UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS URBANA-CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — The academic Senate is calling for a broader definition of sexual harassment in the wake of a sexual misconduct report’s publication.
“How many people have been accused?” PhD student John Bambenek asked. “How many people have gotten separation agreements with non-disparagement clauses so they could go to another university and repeat the same conduct?”
Bambenek set off to find answers last year, introducing a resolution calling for that data to be provided by the university.
Last week, officials shared numbers from the 2017-2019 school years.
“There seemed to be more respondents – their word for faculty and staff – than I ever thought of, especially when you consider that many people just don’t make reports whatsoever,” Bambenek said.
In the 2017 school year, 72 respondents, which includes student employees, accused faculty or staff of sexual misconduct. In 2018, there were 110 accusations. In 2019, there were 149.
But of those accusations, the university only formally investigated 18 in 2017, 18 in 2018 and 31 in 2019, a total of 67 cases out of 331 complaints.
The vast majority of cases each year involved sexual harassment.
Law professor Rob Kar, a fellow Senate member, led the committee that studied the data released by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
“One of the key findings in my committee is that the legal definition of sexual harassment is so hard to meet that a lot of things that you and I would think of as sexual harassment just aren’t getting caught in that system,” he said.
Some of those issues getting lost in the current system include sexist jokes and put-downs, which don’t count as severe and pervasive under Title IX regulations currently.
“Again, those things may not count as severe or pervasive enough under the law, but our new definitions would be something that we can respond to,” Kar said.
In addition to broader definitions, Kar said the committee is recommending progressive sanctions.
As for the increase year to year in reports of misconduct, Kar and Bambenek both believe the #metoo movement has helped people feel more comfortable coming forward.
“People are doing their part coming forward and speaking about their experiences,” Kar said. “We have to do our part now and make sure we have a system that works for them.”
To see the full study, click here.