Simone Virzi — News Writer
What should a professor do if a student draws a heart with an arrow next to their name on an exam? This was an example referenced several times at the Community Forum on Campus Climate, held last Friday, April 27.
Members of the Sexual Harassment Prevention Task Force, other professors and students attended to examine what the force has already done and what the university needs to do to avoid future sexual harassment cases.
In regard to the heart drawn on the exam, some of the attendees argued it was an innocent drawing, while others said it could be the start to sexual harassment.
What happens when a student harasses a professor was discussed the most at the forum, but force members said they have discussed in other meetings what happens when a professor harasses a student.
The task force, which has only had five meetings, first convened on March 5 of this year and subcommittee meetings include training, definitions and climate survey.
Michele Salamone, faculty development, said the Sexual Harassment Task Force was formed this semester.
Marianne Kennedy, interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said she was “appalled” after reading the university’s policy that “discourages but does not forbid” consensual relationships between a professor and a student.
Steve LaRocco, a task force member and English professor, said one of the issues is the university needs to find out what is “unwanted sexual contact.” What also needs to be addressed is what occurs when a professor and student potentially want to be in a relationship.
“[The] university won’t support you if a complaint comes out of a relationship,” he said, referencing if a professor and student are in a relationship.
According to Debra Risisky, a professor in public health and member of the task force, who read off a PowerPoint, the “last assessment of [the] SCSU Campus Climate [was] conducted in 2006.”
Next semester in the fall, the university will conduct another survey online for the Southern community to complete. In the meanwhile, Risisky said climate data has been collected from other universities.
Freshman Madison Breuer, one of the three students at the forum, offered a suggestion to the force to help prevent sexual harassment.
The university “needs to be more clear,” she said, adding that Southern needs to list what will happen regarding consequences.
Jeannette Oppedisano, a women’s studies professor, said the university should have a “safe environment” where sexually harassed students can go.
She also said students should “stand up for themselves” and tell the perpetrator to stop sexually harassing them. The comment was disputed because students have different personalities, as some are more aggressive while others get scared.
Student Destin Pervis-Pritchett said sexual harassment “guidelines should be made very clear.” He also said someone needs to say, “This is inappropriate” and do something about it before it becomes sexual harassment, which he defined as “ongoing.”
He referenced the example of a heart drawn on an exam and said in his opinion that is not sexual harassment, but it is “inappropriate.”
Another issue discussed was that sexual harassment could be a power issue: a professor may intimidate some students, because they control their grade. However, Greg Adams, task force member and sociology professor, said a professor can also be intimidated by a student.
He referenced a situation in 2009 in which one of his students was sexually harassing him, and he felt powerless: the student had paid money to have a seat in his classroom.
Cathy Christy, Women’s Center director and task force member, said everyone–both faculty and students–need to be educated more.
Marcia Smith Glasper, executive assistant to the president and task force member, said there are “multiple levels or layers of responsibility” the Southern community needs to take. This applies to training to be done by the faculty, including supervisors and deans, which is a “requirement,” Smith Glasper said, who is also the executive director of Diversity and Equity.
LaRocco said the law has a “loose definition,” so the university needs to have a more refined definition. He also referenced a point Smith Glasper had made earlier in the forum: “What’s a reasonable person’s standards?”
After the forum, Breuer quickly summarized why she attended in two words: “David Chevan.” She then said he should no longer be a faculty member at the university, referring to the lawsuit that SCSU student Wendy Wyler filed against the university earlier this semester, claiming the music professor had sexually harassed her.
Breuer also said there is “a lot going on with sexual assault.” However, when a professor sexually harasses a student, the student does not feel they have any control.
“No one takes [sexual harassment] very seriously,” she said.
Mixed opinions on SCSU’s sexual harassment code
Simone Virzi — News Writer