Monday, January 30, 2017

Out of the case study, into the world

In Richard Russo's 1997 novel Straight Man, the main character has to ask his secretary what a "sexual harassment luncheon" might be. What a quaint, simple time that was! (Well, ignorant too.) These days we don't get lunch with our mandatory sexual harassment training; instead, we sit in our offices alone and move, at fits and starts, through an online course involving case studies, institutional policy statements, and pop quizzes. 

It's a relatively painless method compared to the first sexual harassment training I attended, which still lives on in campus legend. This was a big group event where we watched brief case studies on video and then discussed them, and even 15 years later people still talk about the case with the female faculty member asking a male student to climb up on a chair and retrieve something from a high shelf so she can say, "I'm just enjoying the view!" Try saying that line to anyone who's been here awhile and wait for the guffaws.

But here's the peculiar thing about that first training: every single sexual harasser in those case studies was--how shall I put this?--a person of size. Yes: the videos were careful to spread the blame out among various genders, races, and ethnicities, but the overwhelming message was that fat people are harassers. (Which ought to make it easier to avoid them, but that does not seem to be the way it works outside of case studies.)

The current training was, as I said, relatively painless, and the cases were much more realistic, providing very clear guidance on what to do and say if a student reveals painful information. (Hint: don't say "Was he fat? Because my training taught me that fat people are harassers.") Real life rarely runs as smoothly as the case studies, but I feel more equipped to deal with whatever walks into my office--and I even earned a spiffy little Certificate of Completion to hang on my wall. (I think I'll hang it way up high so I can sit down here and enjoy the view.)

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