

“We’ve seen a definite improvement,” Sweitzer said. “However, it still happens.”

Junior advertising student Brittany Willborg said she has been harassed on campus.

“(I get) the catcalls, the “Hey you, hey you,’ ” she said.

Isolated incidents aside, Sweitzer said part of the reason for this decrease is that about half of University staff members have participated in some kind of sexual harassment program in the past two or three years.

According to the survey conducted by American Association of University Women, men were found to be almost as likely to say they have been sexually harassed on campus as women were.

Sweitzer said women are more likely to come to the office, but men do come in occasionally.

Christopher Uggen, a professor of sociology, said that in a study he found men were more likely to not think of a behavior as sexual harassment if it was being done to them.

But Uggen said what’s interesting is that men were singled out for more repeated offenses.

Men also are more likely to be targeted by other men for not conforming to masculine standards.

Junior public relations student Kathleen Geiser said she’s been sexually harassed in the past at a job, but not in college.

“Guys in college are more respectful than older guys,” she said.

Geiser said it’s also something that is just not tolerated here on campus.

At the University there are repercussions for sexual harassment, said Jay Bergland, associate director of student judicial affairs.

If a student is accused of sexual harassment, it’s investigated. If it’s found to be true, depending on the circumstances, like how affected the victim was, it could result in expulsion, suspension or other sanctions.

“I wouldn’t say (sexual harassment) happens a lot, but more than it’s reported,” Bergland said.

Susan Stubblefield, assistant director of residential life, said there are a few cases each year that go through judicial affairs, and that they take a very firm stance against it.

Stubblefield said that during fall semester there is collaboration with the Aurora Center and community advisers are taught about sexual harassment.

Stubblefield also said that sometimes people might not even realize what their words mean and the harassment could be unintentional. That is why they have training sessions.