Five Takeaways from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Report Release on Sexual Harassment

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By JanJan Sun, Aspen Forum on Women and Girls Intern

Although sexual harassment is an issue in many institutions, it is especially prevalent in male-dominated spaces. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine launched a report on the changes that need to occur in the culture and climate of higher education in order to prevent and respond to sexual harassment. The report hopes to use scientific research to show that the policies currently in place in most institutions are not effective and to provide guidance on how institutions can create safer cultures. Here are five takeaways from the June 12, 2018 release of “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.” 

“The cumulative effect of sexual harassment is a significant and costly loss of talent in science, engineering, and medicine.”

Women faculty will disengage from their jobs, seek positions at different universities, or leave academia altogether to avoid sexual harassment. In order to avoid a hostile learning environment, women students will change advisors and majors or drop out of school completely. (Quote: Lilia Cortina, Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan)

“Sexual harassment is a complex phenomenon intersecting with racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other discriminatory mindsets.”

People with multiple marginalized identities can be multiply victimized. Women of color, lesbian and bisexual women, and trans women face higher rates of harassment than their straight, cisgender, and white counterparts. (Quote: Lilia Cortina, Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan)

“The more male dominated the setting and the more that misconduct is tolerated in that setting, the more it has problems with sexual harassment.”

Environments that have male dominated gender ratios and leadership tend to have higher rates of sexual harassment. In order to combat this, departments need to hire and promote more women into every level of the academic power structure. (Quote: Lilia Cortina, Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan)

“Our first recommendation is to create diverse, inclusive, and respectful environments.”

Institutions need to work harder to increase gender and racial equity in their hiring and promotions at every level. (Quote: Paula Johnson, President of Wellesley College)

“The law is the floor—not the ceiling.”

Often times institutions prioritize avoiding legal liability over the wellness of their community. Institutions need to start viewing the law as the absolute bare minimum of what they should be doing to protect women from sexual harassment, especially since many forms of sexual harassment are not legally defined as such. (Quote: Lilia Cortina, Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan)