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Bathroom posters publicize sexual harassment policy

By Nicole Zhao     9/13/12 7:00pm


New versions of posters informing Rice community members of steps they can take if they believe they have been sexually assaulted currently hang in bathrooms across campus.

The revamping of the posters was initiated by Director of Equal Employment Opportunity Programs and Affirmative Action Russell Barnes. Barnes said old versions of the posters on Rice's sexual harassment policy were located in only approximately 30 places around campus, and he wanted to update the poster content and hang posters in more locations.

In addition to all campus restrooms, the posters were also put up in Tudor Fieldhouse, Reckling Park and the Barbara & David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center, according to Barnes.

"We felt a need to inform the public - any- body who comes to Rice who is a guest, faculty, student or staff member - so that everyone under- stands exactly what they need to do in the case of an emergency or if they have to report a crime," Barnes said.

Barnes said the university's increased publicity regarding Rice's sexual harassment policy was prompted in part by a "Dear Colleague" letter circulated by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights on April 4, 2011.

The OCR's "Dear Colleague" letter focused on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a federal civil rights law that prohibits sexual discrimination in any federally funded education or activity, according to the letter.

OCR released the 19-page letter to inform school districts, colleges and universities that sexual harassment, including sexual violence, is a form of sexual discrimination and is thus prohibited under Title IX, a fact sheet issued by the OCR regarding the letter states. The letter also explains schools' obligation to end sexual harassment and sexual violence and provides guidelines for schools to achieve this.

Sexual harassment comprises any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, according to the letter. Sexual violence, which falls under sexual harassment, refers to any physical sexual act performed against a person's will or when a person is not capable of giving consent; examples of sexual violence include rape, sexual assault, sexual battery and sexual coercion, the letter states.

Barnes, who has worked at Rice for 21 years and was previously Director of Employee Relations and Human Resources, said Rice is not immune to serious issues such as sexual harassment.

"In both [positions] I've seen a lot of what goes on at the university, and it's things that most people are not aware of," Barnes said. "I noticed that a fair number of things involved sexual harassment. We're a cross-section of the rest of society and any problems that you find in society, you'll find at Rice or any other institution."

The current posters state that sexual assault is not tolerated in any form at Rice and that any suspected incident of sexual violence or misconduct should be reported to Assistant Dean of Student Judicial Programs Donald Ostdiek. Rice community members may also file a report with the Rice University Police Department if the incident occurred on campus.

Ostdiek, who is also Associate Dean of Undergraduates, said there have been instances of sexual harassment on campus between students, between faculty or staff members and students and between faculty or staff members.

Cases involving students accused of sexual harassment are formally reported to and handled by Ostdiek through Student Judicial Programs, the primary administrative office authorized to investigate and enforce solutions for violations of the Student Code of Conduct, he said.

Cases involving faculty or staff members accused of sexual harassment are formally handled by Barnes and the Department of Human Resources, Ostdiek said.

RUPD would investigate any sexual harassment case involving criminal violations, such as stalking, intimidation or sexual assault, according to RUPD Chief Johnny Whitehead.

However, Ostdiek said that anyone who feels they have been sexually harassed should feel free to speak with him, Barnes, college masters, coordinators, resident associates and faculty members informally about the incident.

"Rice closely follows a procedure designed to listen to and respect the victim and his or her wishes, to provide the victim and the whole community with a safe environment free of sexual harassment [and] to appropriately protect the rights of the accused," Ostdiek said.

In an email sent to students, faculty and staff members on Sept. 5, President David Leebron asked that the recipients take the online training course "Preventing Sexual Harassment." Barnes developed the module approximately seven years ago for the Rice community, Barnes said. All grad- uate students are required to take the training every year, according to Barnes.

Ostdiek said refraining from sexual harassment and preventing and reporting cases of sexual harassment is fundamental ethical behavior.

"No student, no member of our community, should face the stress, uncertainty or threats generated in situations with sexual harassment aspects, whether in a classroom, in the colleges or in a work environment," Ostdiek said. "[Respecting this right] is a necessary condition for being a student at Rice and part of our community."

Director of the Rice Women's Resource Center Kori Bertun said that though the posters and Leebron's email are steps in the right direction, the administration should do more to educate Rice students on the issue of sexual harassment.

"We need more staff paid by the university to specifically address this issue and we need to not just rely on student groups," Bertun, a Brown College senior, said.

Bertun said students must acknowledge that sexual harassment does indeed occur on campus. "It's really easy to think, especially at Rice, that we live in a utopian environment and nothing bad happens here, when really, that's not the case," Bertun said. "I'm not alone in knowing people on this campus who have been victims of sexual abuse. Not only is it frustrating for them when they don't know what to do on the administration side, but it's also frustrating that they're surrounded by people who don't really think it's an issue." Bertun said that focus on these serious issues tends to be concentrated around certain groups of people and during certain time periods of the year. "It's not just an issue during O-Week. It's not just an issue for freshmen. It's not just an issue around NOD. It's an issue every day of every week of the year," Bertun said. "We need to build a culture that acknowledges those issues, not in a scary, intimidating sense, but in a way that opens up the floor for discussion."

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