Michigan Engineering News

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Is the needle moving?

DEI lecture highlights collective responsibility to stamp out sexual harassment in STEM.

By Terrance McQueen

“How can institutions prevent and correct sexual harassment in the workplace?”

“What do employers and schools do to combat this issue – are they doing enough?”

“How do we make spaces for these conversations?”

These were questions that came to my mind as I sat in a recent lecture, part of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion series for the College of Engineering.

Dr. Lilia Cortina, November’s DEI lecturer, started her presentation with the basics to ensure we had an understanding of what’s considered sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is used to derogate, demean, and dehumanize based on someone’s sex or gender, and it intersects with misogyny, racism, and sexism. Dr. Cortina went on to explain that non-consensual hugging or touching is considered a sexual advance or coercion. She shared common put-downs and terms used to discriminate against women in the classroom and workplace, which are violations of Title IX and Title VII, respectively.

Briefly, Dr. Cortina shared statistics of women who experience sexual harassment in their respective fields: 80-85% of women in policy, 80% of women in the military, 75% of women in higher education, and 50% of women in the judicial system/court spaces. Another alarming fact is that one out of every two women has been sexually assaulted or experience sexual harassment at work – mainly in settings dominated by men. These occurrences are, for some, surprising and shed light on what has been going unnoticed and untold. While it should go without saying, LGBTQIA+ women and women of color experience more harassment than their straight, white counterparts. Sexual orientation and gender identity affect how individuals experience gender and sexual harassment. While the conversation focused on women, attention was also brought to men who have experienced sexual harassment because of their sexual orientation or performance of masculinity.

From attending this lecture, I left with personal takeaways. I learned that it is a collective responsibility to end sexual harassment against women in STEM and other professional sectors. I clung to Dr. Cortina’s message of accountability. We must hold schools, organizations, and employers accountable for shifting the culture of sexual harassment.

For those who wish to join the fight in moving the needle, let us commit and take action to build a climate of respect for women, queer folks, and those who live their lives along the margins. This commitment and call to action moves beyond policies. Many policies surrounding sexual harassment and gender violence are rooted in sexism that devalues women. Once individuals realize this then they will be able to combat power structures and systems that contribute to the sexual harassment of women in the workplace.

This article was written by Terrance McQueen, a first year master’s student in the higher education program with a concentration in diversity and social justice. McQueen is also the DEI graduate student intern for the Center for Engineering Diversity & Outreach.

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