University of Michigan
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June 26, 2019

Discussion series to explore sexual harassment in the academy

September 19, 2018

Discussion series to explore sexual harassment in the academy

Topic: Campus News

Sexual harassment of women in academia and the ways higher education institutions can address this critical issue is the topic of an upcoming discussion series.

During the events, community members will learn about findings and recommendations outlined in the 2018 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report, “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.”

The events are free and open to the public.

“More than half of women faculty and staff in academia encounter or experience sexual harassment, based on the recent National Academies’ report,” said S. Jack Hu, vice president for research. “This national statistic is unacceptable and cannot persist if we want to continue to encourage the recruitment of women into STEM fields, which have historically been dominated by men.”

Three U-M faculty members served on the report committee. They are:

• Anna Kirkland, director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and professor of women’s studies, LSA.

• Lilia Cortina, ADVANCE associate director and professor of psychology and of women’s studies, LSA.

• Timothy Johnson, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Medical School, and professor of women’s studies, LSA.

Along with more than half of women faculty and staff reporting having been harassed, studies reviewed in the report show that 20 percent to 50 percent of women students experience sexually harassing behavior perpetrated by faculty or staff. Women students in academic medicine experience more frequent sexual harassment than those in science and engineering.

The report found that gender harassment — contempt, hostility or crude behavior based on gender — is the most common type of sexual harassment people face, Kirkland said.

“The kind of dramatic sexual acts that we hear about in the news are the least common form of sexual harassment, and the most common is this gender derogation, humiliation, exclusion — acts and words that send the message to women that they don’t belong in the sciences, that they can’t be engineers,” Kirkland said. “Those are the things that create much of the harm that the report is targeting, which is losing women from the pipeline in the STEM fields.”

The consequences of sexual harassment in the academic sciences, engineering and medicine are dire: They jeopardize progress in closing the gender gap in these fields, undermine research integrity and negatively impact women’s professional and educational attainment and health, according to the report.

This sense of real losses served as the original animating concern for the report, Kirkland said.

“The women are losing their careers and losing their data, losing their projects, being driven from their field sites. And then collectively we’re losing that talent when people are driven out,” she said.

The report committee also outlined several steps institutions can take to combat this issue, including striving for diverse leadership, diffusing the hierarchical and dependent relationships between trainees and faculty and addressing gender harassment.

Although the report focuses on the sciences, the entire campus community is invited to attend, as the issue of sexual harassment and the research reviewed in the report are relevant to other disciplines as well.

“Organizational climate is an important factor in determining whether sexual harassment is likely to happen in a work setting, so it is necessary for our entire campus community to work together and identify ways to prevent sexual harassment,” Hu said.

The discussion series is presented by the Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the Office of Research, with co-sponsorship from ADVANCE, the College of Engineering, Michigan Medicine’s Office for Health Equity and Inclusion, and LSA.