THE ADMINISTRATORS of Harvard College of all people should know that the price of ignorance is high Working with faulty and incomplete information people cannot choose wisley, or they jump to the wrong conclusions. In its firm decision not to release any information in all about cases of sexual harassment, the College has allowed people to draw some frighteningly wrong conclusions. One Harvard professor has suggested recently that the overall effect of such knowledge is racism.
The problem is that of the many cases of sexual harassment at Harvard, only two have been publicized by the students involved in both of these cases, which were found valid by the University and in which punishment was meted out the students involved were white and the professors were Black. Because there are only these two publicized cases every time anyone talks about how a harasser was punished they must constantly refer back to the same two Black men.
It's a return to the laws of the old South," says Orlando Patterson professor of sociology. Although no formal rule mandating it exists he says the net effect is that the cases of Blacks get talked about. While the cases of whites do not. "It's implicit racism," he says.
The problem as Patterson sees it is that because of the racial dynamics of American society. While victims of a Black professor's sexual advance are more likely to recognize them as improper and more likely to report it. Once reported they are more likely to speak openly about it. "By leaving it up to the student to make the revelation, whatever insipient racist attitudes the students have may be brought over. "Patterson says.
There no doubt are some lingering racist attitudes in many whites that would make what Patterson says true. There are still some subtleties to sexualaaaaaa relations between the races, still some bases that do not exist in relations between members of the same races. A while victim of a Black professor's advances may in fact feel more rage, and more desire to exact punishment than she would had her aggressor been white.
Patterson, a member of the Faculty in Good standing does not come down very hard on the University. While totally in support of sexual harassment policies in general, he sends to worry about the effect of informing the victim of the resolution of his or her case. "The victim has the complete power to be as punitive as she wants." he says.
But by adopting this stance, Patterson comes close to the administration's own currently evolving belief that the more the victim knows about the resolution of his or her case the more power the victim has to be vindictive. This whole attitude is absurd on its face. The University has no right to assume that it should be able to keep the whole thing quiet. Let it instead warm all members of the Faculty that if they do not want anyone to know that they are sexual harassers, they shouldn't sexually harass.
A MORE INTERESTING SCENARIO was put forth last year, by a now-graduated Black woman. She suggested that the reason the only two publicized cases of harassment involved Black professors is because these were the ones the University allowed word to get out about. She isn't saying that the University actively publicized these two cases--but just that the University did not try its hardest to keep things quiet.
The woman went on to say that she simply couldn't believe that the only two cases of sexual harassment at Harvard involved Black professors. She maintained that there were probably incidents involving powerful white Faculty members in which the University made deals and threats to keep everything quiet.
While it is dangerous to throw around charges of racism when these have no substance, it is equally dangerous to ignore the possible racist implications of a University policy. As long as the College refuses even to release aggregate figures on cases of sexual harassment, it allows the myth to continue that sexual harassment is at Harvard anything, a Black man's crime.
An institution decided to educating society should never refuse to educate its own members on some issues. Nor can it allow impressions to linger that defame members of the community. Whites do commit sexual harassment at Harvard. But University Hall is Keeping that its little secret.