Is It Harassment?

One of the big questions is what constitutes harassment. Remember that it is the impact rather than the intent that determines if harassment has occurred. To help you decide, several possible situations are offered below.

If you believe you have been subjected to harassment, you are afforded protection under the law. It is important to remember that you are not alone and that you do not have to solve adverse situations alone. If you have experiences that you are unhappy with or uncertain about, be sure to contact an adviser, supervisor, faculty, or staff member whom you trust. Above all, remember that you have the power to act.

  • Situation: You walk into a computer lab and find that several students are playing games in which women or men are displayed without clothes on computers with obscene screen savers. Is this harassment? Yes, this is harassment. Derogatory posters, cartoons, or drawings related to age, gender, religion, national origin, race or disability create an adverse work environment. Action: Point out the problem to the lab administrator and ask that the computers be purged. If he or she isn't responsive, go to a departmental or College of Engineering harassment adviser.
  • Situation: A professor or instructor comments that women are too emotional, that all minorities make it only because of Affirmative Action, or that white men are all insensitive. Is this harassment? Yes, this is harassment, again creating an adverse environment. Action: The best solution may be to gather a group of students who share your experience to confront the professor and ask for a change. If that is not possible (or if you have confronted the professor and the conduct did not change), contact your departmental or College of Engineering harassment adviser.
  • Situation: A colleague tells you that your new hair cut is attractive or that he or she likes your tie. Is this harassment? No, this is a compliment. Action: Say thank you.
  • Situation: You are in a work study, lab, or staff situation and a supervisor or someone with whom you are working (whether they are in a higher, lower, or same level position) tells you a dirty joke, shows you a suggestive internet message, or, without your permission, leans over your work to see what you are doing or treats you in a way that you find demeaning. Is this harassment? This could be harassment - or just plain ignorance and bad manners. Is it consistent behavior, does it have an unpleasant edge, is he or she leaning too closely? Action: Whether it is harassment or rudeness, explain to the person that his or her behavior is inappropriate and ask that it stop. If this doesn't work, or you feel uncomfortable confronting the person, contact your departmental or College harassment adviser.
  • Situation: A teaching assistant asks you out for a date, then reminds you that you have a test coming up. Is this harassment? It certainly could be harassment. Requiring submission to personal favors as an explicit or implicit condition for employment or advancement is illegal, as are retaliation or sabotage. Action: Tell the teaching assistant that the request makes you uncomfortable and not to do it again. If you feel the request was coercive, if he or she persists, or if you fail the test and shouldn't have, contact your departmental or College harassment adviser.