Friday, December 14

Mariah Furtek: Students would benefit from course on workplace sexual harassment


(Juliette Le Saint/Daily Bruin)

(Juliette Le Saint/Daily Bruin)


When people talk about preparing for a career, they mention resumes, LinkedIn profiles and interview techniques. What they don’t talk about, though, is how to navigate the culture of sexual harassment and assault one might come across upon entering the workforce.

After the recent #MeToo campaign drew attention to pervasive issues of sexual harassment and assault in many professional fields, Bruins may wonder whether they are prepared to handle threatening situations in the workplace that their classes didn’t prepare them for. The thousands of testimonials shared in the #MeToo movement demonstrate that the threat of sexual harassment and assault will likely follow students through their career trajectories – be they in cubicles or on studio sets.

Course lecture slides don’t include pointers about how to handle inappropriate comments from a co-worker or indecent proposals from a boss, and neither do any of UCLA’s other educational efforts. To support its students as they prepare for the workforce, UCLA should offer an empowering course that helps students practice using explicit verbal cues to clearly communicate personal boundaries in a work environment and how to address any violation of these boundaries.

This course would present students with the opportunity to practice constructive ways to communicate and successfully navigate the nuances of workplace interactions through an experiential, role-play model.

The current iteration of sexual education and consent training at UCLA, designed for incoming freshman, is as useless to students once they graduate as their old BruinCards. This is because it concentrates on addressing primarily college-specific situations – knowing to look out for a “roofie” in a red Solo Cup does not prepare students for the realities of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, many of which spring from the exploitation of complex power dynamics.

Ayane Tsutsumi, co-director of Bruin Consent Coalition and a third-year anthropology and gender studies student, said she thinks the current training program is especially insufficient in the sense that it only reaches students once during their tenures at UCLA.

Though conversations about sexual harassment and assault are often sensitive and uncomfortable, it is crucial UCLA provides a formal setting for its students and faculty to handle such pressing issues. It is especially important that UCLA plays an active role in constructively guiding these discussions when such conversations are already occurring among students and faculty on campus.

BCC, for example, has been working with other student leaders and campus administration to further incorporate consent and Title IX training into the student experience at UCLA. And UCLA is actively seeking ways to support and engage the entire community in discussions of sexual harassment and sexual assault, according to a statement from the Title IX Office.

As such, UCLA should design a course for students approaching graduation that deals with the specific issues they may confront when they enter the workforce. This proposed course should have TA support to provide students with the opportunity for role-play and rehearsal in section, thus giving them a space to learn from their peers and develop skills in navigating these situations. Integrating role-play into the course would offer students the chance to get more comfortable using explicit, verbal cues to express their boundaries in addition to using nonverbal, physical cues.

Neil Malamuth, a professor in the UCLA communication department who specializes in sexual violence and conflict, said he believes such a course would be beneficial to students.

“If this were a course that could be included within the curriculum, it would be more likely to gain credibility, to attract a larger number of students and to increase knowledge as well as application,” Malamuth said.

To ensure all students feel comfortable engaging in this setting, Malamuth recommended this proposed course be co-taught by male and female faculty. Malamuth added the role-play and rehearsal model would give students insight into the way people can process interpersonal interactions differently. Getting feedback on the way they interact with peers, for example, would help students develop more functional communication strategies.

A course like this would offer students the opportunity to develop a functional understanding of how to give and receive explicit, verbal cues in a way that would prepare them to successfully navigate a work environment.

Often, compromising situations take people by surprise in such a way that their immediate reaction is to shut down. Giving people the opportunity to practice what they would say and do in response to an inappropriate action through role-play and rehearsal will make them more comfortable and confident expressing themselves if the situation were to arise in the future.

Students will carry the communication skills learned in this course through their tenure at UCLA and into their future workplaces. With that kind of long-term impact, UCLA has the opportunity to make meaningful change in response to the #MeToo movement and forever shape the way its students confront these issues.

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Opinion staff columnist

Furtek is a staff columnist for the Opinion section.


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