In his misguided column "Tell Someone Lies" (March 21, 1995), David Lat has read selectively and misleadingly from the "Tell Someone" brochure which offers advice and suggestions for responding to sexual harassment.
Lat either deliberately or in surprising ignorance misquotes the brochure, and so stumbles into the same "quick and dirty" misapprehensions as the professor he lauds. For instance, Lat chooses to quote an example of harassment, but conveniently stops after the reference to several declined and reiterated dinner invitations from a teacher. Then Lat purposefully omits the crucial part of the example: "and I'm concerned it could jeopardize my course evaluation" and replaces it with an ellipsis. This is a transparently dishonest manipulation of the text in order to make his (questionable) point, as anyone who reads the brochure will understand immediately.
Further, in his haste to misrepresent Harvard's policies concerning sexual harassment as being "defined too broadly," Lat again neglects to note that the brochure begins with the Faculty's fairly clear definition of sexual harassment. The definition notes explicitly that "what constitutes sexual harassment will vary with the particular circumstances, but may be described generally as unwanted sexual behavior...which adversely affects the working or learning environment of an individual." It goes on to define harassment as "an abuse of authority" which "creates an offensive or hostile learning environment." What part of this does Lat think is so broad as to "lose [its] meaning?"
Finally, the definition says that harassment is characterized by "an element of intimidation" which, it turns out, is the basis for the advice to trust your own instincts. It is no wonder that Lat has difficulty with this advice, as he apparently is unable to tell the difference between a teacher-student conference over lunch and someone using a position of power to gain sexual advantage.
The good news is that the students who consult with me and the Adjunct Advisers for Sexual Harassment in the Houses and the Yard do not have Lat's difficulty with perceptions, and do not read as superficially as Lat does.
My contact is with students whose ability to work and learn at Harvard is impaired by the inappropriate and harmful actions of those who occupy positions of trust. I imagine they and their peers can "trust their instincts" in deciding how to take Lat's snide and shallow column. Virginia Mackay-Smith Assistant Dean for Coeducation