, which focused on harassment in the science, engineering and biomedical disciplines, was written by a team from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine led by Paula A. Johnson, president of Wellesley College, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Sheila E. Widnall.
“Too often,” the team writes, schools have created policies and training “that focus on symbolic compliance with current law and avoiding liability, and not on preventing sexual harassment.”
The authors instead call for a “systemwide change to the culture and climate in higher education” in order to address the issue and prevent harassment.
The idea for the research was developed more than two years ago, long before the #MeToo movement took hold in the entertainment industry and other areas, including colleges and universities.
Citing previous research, the report notes that 58% of female faculty and staff in academia of all disciplines experience sexual harassment.
The problem extends to students, as well.
The report cites a 2018 study of the University of Texas system, in which female students studying science, engineering and medicine reported experiencing sexual harassment at high rates. In that survey, about 20% of female science students as well as “more than a quarter of female engineering students and more than 40% of female medical students experienced sexual harassment,” from university faculty and staff, the report states.
Harassment isn’t limited to the hard sciences either, the authors write.
In the Pennsylvania State University system, 33% of female undergraduates and 43% of graduate students in all disciplines reported experiencing sexual harassment from faculty or staff. According to the report, 50% of female medical students in the university system also experienced harassment.
In addition to a review of available research, the report’s authors commissioned several studies, including an interview of 40 female faculty members from various institutions who reported having been the target of sexual harassment.
The report breaks down harassment into three categories: gender harassment, or behavior that “conveys hostility, objectification or exclusion” toward a specific gender; unwanted sexual attention; and sexual coercion. Of the three types, gender harassment was the most common form members reported in the survey.
The high rates of harassment in academia, especially in STEM fields, damage the integrity of research, the authors write. The report goes on to state that harassment is to blame for a loss of talent in these areas of study.
Among the report’s recommendations for institutions:
- Create “diverse, inclusive, and respectful environments” with steps to improve “gender and racial equity in hiring and promotions.”
- Research sexual harassment experiences, interventions and options for resolutions.
- Change relationships between trainees and faculty to mentoring networks or committee-based advising to reduce risk of harassment.
- Improve transparency and accountability, including making sexual harassment policies clear and accessible.
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When women are harassed, they are not likely to report it. In fact, reporting the issue is the least common response, according to the report.
It calls for a change in the culture of academia, not just university policies.
“In environments that are perceived as tolerant or permissive of sexual harassment,” the authors write, “women are more likely to be directly harassed.”