This blog will be about sexual harassment of students in all types of university faculty. Further research will be needed to determine if it is worse in particular disciplines. Furthermore, I don’t know how bad the problem is in non-English speaking countries, so I will need to confine this brief survey to the UK, the United States and Canada, and of course, Australia and New Zealand.
In the UK, according to the Guardian, October 2016, more than 100 women made complaints against senior academics spanning several decades. In May 2017, 300 complaints were described as the “tip of the iceberg” in British universities, where sexual harassment by staff was characterized as being of epidemic proportions.
Not much seems to have changed since my student days. Everyone agrees that women were objectified in the 60s and 70s; some parents like mine tried to give their daughters a good education, so that they could earn a living without having to get married. We didn’t know university was going to be a hunting ground. I wish my former music student friends would find the courage to repeat the things they told me, like the anecdote about the violin teacher who propositioned students. Too many women are keeping silent for there to be any chance of justice. Shame! as Trump would Tweet.
Of course, according to a Google search, for every complaint by a student, there is an equally forceful complaint from a lecturer about students offering sex for good grades.
Thankfully, the Royal Commission regarded a 17 year old as a child. That means most First Years who are school leavers are still children.
My Somerville House girlfriends and I had such high hopes of university life. As my friend Susan said, we viewed the place as a sort of idealized Oxford or Cambridge, peopled with high-minded intellectuals who discussed Jean-Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir. In Year 12 two of our teachers, in English and History, noticing how bored we were, lent us books that helped us see a world beyond a private girls’ school. I read about industrial action in Poland, famine in Ireland, gulags in Russia. I felt strongly about the “intellectual blinkers” constraining my gaze towards other parts of the world. Having been protected to the point of dangerous ignorance, I was intrigued by the cross-section of society I found at university. What a journey each beginning student faces! How crucial, that those entrusted with their care exercise restraint and integrity. How tragic the consequences when a child is corrupted, then blamed and slut-shamed. How depressing that victims are being re-victimized by opaque investigative processes.
Brian Martin (1991) quotes from The Lecherous Professor by Billie Wright Dziech and Linda Weiner — “Few students are ever, in the strictest sense, consenting adults. A student can never be a genuine equal of a professor insofar as his professional position gives him power over her. . . . Whether the student consents to the involvement or whether the professor ever intends to use his power against her is not the point. The issue is that the power and the role disparity always exist” (p. 74).
“Her vulnerability and her desire to please”, adds Shirley Katz in a discussion of Canadian university policy on the issue, “make the relationship always exploitative”.
I hope more victims of university abuse, especially in creative arts faculties, will find their voices.