The Sexually Harassed Student

Sexual harassment involves unwelcome and unwanted sexual attention and/or advances, requests for sexual favors, and other inappropriate verbal or physical conduct. It is usually found in the context of a relationship of unequal power, rank, or status. It does not matter that the person’s intention was not to harass. It is the effect it has that counts. As long as the conduct interferes with a student’s academic performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive learning environment, it is considered sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment usually is not an isolated one-time only case but repeated pattern of behavior that may include

  • Comments about one’s body or clothing
  • Questions about one’s sexual behavior
  • Demeaning references to one’s gender
  • Sexually oriented jokes
  • Conversations filled with innuendoes and double meanings
  • Displaying of sexually suggestive pictures or objects
  • Repeated non-reciprocated demands for dates or sex

Sexual harassment of students is covered by the California Education Code, section 89535. Common reactions by students who have been harassed is to doubt their perceptions, wonder if it was a joke, or wonder if, in some way, they have brought it on themselves. A student may begin to participate less in the classroom, drop or avoid classes, or even change majors.

DO:

  • Separate your personal biases from your professional role.
  • Listen carefully to the student and assure the student you understand.
  • Encourage the student to keep a log or find a witness.
  • If the student is confused about what she/he wants to do, help the student seek informal and confidential advice through the Counseling Center.
  • If the student wants to informally report the concern through channels, suggest the department chair or supervisor (if it is a student employee situation).
  • Inform the student that formal complaints against another student can begin in the Student Judicial Affairs Office (898-6897); complaints against a staff or faculty member can begin in the Vice Provost for Human Resources Office (898-5029).

DON’T:

  • Ignore the situation: Taking no action reinforces the student’s already shaky perception that she/he has been wronged. Ignoring the issue can also have legal implications.
  • Overreact: Just listen, support, and guide the student to appropriate channels.