NASEM working groups release sexual misconduct prevention recommendations

Implementation team will enhance sexual harassment prevention education

The four MIT working groups created following the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s (NASEM) report on sexual harassment of women in academia released their final reports Feb. 4. 

Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 announced the report and “MIT’s plan for wide-ranging action” against sexual and gender harassment in an email to the MIT community. 

The four NASEM working groups are Training and Prevention, Leadership and Engagement, Policies and Reporting, and Academic and Organizational Relationships. The working groups presented preliminary recommendations at a community forum on sexual misconduct Nov. 5. 

The working group co-chairs have formed an implementation team that will work closely with Institute Community and Equity Officer (ICEO) John Dozier to enact the working group recommendations. More members will be added to the implementation team in the coming weeks, Barnhart wrote.

MIT will implement a “revised policy for handling complaints of discriminatory or harassing behavior by faculty or staff” and release anonymized information about the complaints. Barnhart wrote that MIT is also “strengthening whistleblower channels and non-retaliation and confidentiality protections.”

In addition, MIT’s five schools and College of Computing will appoint senior staff to “advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and community efforts” and build a “network of support [and] advocacy” on campus, Barnhart wrote.

Barnhart wrote that MIT will offer increased in-person and online sexual harassment prevention education, including a new online training module this spring. MIT also plans to hire more sexual harassment prevention educators to “meet growing campus demand for this targeted education,” Barnhart wrote.

MIT has recently increased staffing in Violence Prevention and Response (VPR), Student Mental Health and Counseling Services, and the newly-created Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response (IDHR) office. 

Barnhart wrote that an “Institute-wide committee of staff, faculty, students, postdocs, and alumni” will draft an Institute values statement to create a foundation for cultural change at MIT.

The Tech met with several members of the implementation team to discuss how the NASEM working group findings will affect students.

Training and Prevention co-chair Sarah Rankin said the new IDHR office will have an immediate impact on students because it will serve as a “centralized resource” for students, faculty, and staff facing harassment-related issues. Rankin said the effectiveness of IDHR will be measured through utilization rates, student awareness of the office in campus climate surveys, and an annual report for increased transparency.

Rankin said that MIT’s current online sexual misconduct prevention training requirement was implemented in response to recommendations by the Institute Committee on Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response.

The implementation team is developing a “menu… of various topics related to gender and sexual harassment” that faculty, students, and staff “can use to complete their training and professional development,” Rankin said, adding that undergraduate and graduate students have been involved in building the new curriculum. 

Rankin emphasized the importance of “skill-building” through in-person workshops with specific “cohorts,” such as labs, athletic teams, and living groups.

Kate McCarthy, associate dean for student support and wellbeing, said that student groups like Pleasure and Active Minds will continue to contribute to MIT’s sexual misconduct prevention training.

For instance, IDHR and VPR have worked with Pleasure educators to provide sexual misconduct prevention training to student-athletes in accordance with National Collegiate Athletic Association requirements, McCarthy said.

Leadership and Engagement co-chair and MindHandHeart (MHH) Executive Administrator Maryanne Kirkbride said that MHH has worked with “each and every academic department” to create a “more welcoming and inclusive environment.” Kirkbride highlighted the MHH Community Cards initiative as an effort to make MIT’s culture more inclusive.

According to the MHH website, the Community Cards “showcase actions — both big and small — that departments can take to strengthen their communities.” The cards cover topics in academics, community, inclusion, and wellbeing, including healthy social media use and stopping microaggressions. 

Academic and Organizational Relationships co-chair Tim Jamison said that a committee of students, faculty, and staff will work with Dozier in the search process for the six staff members to lead diversity and inclusion efforts in MIT’s five schools and the College of Computing.

Jamison also emphasized that students will play a “critical part” in developing MIT’s statement of shared values.

Vice President for Human Resources Ramona Allen wrote in a Dec. 4 email to MIT staff that they could provide feedback to MIT leadership through an anonymous form or through the new Staff Conversations initiative. The conversations, open to staff only and limited to 25 participants each, would be “facilitated by external consultants who have experience working with staff in higher education institutions,” Allen wrote.

The Spring 2019 Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct found that 7.2% of all MIT students, including 18.4% of female undergraduates and 8.3% of female graduate students, have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact. 

Members of the MIT community can contact the implementation team at