Wednesday, June 17, 2015

UCLA faces lawsuit for handling of graduate students' complaints

This week the internets were flooded with discussions and news and comments on Professor Tim Hunt's statements about women in labs. And though they certainly have their problems (which need addressing), the hard sciences alas are not the only fields in which women face a sexually hostile environment.

This week two history graduate students at UCLA filed a lawsuit against the school* and its trustees which states that the school did not properly address their respective complaints of sexual harassment and assault by one history faculty member. Both women were, in some way, discouraged from moving forward with the complaint and/or disciplinary hearings. There was an investigation of one of the women's complaints, but she alleges she was not apprised of how the situation was being handled. There was no investigation of the other.

We have seen more and more graduate students coming forward with experiences of harassment. These stories should be increasing the awareness that the situation of graduate students does not resemble that of either undergraduates or faculty members, though they have the duties/responsibilities of both. So when graduate students experience harassment and possible retaliation, administrators need to realize the unique position these students are in. One faculty member can have a huge influence on a graduate student's education and career. This does not mean that schools should take more seriously the complaints of sexual harassment and assault when they involve faculty and graduate students, but that there are different issues. This lawsuit may make that dynamic a little more clear.

* UCLA is already on the list of schools OCR is investigating.