Even if they decide to report the misconduct, victims rarely know where to turn. Clancy cited one occasion in which she talked to a female student who was dawdling on her dissertation. The student revealed that she had been sexually assaulted a few years ago in the field and that she got flashbacks every time she sat down to write her dissertation. What made the whole situation worse was that when the student tried to report the incident to her advisor, “her supervisor laughed in her face," Clancy said.
Universities’ sexual misconduct policies generally cover students even when they’re not on campus. Schools often have resources for students to report incidents while abroad, said Bryan Endres, Associate Provost of International Affairs at the University of Illinois.
“It is critical that women in the field who are at heightened risk of sexual harassment and violence be aware of the policy and confident that they can report violations in a way that will not harm their careers,” said Suzanne B. Goldberg, a law professor and special advisor on sexual assault prevention and response at Columbia University in New York City.
Columbia, along with other institutions such as Ohio State University, recently updated its sexual misconduct policy. But of the nine universities that I called for this story, those were the only two institutions that mentioned any updates at all. Some universities couldn’t even direct me to the right person to ask. I questioned Judy Asbury, interim director of media relations at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, about what it would take to change these policies—if a study like Clancy’s doesn’t inspire change, what would? “There are a host of activities that inform policies at Caltech, including legal cases and new legislation of course, but also engagement with peer institutions and other organizations as well as our own community.” It seems that change only happens when universities are pushed into it.
But Clancy doesn’t think that university policies necessarily need to change. “If we can’t trust universities to meet the needs of our students, we need to identify the core values of our university and how [we can] be intentional in creating a system consistent with the kinds of things we think are important,” she said. “I don’t trust administrators to make a change. The community has to push the administration.”
Santa Clara’s Bezanson has found a policy that she thinks has been more effective. Every summer she runs field workshops in Costa Rica for undergraduate anthropology students. It’s a different cultural context and an intense experience, she said, so she makes her students sign a contract about sexual misconduct that builds on the university’s policy. At the beginning of the workshop, they all sit down and go over the contract, clearing up any doubts about resources or whom to turn to. “It’s important for students to know it does happen, this is supposed to be a safe environment,” she said. In the contract she lists specific phone numbers for students to call to report misconduct to the university, giving them some distance from the people immediately around them if they need it. By giving her students these resources and talking about sexual misconduct up front, Bezanson hopes that these students will help create a cultural shift where sexual misconduct is not permissible. “I’m hopeful that culture change will happen. It doesn’t appear that having policies written down makes a difference,” she said.
Other academics are catching on, reaching out to Bezanson to request a copy of her policy to use in their own workshops. “I see the document as a place to begin the discussion, allow students to discuss sexual misconduct and know that there are people that care about the issue,” Bezanson said. “We need to better educate our students about what harassment and misconduct are in general so they feel safe to report it. That’s the dialogue we need to have.”