The Importance of Harassment Training for Student Employees

Posted by Josh Young on 5 January 2017 |

the importance of harassment training for student employeesAccording to research conducted by the Association of American Universities (AAU), 47.7 percent of students reported that they had been sexually harassed since transitioning to an institute of higher learning. The most commonly cited behavior by students included:

  • Inappropriate comments about their body, appearance, or sexual behavior (37.7 percent of incidents)
  • Sexual remarks, or insulting or offensive jokes or stories (29.5 percent of incidents)

Admittedly, the source of most on-campus harassment is another student; however, the AAU learned that graduate and student employees are particularly susceptible to being harassed by a faculty member. Among female graduate students, 15.8 percent fell victim to a teacher or advisor and 17.7 percent identified the harasser as a coworker, boss, or supervisor.

These findings were reflected in a recent survey of graduate student employees conducted across 13 universities by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). This study found that 76 percent of student employees reported that they were concerned about sexual harassment.

Just One Example

In early 2016, a well-known university made national headlines when two graduate employees filed formal complaints alleging that they had been sexually harassed by a faculty member who had purportedly made lewd and suggestive comments to them and touched them inappropriately.

Perhaps more damning, the students also charged that the school failed to adequately respond to their initial complaints, taking several months to finish its inquiries.

For one student, the university determined that the professor had engaged in behavior that was "unprofessional and exhibited poor personal boundaries" but that these actions did not constitute sexual harassment.

For the second student, the school identified that the professor had "made unwelcome, sexual advances (or alternatively a verbal comment), sufficiently severe to constitute behavior of a ‘sexual nature,’ that affected and interfered with [the student's] work and education." However, the university took no action to discipline the professor.

Displeased with the campus response, the two students filed charges with the governing state authority.

Why Harassment Prevention Training?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, "sexual harassment can interfere with a student's academic performance and emotional and physical well-being." Further, the department states that "preventing and remedying sexual harassment in schools is essential to ensure nondiscriminatory, safe environments in which students can learn."

Most campuses recognize the risks faced by students on a daily basis, and many have demonstrated a commitment to their students by instituting sexual harassment training courses or workshops for their student bodies. However, many of these courses focus predominately on interaction between students, ignoring the gray area inhabited by student employees.

This unique class of students more frequently come into contact with faculty and school staff, making these student employees more susceptible to coercion and retaliation than others in a traditional teacher/pupil role.

Also, since student employees often have more responsibilities and authority than their fellow pupils, this power imbalance can create the opportunity for student employees to engage in harassing behavior themselves.

Facing increased risk of sexual harassment and creating additional risks for others, this group especially needs targeted training that can address its unique challenges.

Mandatory Reporting

Depending on state and local law, student employees in certain roles may even be considered a "mandatory reporter," meaning that they are required by law to notify government authorities if they are made aware of any incidents of sexual misconduct or harassment involving a minor. These guidelines can vary considerably across state lines, so you should consult with your legal staff or other experts to determine local requirements.

Similarly, Title IX guidelines require that campuses enact a "prompt and effective remedy" when notice of sex- or gender-based discrimination is given to a "responsible employee." Depending on legal interpretations, some student employees (such as a resident advisor) could fall into this category.

These potential complications further reiterate the need to offer additional training and guidance for student employees.


Protecting students -- particularly those that are uniquely vulnerable -- should be a priority for every campus. And with proper training and support, you can not only safeguard your student employees, but you can equip them to create a culture of non-harassment that extends outside of the classroom and across the campus.

If you would like to learn more about our campus sexual harassment prevention courses for your student employees, fill out the form on the right.

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