Sat | Jul 20, 2019

Janell Blair | Give no cover to sexual harassers

Published:Friday | July 12, 2019 | 12:11 AM

Below is a lightly edited version of Ms Blair’s submission to the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, July 10. She is one of several women who have allegedly been victims of sexual harassment at Edna Manley College.

 

Reported incidents of sexual harassment at Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts have not been dealt with promptly or effectively by those who students believed they could trust. As a result, victims have been reluctant to come forward with their complaints.

Now is the time to change cultural attitudes. Reports of sexual harassment should be quickly investigated in order to ensure the protection of students and staff members. Inaction and the mishandling of students’ statements have caused students to lose trust in institutions.

When reports are made by students to school administrators, it is expected that they will be taken care of in a timely manner, not weeks or months after the fact. If a complaint submitted to a dean takes six weeks to reach the school board, the school did not immediately act on it.

An unsafe environment

School should be a safe place for all, and students ought not to feel violated, or fearful of teachers and administrators. When sexual harassment is not effectively dealt with in institutions, it creates a hostile and toxic environment that affects mental health, work ethic, and academic performance.

There should be a clear-cut and easily accessible policy for students regarding sexual harassment complaint protocols. The current sexual harassment policy at Edna Manley College is not easily accessible to students, and it is not laid out in the student handbook.

The policy states that sexual harassment complaints should be brought to the attention of any member of the Sexual Harassment Advisory Board. Students are not made aware of who exactly comprises this board and are, therefore, unaware of who to submit allegations.

Counselling ought to be emphasised for the well-being of students who have been sexually harassed at the institution. Without the proper policies in place and enforced, predators are able to target victims year after year.

The allegations of sexual misconduct against lecturers at the college is not unique to the institution. However, it is a long-standing issue that needs to be addressed and highlights the need for the Sexual Harassment Bill to be passed imminently. The bill was tabled yet again Wednesday by Olivia Grange. With this bill passed, victims of sexual harassment would be more empowered to make reports, as a legal remedy would be available for them.

The policy of schools should be in accordance with the law. An example of this is Title XI United States Law. In the US, students from preschool to graduate school are protected under the Education Amendment of 1972 (Title XI) federal law, which does not permit sex discrimination in educational institutions, programmes or activities that receive financial assistance from the state. This law prohibits sexual harassment, as well as gender-based and sexual violence.

Schools must have policies against sexual discrimination, sexual harassment in particular, and at least one employee is required to make sure this is enforced.

There should be a similar law in place for Jamaican students when it comes to sexual harassment. Schools must respond quickly to complaints of sexual harassment and must provide counselling for victims of harassment, as well as academic assistance if a student’s performance has suffered because of sexual harassment at the institution.

Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.