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University hosts panel on sexual harassment in the workplace

The panel, “From #MeToo to #nomore,” addressed ways in which students can respond to issues of sexual harassment in the workplace now and in the future. The panel was sponsored by the Brandeis Rape Crisis Center, the Hiatt Career Center and the Gender and Sexuality Center and took place Monday, March 13.

The #MeToo movement is a social media campaign designed to promote awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault, both in general and in the workplace. The movement spurred women to share their own stories of sexual assault and harassment, including many well known women in different fields. Monday night’s event aimed to explain the prevalence of sexual misconduct and articulate how to handle it when it occurs.

The event featured both a panel and then an audience activity. The panel included Cynthia Farquhar, the training specialist in the Brandeis Office of Human Resources; Elena Louis, the director of the Student Support Services Program (SSP) and an Ombuds staff member at Brandeis; and Eliza Campbell, the Community Engagement Specialist at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC). Sarah Berg, the director of Sexual Assault Services and Prevention at Brandeis, moderated the panel.

The speakers first addressed the question of how to deal with sexual harassment or assault as a victim, especially in the workplace, each offering their own advice. Arquhaur made the point that if people feel comfortable directly addressing the person making them feel harassed, they should feel empowered to do so, but if that doesn’t feel safe, there are other options besides confrontation.

Louis emphasized that there are resources for students at Brandeis, including the Ombuds office. In particular, Louis made it clear that the Ombuds office does not get involved in a formal reporting or complaint processes. Rather, Ombuds staff can help students brainstorm about options for victims and explain how the process of making a report works. A report itself could be filed with the Title IX coordinator at Brandeis.

“What’s good about Obmuds is that we don’t get involved in formal processes. We’re not an advocate. We’re not somebody who takes sides. We can look at a situation from a bird’s eye view and offer some feedback,” said Louis.

Campbell spoke about the need to take care of your own wellbeing in a case of sexual harassment or assault in the workplace. She explained the struggle that some women face who choose not to report harassment or assault if they need their job to support their family or if they otherwise really enjoy their job. It is important for companies, Campbell said, to have both a resource for report harassment or assault as well as a confidential resource for emotional support.

In terms of what she would say to a victim of harassment or assault in the workplace, Campbell said, “It’s a really crappy situation to be put in because you’re making really difficult choices…often there’s not an easy clear path of what to do and what you can do. And you have a right in those situations to prioritize your own wellbeing and comfort.”

The second question that panelists addressed was how to avoid being a bystander in a workplace. Farquhar encouraged intervening directly or reporting the behavior. Campbell spoke about creating a workplace where even smaller examples of sexual harassment, like inappropriate jokes, are not tolerated.

The second part of the event was an activity for all of the attendees. Each table was given a different case of sexual harassment in the workplace and discussed how to handle that scenario before their analyses with the rest of the audience.

For example, one table discussed what do if a coworker has a computer background of a nude model. Students shared their opinions on how power dynamics, gender and other factors might influence how to handle that situation. Other scenarios presented involved asking co-workers about their dating lives or handling a boss who seems to want to spend more time with you than the rest of the office.

Afterwards, panelists offered a few words of advice and reminded attendees they have the power to make the changes they want to see. Louis encouraged audience members to remember “Your voice matters. It really can make a difference, even if you’re just one person.”

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