Nearly 100 formal complaints of sexual misconduct have been made against University of Wisconsin System faculty since 2014, a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed.
From 2014 to 2017, UW investigated seven complaints, a number which does not include informal complaints or individuals who wish to remain anonymous, the report said.
A 2015 climate survey conducted by the Association of American Universities discovered 52.7 percent of students at UW had been sexually harassed, with female graduate and undergraduate students being the most frequent victims.
Of female graduate students who had been sexually harassed, 22.2 percent said they had been victimized by a faculty member, according to the survey. Of male graduate students, 15.1 percent said the same.
The survey was a “wake-up call” for the university which made clear sexual harassment was under-reported, UW spokesperson Meredith McGlone said in an email to The Badger Herald.
The university responded by instituting several new initiatives, one of which was hiring three new staff members at University Health Services to work on violence and prevention services, McGlone said.
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Since 2014, Sam Johnson has been UHS’ Violence Prevention Manager and has lead a team of violence prevention specialists who work to prevent and increase reporting of sexual misconduct.
“Our role in the prevention and response puzzle is to work on primary prevention,” Johnson said. “There’s a saying in prevention that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of response.”
One of the team’s aims is to increase familiarity with campus policies and procedures which address sexual harassment, Johnson said.
The team crafted a 60-minute online program, which first-year transfer students and graduate students are required to complete, to inform students of the variety of campus resources and procedures available to them for dealing with sexual assault and harassment, Johnson said.
Most of the program — which Johnson likened to an interactive webinar where students watch videos, type responses and complete quizzes — is grounded in bystander theory, Johnson said.
“By and large, more than 90 percent of our students coming to campus are able to correctly identify these issues,” Johnson said. “Our prevention strategy is to increase the motivation and willingness of bystanders to intervene and call out red flag behavior when they see so that it can be addressed as a community issue.”
Johnson said sexual assault and harassment are committed by a small number of serial perpetrators.
Only between 4 to 6 percent of college men attempt or complete rape during their time on campus, Johnson said.
“We know most men in their lifetime and in college will not perpetrate sexual assault or rape,” Johnson said. “But for some reason, this small of people are hiding in plain sight. Their behaviors are either condoned, endorsed or disguised by the behavior of the people in the community who are not willing to say anything or correct their behavior.”
UW System President Ray Cross created a 21-member task force for sexual violence and harassment in 2014, which put forth a series of recommendations in December 2016, UW System spokesperson Stephanie Marquis said in an email to The Badger Herald.
One recommendation was that all students and employees of UW System universities be required to complete training on issues of sexual violence, Marquis said.
The training for UW employees — which emphasizes the importance of bystander intervention — launched last summer and 93 percent of employees have completed it so far, McGlone said.
As a result of these initiatives, Marquis said universities across the UW System have seen increased reporting numbers.
“While our goal is certainly to help prevent sexual harassment or assault in the first place, we want any victims to come forward so we can investigate the incident,” Marquis said.
Jim Raymo, the chair for UW’s sociology department, said the department has taken the initiative to address sexual harassment after becoming aware of sexual harassment perpetrated by faculty.
An online survey on experiences of sexual misconduct in universities across the world garnered 2,375 anonymous responses by February 2018, with 16 allegations occurring at UW. Eight of these allegations happened within the sociology department.
“It’s an open secret that several senior male faculty are serial sexual harassers, and have gotten away with it in plain sight for decades,” an anonymous PhD student in the sociology department posted.
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Another Ph.D. student in the department said a female faculty member approached her and advised her to avoid a particular professor who had sexually harassed his students before.
A senior Ph.D. student who was a serial sexual harasser was still allowed to continue his studies and eventually graduate in full view of departmental heads, one post read.
“Department leadership was aware of all of this but lacked courage to take any meaningful action,” the anonymous post said. “The message was clear: this man was graduating with the full support and esteem of our prestigious department.”
Graduate students are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment from faculty because they are less knowledgeable on how to report sexual harassment compared to undergrads, Johnson said.
Only 22.3 percent of graduate students were confident in how to report sexual assault or misconduct, the climate survey found.
Over the past 18 months, the sociology department established two climate committees, one comprised of faculty and staff and one formed by the Sociology Graduate Student Association, Raymo said in an email to the Herald. Both groups collaborated to respond to sexual misconduct violations and establish more open lines of communication, Raymo added.
“The department of sociology takes very seriously its commitment to providing a welcoming, supportive environment in which all students, faculty and staff are able to perform to their full potential,” Raymo said. “After I became chair in fall 2016, I became aware of concerns regarding sexual harassment and departmental climate and began working with faculty, staff and students to make changes.”
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UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank wrote in a blog post the university still has several ways it can improve its response to sexual misconduct allegations.
Blank wrote the university needs to institute stronger and more centralized record-keeping of sexual misconduct allegations and direct more reports to the Office of Compliance, which can investigate sexual misconduct more thoroughly than investigations conducted within departments.
“We must use the current moment of high awareness and concern about sexual misconduct as an opportunity to change our campus culture and deal as effectively as possible with the problems of sexual assault and harassment on our campus,” Blank wrote.