AWARES builds community of support with annual panel discussion

Feb. 2, 2024

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On Tuesday, January 9 evening, the Aspiration for Women’s Advancement and Retention in Engineering and Sciences (AWARES) group hosted its sixth panel discussion centered around sexual harassment and equity in the workplace. 

AWARES is an immersive program for women engineering students to equip them with the necessary social skills for a smooth transition to workplace and a successful career in the engineering profession. Directed by the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering faculty Gönül Kaletunç, the program has been helping female engineering students for nearly ten years. 

First to speak was Professor Camille Hébert, Robert J. Lynn Chair in Law for the Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law. Hébert began by noting the historical significance of the Me Too movement, and the importance of social media and modernizing how women share their stories. 

Then, she gave formal and legal definitions of sexual harassment in the workplace and detailed the two legal forms of harassment: quid pro quo and hostile environments. She also explained the importance of upholding the Title VII and Title IX laws that prohibit sex-based discrimination.

Hébert then moved toward typical workplace policies of harassment and how those interact with the legal policies. She added how to navigate harassment cases and the importance of making formal complaints soon after incidents occur, despite the traditional habits of not doing so. 

She ended with important statistics about women, specifically those in male-dominated jobs, and transgender individuals facing harassment, and ended on the plethora of resources available to protect individuals. 

The next panel member was Courtney Johnson, Head of Education and Engagement at the Ohio State University Office of Institutional Equity (OIE). She gave an overview of the valuable work of her office and the numerous ways that interventions can be made. 

 Johnson built on the existing policies and laws that Hébert set forth and explained the OIE's role in upholding those laws while pursuing several types of interventions. She explained the work her office does in compliance and prevention education, supportive measures, and informational and educational resolutions. 

She elaborated on the OIE's definitions of stalking, harassment, and discrimination and described trends about harassment at a public university like Ohio State. Johnson also defined the OIE's formal definitions of supportive measures, resolutions, and retaliation policy. 

Finally, she walked through how to report incidents to the OIE through multiple options, and the process flow once an incident is brought forward. Johnson then talked about the duties of various levels of Ohio State employees to report events and how to help fellow Buckeyes. 

Jess Hastings, the Global HR compliance leader at G.E. Aviation, provided a look into the manufacturing industry and how the existing resources at Ohio State coincide with that. 

She overviewed three main facets of G.E.'s approach to harassment; including fostering a respectful workplace, identifying and stopping harassment, and complying with company policies as an employee. 

Beginning with fostering a respectful workplace, Hastings discussed what is a respectful workplace, why it is important, how to do it, and what G.E. does to foster an environment where everyone is respected.

Then, Hastings reviewed ways to identify harassment and the multiple ways to navigate reporting the harassment and retaliations within a private company.

Finally, health therapist Lisa Hayes, who provides counseling to students in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and the College of Medicine at the Ohio State, began by inviting participants to take a breath during the heavy conversational topics. 

Her portion of the panel revolved around the societal definitions and constraints of power. In many harassment situations, power dynamics may be straightforward, or they may be more undefined, leading to different challenges in either situation. 

Hayes explained that in any situation where power is abused, isolation is the worst thing that can occur, and finding the right group of supporters is of the utmost importance. 

She then moved towards the topic of how the human body reacts to situations of distress. Taking extra time to do an assignment or project, or getting another session in the lab, or any accommodation as a result of a stressful situation is very necessary, Hayes stated. 

Hayes then explained how to do bottom-up processing once a stressful situation occurs. She explained that first, one must settle their body. Then, figure out one's feelings. Finally, figure out the facts of the situation. Many people tend to do the opposite, as Hayes told which makes it harder to deal with stress. 

She ended with a sentiment that connected many of the other panelists’ points, noting that the participants should understand the organizational system that they are in and the resources provided, and to also find their community of supporters.  

During the event, Kaletunc ran a poll among panel discussion participants with the question “Have you witnessed sexual harassment or are you close to someone who experienced sexual harassment?” The following result of 92% “Yes” underscores the importance of continuing discussion of the issue among women.


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To close the event, Kaletunç opened the floor for questions and reiterated the purpose of AWARES program to create awareness of important issues affecting women's personal and professional lives. She advised the young women to keep the insights from the evening’s discussion to guide them and encouraged them to pass what they learned to other people and support each other. Comments from mentors and students included, “Although it’s a heavy topic, it’s energizing to attend events like this” and, “I wish more people could have heard this! It was very insightful” signifying the continuing conversation on sexual harassment.

For more information, or if you are interested in joining AWARES, please click below.