Create a Sexual Harassment Policy for Academic Conferences

Create a Sexual Harassment Policy for Academic Conferences

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Internet Human started this petition to North American Society for the Study of Romanticism

While many corporations and other private organizations have policies in place for reporting and sanctioning incidents of sexual harassment, most academic organizations like NASSR (North American Society for the Study of Romanticism) do not. These organizations have several different professional functions, but their main purpose is to host annual conferences that bring together professors and graduate students from different universities. Conference attendees engage in professional development through attending panels, seminars, and a variety of social events such as pub night. It is convention for networking to take place through one-on-one interactions such as meeting up for coffee and drinks. Often these meetings are productive. They allow for exchange of ideas, planning for future conferences, article/book recommendations, social connections to influential persons, and other forms of professional networking vital to those in the early stages of their career, such as graduate students.

While conferences are supposed to function as professional spaces for networking and intellectual dialogue, they also function as sites for penalty-free sexual harassment and assault due to a lack of effective harassment policy. As of now, NASSR has a civility statement in which it expresses disapproval of harassment but insists that it will not take action against complaints. They ask that complaints be directed to the title IX office of the accused's home institution. However, American courts have ruled that title IX has no duty to investigate or sanction the behavior of faculty or students off-campus when it does not involve an educational program or activity of the university. This is stated in footnote 3 of the Office of Civil Rights document on the duties of title IX, which can be viewed here:

https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/qa-title-ix-201709.pdf 

By asking conference attendees to report behavior to an office that is not legally capable of investigating and adjudicating complaints, attendees are left with no means of protection against harassment. However, NASSR, as a private organization, is well within its legal rights to implement a harassment policy. With no one taking responsibility for protecting the vulnerable and responding to credible complaints, conferences will continue to be a space in which predatory behavior occurs. Knowing that they can get away with behavior at conferences that they could not get away with as easily at their home institution, some individuals reserve predatory behavior for conferences in particular.

As a private, voluntary organization, NASSR reserves the right to extend invitations to membership and conference attendance to whomever they like. Membership and conference attendance are privileges, not claim rights. NASSR has the legal standing and structural means to create an effective harassment policy to protect the vulnerable now. Perpetrators know that they are not supposed to be doing what they are doing. Only a real policy with teeth for reporting incidents and imposing sanctions will ensure an environment free from harassment.

Furthermore, expecting to be harassed and knowing no means exists for reporting harassment or finding relief for a complaint dramatically influences the choices individuals make, such that vulnerable individuals absent themselves from forms of professional interaction (e.g. one-on-one conversations) that other individuals who do not fear harassment continue to engage in. For example, some graduate students will absent themselves from conferences entirely due to bad experiences or hold back from reaching out to faculty out of fear that they will be recipients of harassment or have their networking invitations be taken as sexual invitations. Thus, a lack of policy enables a cultural and institutional structure that is inherently unequal.

By signing this petition you ask NASSR to follow other private organizations and corporations by implementing a real harassment policy. By implementing an actionable policy, NASSR would not only protect members and conference attendees, but it could set precedent for other scholarly organizations. We are in a moment of cultural transformation and the academic environment, despite producing much rhetoric about social change, is one of the areas in greatest need of concrete and actionable policy change.

Please sign below to ask NASSR to institute an effective harassment policy for reporting and adjudicating incidents.

 

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