IN THE SPRING of 1984, when the Faculty was considering revisions to its sexual harassment procedures, numerous students concerned with the issue protested that "our whole problem centers around goodwill. The Faculty Council is up on the second floor of University Hall, and they can hide there."
Although the Faculty hasn't exactly been hiding in the months since, it also hasn't exactly solved the goodwill problem yet. Earlier this month it released a report on sexual harassment at the University for the year since the Faculty implemented new sexual harassment procedures, and while no one seems to be hiding, no one seems to be answering some key questions.
The report, prepared by the Coordinating Committee on Sexual Harassment, contains no surprises. There has been a slight increase in reported cases of harassment, but "we have not succeeded in engaging the interest of more than a narrow group of students in the topic," the report says.
But what the report does not say is what became of the two formal complaints that were field. And what the report does, not say is that the slight jump in reported cases of sexual harassment still does not reflect the large number of women who feel they are harassed or reflect the large number of men and women on campus who still think sexual harassment issues are not worthy of attention. What became of the University's goodwill and sensitivity, and why do so many questions remain unanswered?
Certainly the University wants to solve the problem, and to a degree it appears many more administrators are more sensitive to the issue if only by dint of repetition. But if any more women have been helped through their own experiences of harassment the credit probably should go to student-run counseling groups such as Response and Contact.
However, the issues that provoked the University as an independent body for dealing with such complaints remain unsolved.
A principal impetus for the new policy was a 1983-84 survey of women at Harvard. The University-sponsored study indicated that more than one-third of the women on campus had felt some kind of sexual harassment--ranging from inappropriate comments and crude jokes to attempted or actual rape.
Around the time the survey was being conducted, a highly publicized case involving charges by a junior faculty member and a graduate student that a professor in the government department harassed them drew widespread campus attention. And while their charges were upheld, many felt the treatment of the issue was insensitive and no one felt sure the punishment matched the crime.
The system, said students, was not working--no one was reporting these incidents and if they were being reported no one knew what was happening.
"Given the past policy, the description that people gave [in the survey] made it clear that people were afraid, intimidated and thought the University would be unreceptive," Joseph P. DiNunzio '84, who co-directed the survey, said at the time.
So the Faculty implemented a procedure whereby an administrator in the Dean of the College's office serves as a hearing officer for undergraduate complaints. It formalized and clarified the procedures for handling complaints but also indicated that a diffused system for dealing with complaints was prefered over a central harassment office.
The Faculty's report neither proves nor disproves the validity of concerns. Students are not reporting to the University; they are clearly dealing with their traumas through other channels. This is not inconsistent with the University's stated opinion that decentralized systems are better than bureaucratized formal ones. But one wonders what would have happened if students groups hadn't sprung up--at least three were begun in the last three years--or if they couldn't do a thorough enough job dealing with harassment complaints. And even if they are able fully to address all the complaints which arise, they are still equipped only to counsel, and not to make reparations.
One wonders, in short, why students aren't going through the administration more--after all, students groups are not supposed to be the only ones dealing with the issue.
Is this a failure of they system or a failure of "goodwill?"
Certainly the administrators in the Dean of the College's office are good people sensitive to the issues. Ellen Porter Honnet, newly-appointed Acting Assistant Dean of the College in charge of students with sexual harassment complaints, seems perfectly suited to her job. Her advising of two peer counseling groups, Response and Eating Problems Outreach, gives her not only experience with the issues but contacts with students. No one can doubt her concern and interest in the topic, nor can one doubt the sensitivity of Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57.
But sometimes it seems the institution overwhelms the individuals; the sexual harassment procedures of the University remain intimidating, complex, and prone to distrust.
PRACTICALLY NO OTHER issue confronting a University or community suffers such a wild problem of relativity. What one woman views as harassment another views as a simple joke that anyone should be able to shrug off. What one man views as gallant, another woman views as an affront. Nevertheless clear trespasses occur, as well as graver incidents. Trying to deal with sexual harassment is trying to teach a large group of people sensitivity to nuances and facets of human behavior that to various people are inconceivable, silly, overly sensitive, or a matter of human dignity.
And in dealing with the problem the University has to maintain sensitivity to a student or faculty member who brings the complaint yet maintain an approach recognizing that sexual harassment is still in the twilight zone as a clearly defined and understood phenomenon.
The question is whether the University should take the approach of an empiricist or a reformer. As an empiricist it attempts to juggle relativity; as a reformer it attempts to bring people around to a point where they understand what is wrong with harassment.
Harvard, at best, seems fenced on the issue. University officials' oft-stated concern for the rights of the accused can be translated into an excessively protective attitude for its power structure. The fact that the administrator in charge of hearing complaints is not an advocate would tend to make students less willing to go in and talk.
To be fair, Harvard has put forth some real educational efforts, having meetings with teaching fellows and advisors and putting out pamphlets. And perhaps as a result of those efforts and publicity, there will be some decrease in the number of actual problems.
But the single most important revelation of the report is that Harvard has not yet managed to persuade students to walk up the University Hall stairs to the second-floor, where the administrators are there for the talking to. Or should be.