Unwanted Attentions

When Judith B. Walzer, assistant dean of the College for coeducation and the administrator who handles sexual harassment complaints, attended a panel this May at the Kennedy School Forum on sexual harassment, she went to sit in the audience and listen. But women students demanded that she come up to the microphone and explain how they might file complaints.

Since the panel, three students have come to Walzer's office to talk about sexual harassment. Normally, only a handful of students with such complaints comes to see Walzer each year. But since Helene Sahadi York '83 filed a formal complaint against Martin L. Kilson, professor of Government, this winter--and Dean Rosovsky formally reprimanded Kilson--more students have ventured out to seek advice and redress.

Despite the more frequent visits, however, nobody has filed a formal complaint since York. The reason, Walzer believes, is that most students bring sexual harassment problems that fall into a "gray area." Most often these women are unsure whether they have actually been harassed. "If there are situations where women really feel pressure, pressure to the point of coercion, then I'm not hearing about it," Walzer says.

At the panel and in officials' offices, many students criticize the University for not adequately publicizing the procedures for filing complaints. Walzer points out that the process is published in the Student Handbook and that she discusses the policy with freshman advisers once a year. But Walzer says she has recommended to Dean Fox that the University define the term "sexual harassment" in the handbook and publish general statistics on the number of students who seek advice on such matters each year.

Despite the low numbers of students seeking formal reprimands, Walzer says what disturbed her most about the testimony following the panel discussion was an anger and vengefulness, as if "a basic sense of civil rights was erased." Walzer said she had the feeling that "the only thing that would satisfy some of these people who feel oppressed is very public displays of punishment."

Ruth Hubbard, professor of Biology, who moderated the panel and teaches a course on women's issues, has argued that the strict confidentiality and the dean's hesitance to reprimand publicly offenders allows sexual harassment to continue unconfronted. "Spotlighting will eliminate the vast majority of the cases," Hubbard argues.

Others recommend more advising for women, perhaps by installing advisers especially able to cope with women's issues. Dean Fox says he always asks each House master to include in his tutoring staff one such person. When pressed, though, Fox admits that this year he forgot to remind all of the masters to hire a women's adviser. Even when Fox does remember, few women student residents are aware of this service, primarily because women's advisers are not labeled as such. Fox says he does it this way because he prefers to "handle it (sexual harassment and women's issues) in inexplicit ways." Fox says he favors an informal method because it is "more inclined to do something more low-key, but more available."