Note: This module
should not be interpreted as legal advice. The author is not an
attorney, although she did teach constitutional law courses for many
years. Be sure to review your college's harassment policies
and speak with your Human Resources or Personnel
Office if you have questions.
be blunt: Community College professors are very vulnerable to
romantic relationships with their students. Often our students
are close to our age. They might take several years to complete
their work at the college and they may take more than one course with
us, or participate in an extracurricular activity we advise.
It's easy to forget our professional boundaries and pursue a relationship.
After all, we say to ourselves, we all know community college faculty
who married former students and made a happy life together.
We are all adults, right?
often don't hear about are those who nearly lost their career over
what started as a romantic misunderstanding. Why don't we hear?
Personnel matters are confidential and if the issue is resolved without
extensive legal complications we might not hear a word about it on
campus. Just because you don't think you harassed someone, doesn't
mean they don't see it that way, or they won't make the accusation
when feeling rejected. So, before you pursue a current student,
or make yourself vulnerable to their interest in you, stop and think.
Is this worth your career? If the potential relationship seems
worthwhile, won't it wait until the class is over? And
finally, keep in mind that some students idealize their professors.
Be careful or everyone might get emotionally hurt, including you -
a real human being, not an ideal.
harassment is not about romance, it is about power. Real,
or imagined, appearance matters and your professional reputation is
important, not to mention legal costs, loss of job and possibility
that finding other employment might be impacted.
on positive, friendly relationships with students. If you find
yourself vulnerable to behaviors that look like potential harassment,
think about how caring faculty, that are perceived to have appropriate
relationships with peers, staff and students, behave. Seek advice.
If you have difficulty controlling your behavior, get help - including
psychological counseling (often available through your health care
provider). It takes courage to get help. You may be surprised
to discover that harassment is not about romance or sex, but about
power, control and self esteem issues.
be vulnerable to allegations
Keep your door open
when talking with students.
If a student hints
at romantic interest, avoid speaking with them alone. Go
to a public place such as the cafeteria or library to meet
with them. Ask another faculty member to join you.
Never express romantic
interest to a student while they are registered in one of
Donít discuss sexual
topics unless they are germane to specific course content
What is sexual harassment?
Harassment Occurs When:
Sexual harassment includes, but is not limited
- An employee demands sexual favors in exchange
for job benefits.
- A student is solicited for sexual favors
in exchange for better grades, references, enrollment conditions,
or any other student benefit.
- Any employee or student creates an offensive
work or educational environment as the result of innuendo,
slurs, jokes and/or other related acts by an employee or by
- Retaliation is threatened for filing,
or notification of intent to file, a complaint of alleged sexual
- Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for
sexual favors, physical conduct of a sexual nature or verbal,
written, or illustrated messages of a sexual nature:
- are made or communicated either explicitly
or implicitly as a term or condition of an individualís
employment or educational opportunities;
- are used as a basis for employment
or educational decisions affecting such individual;
- have the purpose or effect of interfering
with an individualís work performance, educational activities
or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work
- Direct sexual
- Unwelcome written contact containing
sexual meaning or intent (i.e. suggestive or obscene letters,
notes, or invitations);
- Unwelcome verbal derogatory comments,
slurs, jokes, or epithets with sexual overtones;
- Physical contact such as assault, touching,
impeding or blocking movement;
- Use of unwelcome gestures, display of
objects, pictures, or cartoons which are sexually suggestive;
- The posting of provocative or nude photos
in the work place;
- Persisting in expression of sexual interest
after being informed that such interest is unwelcome;
- Making reprisals, real or implied, or
threats of reprisals following a negative response; withholding
or implying the withholding of support for appointment, promotion,
or permanent status; threatening with a poor performance review;
- Encouraging an harasser or teasing the
- Engaging in implicit or explicit coercive
behavior which is used to control, influence or affect the
career, salary, or other working conditions of an employee;
- Offering favors of employment benefits
or working conditions in exchange for sexual favors.
What are a College's Responsibilities?
A community college has a responsibility
and commitment to maintain a workplace and educational environment
free from sexual harassment, exploitation, intimidation or discrimination.
- The college may be responsible for acts
of its employees, students and agents. Your actions
may cost your college thousands of dollars. Dollars
that could better be spent on student services, hiring faculty,
or increasing your salary.
- The college should create a workplace
or learning environment which is free of sexual harassment.
You should expect that the college will take immediate and
appropriate corrective action whenever it becomes known that
an act occurred, whether this information comes from the complainant
or a third party. You should also expect the college to protect
you, if you are a victim.
- If you are a harassment victim you should
inform your Department Chair, Dean or Human Resources Director.
If an individual is charged with
sexual harassment, the college generally launches an immediate investigation
through the appropriate established procedures consistent with all
statutory and constitutional due process requirements.
An informal or formal resolution
of the complaint may result. Check your college policies for the
process on your campus.
The initiation of a complaint of sexual
harassment may not cause any reflection on the complainant, and
it may not affect a person's future with the college, his or her
employment, compensations, or work assignments, unless the allegations
are proven to be true. The same is true for students.
Defense against harassment charges launched by an employer to
illustrate that they took action to halt the harassment, or that
they had no reasonable expectation that harassment was taking
Conditions of employment:
The conditions to which an employee is subjected in the course
of their work responsibilities.
harassment: Comprised by two necessary elements: That the
employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct
any sexually harassing behavior, and that the plaintiff employee
unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective
opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.
Employers are liable:
If they knew or should have known about the harassment and failed
to stop it.
or abusive work environment: an environment that a reasonable
person would find hostile or abusive.
Quid pro quo:
Exchange of one favor for another.
Member of a jury.
Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that "it shall be an
unlawful employment practice for an employer
against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms,
conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's
race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." It not only
covers "terms" and "conditions" in the narrow
contractual sense, but "evinces a congressional intent to
strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and
women in employment." It is violated when the workplace is
permeated with discriminatory behavior that is sufficiently severe
or pervasive to create a discriminatorily hostile or abusive working
environment, as defined by a reasonable person. Mere utterance
of an epithet is not sufficient. Conduct must be severe and pervasive.
Male-on-male horseplay or intersexual flirtations are not harassment.
"A master is not subject to liability for the torts of his
servants acting outside the scope of their employment, unless:
"(a) the master intended the conduct or the consequences,
or (b) the master was negligent or reckless, or (c) the conduct
violated a non-delegable duty of the master, or (d) the servant
purported to act, or to speak on behalf of the principal and there
was reliance upon apparent authority, or he was aided in accomplishing
the tort by the existence of the agency relation."
Responsibility for the action of an employee that the employer
did not otherwise endorse, and may not have known about, because
they activity was perpetrated by someone with apparent authority.
Test your understanding
of this subject:
1. Only women can be victims of sexual harassment.
2. Sexual harassment
occurs when a student creates an offensive educational environment
as the result of innuendo, slurs or jokes.
3. Unwelcome sexual advances
must be explicit for them to constitute harassment.
4. Whenever sexual harassment
occurs formal grievance procedures must be followed.