Ithaca College’s Office of Student Employment is implementing a sexual harassment education course for student employees. Harassment courses have previously been in place for faculty and staff at the college, but this is the first time that a program of this kind has been offered for students.
The student sexual harassment program is a meaningful step forward. Considering the amount of attention that the public has given to stories of sexual harassment and sexual abuse, with the #MeToo movement and the Time’s Up movement in Hollywood, it makes sense to debut a program of this nature at this time.
However, the major flaw of the program is that it is considered mandatory, yet there are no consequences for students who do not complete it. Barb Haff, a specialist in payroll and student employment, said she hopes employers will recommend the program to their student employees. But that is not enough.
College campuses are environments where students live, work and learn, and the college is responsible for keeping students on its campus safe. Yet according to a Campus Climate survey done by the Association of American Universities in 2015, 47.7 percent of students have experienced sexual harassment since coming to college — a statistic that does not convey any sense of security. Not only that, but the rate for reporting sexual harassment on college campuses to authorities is incredibly low; according to the same survey, students report anywhere from 5 to 28 percent of the time. This rate could be low for any number of reasons, but it could be that students simply don’t know what to do when something like this happens to them.
There are, of course, logistical problems that come with trying to implement a campus-wide program, but a program designed to tackle an issue of this scale deserves the effort that that would require. A program of this magnitude and importance needs to be mandatory in order to be impactful.
The new sexual harassment program has the power to create change in workplace environments, but that is only if students actively use it as a resource. No major changes can be made in the workplace environments of student employees if the time and effort to truly implement the program is not there.