One day this semester, my professor was discussing the influence of media on popular figures. They mentioned how Bill Cosby lost his social capital due to his sexual assault allegations.
Further into this discussion, my professor made what I thought was an inappropriate joke, telling the class to be careful so that “Bill Cosby doesn’t rape them.” Then a picture of Cosby appeared in the class PowerPoint saying, “Hold your drinks around me.” The entire lecture hall went silent except for a few students behind me who said, “Whoa.”
Even though my professor’s comments were not directed specifically toward me, I looked for a way to report this inappropriate incident. But I wasn’t sure if there was a system in place to do so.
I began searching, and I found that the process does exist. The reporting process, however, is not made accessible enough to students, and when a student does file a report, their identity may not remain anonymous and the resolution process after reporting is not straightforward.
The university needs to make reporting inappropriate incidents and harassment in the classroom a lot easier.
For students to even be aware that there is a process already in place, they must search online to find the Student Rights section of the Undergraduate Bulletin.
“I can’t think of a way to make the process more available except for students to read the Student Rights,” said Shawn Schurr, vice dean for graduate affairs in the College of Liberal Arts.
The process in place now starts with contacting the Office of Equal Opportunity Compliance on the second floor mezzanine of Sullivan Hall. This step doesn’t seem difficult, but for students like me who have never heard of the office in the first place, it takes some initial digging online.
“I had no idea that was an option,” said Aayesha Jan, a graduate student in counseling psychology.
Jan said she has not experienced any incidents of bias, but she has seen incidents involving other students.
“There have been several cases of microaggressions with students and professors,” she said. “Sometimes it’s like, ‘You probably didn’t mean it, but whoa.’”
For students who wish to file a complaint, there is both a formal and informal version of the complaint procedure, both which must be filed within 300 days of the incident.
A formal complaint is filed directly to the EOC by a student or professor about any act of “discrimination, harassment and/or retaliation,” according to the EOC’s website. This report cannot be filed anonymously, which may prevent some students from continuing with the process at all.
An informal complaint, which is separate from the formal complaint, is handled by an ombudsperson through mediation and other offices, like Tuttleman Counseling Services, to resolve the incident. The informal complaint can be either written or given verbally through the ombudsperson — an administrator, staff or faculty member — who acts as a liaison between students and faculty in cases of discrimination and harassment. They then work with the EOC office, but can’t guarantee that a report will remain confidential.
“If the student comes directly or is referred to me through faculty, I find out their perspective,” said Schurr, who is also an EOC ombudsperson.
“To find a resolution I call [the EOC director or assistant director] to get their input to see if I’m getting it done correctly,” Schurr said. “And I try to resolve a complaint through other offices to get the student’s voice heard.”
After a complaint is filed, the process that the EOC and ombudspersons take to solve the issue is vague. It is not clear which offices, other than a referment to Tuttleman Counseling Services, that the EOC uses to resolve problems. Not knowing the steps taken in the resolution process prior to reporting may also deter students from coming forward.
Situations like mine where the incident is not directed at someone specific can be reported formally or informally. However, Schurr said in these situations there isn’t much that can be done other than offering counseling.
While the existence of the EOC is important in keeping students from feeling powerless, only a small number of people are aware it exists.
Nadia Vanessa Toro, a junior political science major, said she has experienced having a professor whose sexist comments made her feel uncomfortable in class. She said she knew the university had some type of reporting system in place at the time, but she did not know what the specific protocol to follow was.
One way to make the process known is through having an online reporting system, which could be accessible through TUportal.
“Everything is available so quickly [online],” Toro said. “It shows on Temple’s part they’re not here to protect us, and we need to advocate for ourselves.”
At Temple, the only way to anonymously leave feedback on a professor comes through electronic Student Feedback Forms at the end of the semester, when nothing can be done to correct the situation.
With an online reporting system, students could file a complaint anonymously from a computer or cell phone at the time an incident occurs.
While Temple is not without a harassment reporting system, it is clear that the system could be improved. Students deserve an easily accessible reporting system when they are brave enough to speak out about something inappropriate in the classroom.
Jaya Montague can be reached at email@example.com.