Community obligation to report sexual harassment

By Jenna Ramolt, Arts & Life Writer

Sexual harassment is a rising epidemic on college campuses across the country, and brings with it an important discussion.

As defined by The University of Akron’s student handbook, sexual harassment is any form of sexual discrimination which violates laws respecting employees and students. This includes unwelcome advances, requests or pressuring for sexual favors, physical or verbal harassment or abuse, and any other manner of conduct meant to discomfort or humiliate. Even if the act is not physically violent, it is considered a threat to student safety.

According to Mike Strong, Deputy Title IX coordinator at UA, the most commonly reported instance of sexual harassment is the creation of a hostile environment caused by unwelcome comments or advances. Strong adds that while the university addresses the importance of this issue, it is difficult to quantify the number of instances that occur on campus.

MSNBC found that one in five women will encounter sexual harassment during their college careers. This is only an estimate, however, because many instances of rape or assault are never reported.

To combat these problems, many colleges in the U.S. are initiating programs to educate their students on acceptable sexual conduct.

Some colleges are taking different measures: Dartmouth College recently banned hard liquor on its campus. They explained the decision to The New York Times as an attempt to “decrease sexual misconduct among students.”

Also aiming to decrease the number of incidents reported each year, the U.S. Government passed a law last April that requires all universities to investigate reports of sexual assault.

Riding this new wave of awareness, UA is putting great effort into keeping its students safe.

New students and employees are required to complete training programs about the seriousness of sexual harassment. There are also many programs offered to raise awareness and prevent assault. Among these programs are female self-defense courses, men’s awareness programs, and workshops centered around reducing the risk of sexual assault.

Strong suggests that the best way to prevent sexual harassment is to report cases when they do happen.

“Holding students, staff and faculty accountable is the most direct way to respond to harassment,” Strong said. “But equally important is stopping harassment before it begins; making sure our language, behaviors and choices respect each other. It is critical that we stand up for ourselves and for our friends whenever we see a concern.”

If students have concerns or see something considered to be sexual harassment, they can report it by completing a referral on UA’s website by searching the key term “Title IX.” They will then be contacted by a Deputy Title IX Coordinator who will work with them to respond to the concern.

“The most important thing to know is that sexual harassment is illegal, against [UA’s] policy, and our community will respond to incidents of harassment,” Strong said. “We will make sure the harassment stops, hold the individual accountable whenever possible, prevent recurrence, and do everything in our power to help the individuals who are targeted.”

Discourse on sexual harassment and assault is growing on college campuses, and schools like Dartmouth and UA are standing up against these issues. By educating students on safety and proper conduct, colleges may begin to see a drop in the number of cases each year.