Penn Students Seek Better Sexual Harassment Policies
PHILADELPHIA, PA – Five graduate students at University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education (“GSE”) have started a petition to improve the universities sexual harassment policies due to several instances of sexual harassment by faculty. The petition specifically addressed Dean Pam Grossman, calling her to “inform the GSE community as soon as possible about actions [she has] taken or [plans] to take to ensure that GSE students are safe from sexual harassment.”
Currently, the petition has at least 92 signatures of the university’s students, faculty, and alumni.
The petition cited a 2015 Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey that found over 42% of female University of Pennsylvania graduate students reported being the victims of sexual harassment. Shockingly, it was found that graduate students were more likely than undergraduate students to identify university faculty members as their sexual harassers.
What is concerning is the real fears graduate students have of retaliation. The petition notes that “Especially for graduate students who work for Penn, the power and supervisory role of faculty can make reporting difficult and retaliation a serious threat.”
One of the petition’s authors is Ph.D. student Miranda Weinberg. Weinberg explained that for graduate students sexually harassed by their professors in the workplace found reporting procedures unclear and expressed. Additionally, victims expressed doubt the university would keep their complaints confidential.
Weinberg noted that “There is a pattern of faculty members behaving inappropriately toward graduate students, in ways that are particularly upsetting because of the power imbalance between faculty and graduates. She continued citing the media’s attention to sexual harassment in recent weeks, “We want to be sure that Penn is not the subject of the next one of these articles.”
The University of Pennsylvania’s policies are not necessarily subpar in comparison to schools, it is simply that their policy is not effective enough. While the school’s petitioners can’t change the world overnight, they at least want to make a significant change on their own campus.
“When we sought to address issues within GSE, we were concerned about what is the footprint of these policies at GSE, how are they implemented at GSE, who do people go to within GSE when they’re reporting a case and how is that going to be resolved,” fellow graduate student and co-petition writer Mark Lewis.
Once there is traction within GSE, the group hopes to move on to other graduate programs on campus, as it is not an isolated problem. One graduate student from the School of Arts and Sciences was sexual harassment by a colleague, and because of her lack of confidence in University’s response, she left her Ph.D. program altogether.
Clearly, the petition and the students’ advocacy are needed and their efforts should be applauded. Especially, when we live in a time where the nations own Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, plans to roll back former President Obama’s guidance on Title IX in universities.
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