The #MeToo movement has exposed various sexual harassment cases that had remained hidden and silenced for years, or sometimes even decades. As more women are speaking out against sexual misconduct in professional settings and workplaces, employers have become cautious about interactions between students and professors at universities. Earlier this winter, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, officials said that the school “does not wish to interfere with private choices” but urges students to speak with supervisors if they have been a victim of sexual harassment or misconduct.
According to the Boston Globe, many universities in the Boston area have become increasingly aware of sexual harassment. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has recently outlawed romantic and sexual relationships between professors and undergraduate students. MIT followed in the footsteps of Harvard University, who outlawed romantic or sexual student-professor relationships in February of 2015. Yale and Northwestern University are also on that list.
On Feb. 8, the University of Massachusetts Boston said that engagement in conversations about sexual harassment has been an awakening for the school and the community. Vice Chancellor of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Georgianna Meléndez, sent out a memo to the UMass Boston community, urging students who have been victims of sexual harassment or misconduct to come forward. The statement also said that even those with titles at the university will be confronted by the administration if there are any sexual accusations against them. “Here at the university, we believe in the importance of holding everyone accountable, regardless of title or seniority. UMass Boston takes all allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace seriously and is committed to maintaining a campus environment free from all forms of harassment that negatively affects the lives of those who work and study here,” the memo stated.
Under Title IX of the Education Amendments, people of the United States are protected from being excluded on the basis of sex, “or be[ing] subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” UMass Boston has appointed Title IX coordinators, according to the university’s webpage. These coordinators have the responsibility to monitor “the university’s responsive actions to ensure that the learning, living, and working environments are free of sexual violence, sexual harassment, gender-based harassment, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and retaliation.” Those who are concerned about being a victim of sexual harassment can contact Beth Devonshire, who is currently UMass Boston’s Deputy Title IX Coordinator.
Although UMass Boston has responded in the wake of the #MeToo movement, university officials have not publicly announced if sexual or romantic student-professor relationships will be outlawed. According to UMass Boston’s Standards of Conduct page, prohibited conducts only include discrimination, harassment, physical assault, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, hazing, and sexual offense. None of those conducts have specified or mentioned opposition to romantic or sexual student-professor relationships. Still, those with “titles” or “seniority” will be held accountable until the university’s Title IX coordinators have monitored its rules in cases where students raise sexual allegations against professors, according to Meléndez’s memo.