We are writing to express our views on the upcoming vote by the Faculty Senate on GW’s Sexual Harassment Policy. Contrary to many students’ statements in Monday’s Hatchet article (“Students Define Sexual Harassment,” April 16, p. 3), the definition of sexual harassment is not ambiguous. The revised policy uses the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Department of Education’s definition of sexual harassment and conforms to the Supreme Court’s definition of sexual harassment as conduct of a sexual nature that is “severe, perverse and objectively offensive.” Nothing in this definition limits academic freedom of discussion.
Sexual harassment is not the discussion of sexual matters but is conduct that creates an “intimidating, hostile or offensive academic or work environment.” The policy clearly protects academic expression intended to contribute to “academic inquiry, education or debate on issues of public concern,” and states that academic freedom is a “preeminent value of the University.” These issues can in no way be misconstrued as sexual harassment. Professors will still have the ability to decide the content of their lectures without exempting unlawful classroom conduct from the policy.
The revised policy is balanced and will protect everyone. Having both an informal and formal process maximizes the policy’s effectiveness. The informal process allows students to come forward without feeling intimidated. Students should feel comfortable bringing a complaint, but the process should filter legitimate complaints from incidents misconstrued as sexual harassment.
Additionally, anonymity allows for resolution through mediation where the coordinator would forward his or her findings to a responsible official rather than provide a formal report. If the parties involved are not content with the informal procedure, any of these persons may implement a formal process that includes full disclosure of all information. Defendants do have full access to information once a formal complaint is made.
The revised policy is comparable to those of other schools like Princeton and Stanford universities. GW should follow their lead. Being that this matter concerns both students and faculty, both parties should have a say in the wording and implementation of the policy. We urge President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg to immediately institute the policy and review its effectiveness in five years.
-The writers, both sophomores, are officers of the GW Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance.