Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault- Scenarios for Faculty

These hypothetical situations are designed to help faculty or academic administrators know when and how to bring a sexual harassment-related matter to an appropriate administrator's attention.  Faculty who have administrative roles such as deans, program directors, department chairs, etc., should also read the Supervisor Scenarios.

You are a faculty member, and Laurel, a student, comes to you telling you that a student friend of hers was sexually harassed, but doesn’t want to take action.  Students are not obligated to report sexual harassment of other students, but faculty (and staff) are.  If Laurel identifies her friend or the alleged harasser, you need to report the matter to the Dean of Students or, if the alleged harasser is not a student, the Title IX Coordinator.    It does not matter if you think that Laurel or her friend are incorrect; if a student is saying that she is being sexually harassed, we need to know about it.   If Laurel or her friend are mistaken about what is sexual harassment, then the Dean of Students Office can work with them to help them understand this before further accusations are made.  It is also possible that you are wrong, perhaps because you do not have all the information or because Laurel is upset and does not do a good job explaining the situation to you, or perhaps because you do not fully understand what sexual harassment is.  For these and other reasons, this needs to be brought to the attention of the appropriate office.  

The best way to report this -- either for you or for Laurel -- is the online reporting website. If you (or Laurel) are concerned about identifying the student(s) involved, initially you could describe the situation without identifying the students involved.  The Title IX Coordinator would consider the information and decide whether any action, such as speaking with Laurel, is warranted.  

You may tell Laurel that you will be reporting the matter, but you do not have to.  

You are a new faculty member.  In informal discussions, one of your colleagues describes a male faculty member as a sexual harasser and tells you to watch out for him.  You do not need to take any action; your colleague has not indicated that she was sexually harassed or described a situation constituting sexual harassment.  You may encourage the colleague to report the matter if he or she believes there has been a violation of university policy.

You are a faculty member, and Karl, a student in one of your classes, describes to you various conversations in his study group.  The conversations have included talk about same-sex marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act and the Supreme Court, and whether religious institutions should be required to perform same-sex marriages in states that recognize such marriages.  Karl, who describes himself as queer, says he feels like this is sexual harassment given his sexual orientation.  You disagree, because the conversations don’t sound offensive or hostile.  You must contact the Dean of Students.  You can tell them that you don’t believe this is sexual harassment, but they need to be aware of students who are claiming to be sexually harassed.  You may – but are not required to – (a) encourage Karl to contact the Dean of Students himself, and (b) tell Karl that you will be contacting the Dean of Students, even though this does not sound like sexual harassment to you, because W&M takes allegations of sexual harassment seriously.  A likely outcome from this situation is that Karl would meet with a staff member in the Dean's Office, who would be able to explain to Karl about the nature of sexual harassment.  Remember that even if Karl is wrong, he appears to be in distress and that is something that W&M cares about, and if Karl's concerns are not addressed, this could become a very divisive and difficult situation for the study group and potentially others.  Also remember that you weren't in the study group, and it is possible that Karl was being ganged up on in an inappropriate way or even harassed, in which case that would need to be addressed.  

You are a junior faculty member, and believe you are being sexually harassed by your Department Chair; she seemed to be interested in you when you first joined the university, and when she found out you were in a relationship, her behavior changed and she seems to be finding ways to make your professional life difficult such as through committee assignments and a hostile attitude during department meetings.  Please reach out so that we can address this situation.  You are encouraged to speak to a Dean,  the Title IX Coordinator or another campus resource about this situation.  If helpful, you can speak to someone in hypotheticals, to explore what your options might be.   

Although we want you to come forward, we will not punish you if you do not, because we do not want to punish people who are the victim or target of harassment.   If you talk to a colleague and tell him or her that you are being sexually harassment, that colleague will be obligated to bring the matter to the attention of the Title IX Coordinator.  

See also the FAQs on retaliation and on confidentiality, anonymity, and reluctant reporters.