AWARES Winter Meeting Discusses Sexual Harassment in Law, On-Campus, and in the Workplace

Jan. 8, 2019
Panelists Camille Hébert, Kelli Brennan, and Lesa Litteral (L-R)

For the second year in a row, the Aspiration for Women’s Advancement and Retention in Engineering and Science (AWARES) program dedicated their winter meeting to a panel on sexual harassment in the work place. 

Last year, AWARES hosted a similar event; inviting Camille Hébert, the Carter C. Kissel Professor of Law at the Moritz College of Law, Kelli Brennan, Title IX and Clery Act Coordinator at Ohio State, and Lesa Litteral, Senior Vice President for Human Resources at Battelle, to speak about sexual harassment. At the time, the #MeToo movement was a fairly recent phenomenon and “The Silence Breakers” has just been named TimePerson of the Year. 

Now, a year later, the same panel returned to share their thoughts with the AWARES class of 2018-2019. 

“Last year, the topic of “sexual harassment in the work place” was at the peak of attention. Although many encouraging developments occurred, the need to continue to talk about it remains critically important,” said Gonul Kaletunc, AWARES program director, as the evening began. 

The panelists began the evening by sharing their respective perspectives on issues surrounding sexual harassment from a legal standpoint, as an issue on college campuses, and as an issue in the workplace. As the goal of the AWARES program is to help women prepare for a successful career in typically male-dominated fields, emphasis throughout the evening was placed on what Ohio State and companies are doing.   

“I didn’t really know the university stance on sexual harassment,” said Haley Jenkins, senior majoring in ecological engineering. “It was interesting to hear about the different perspectives on work environments and from experts providing their perspectives on sexual harassment.” 

Since the beginning of the #MeToo movement, a stream of reports have come from news outlets about major sexual harassment cases. However, sexual harassment is far more common in the workplace than many people believe, according to Hébert.

“I was surprised by the law, and how sexual harassment is not really illegal,” said Anousha Lawrence, junior majoring in construction systems management. “Human resources needs to help more.” 

Litteral shared with students and mentors how companies like Battelle handle sexual harassment and develop policies to protect employees and the company at large. There are a number of actions that employers will take when reports of sexual harassment occurs, Litteral said, from legal actions and beyond. Oftentimes, companies will post their sexual harassment policies online. 

By researching company culture and policies online, job seekers can make informed decisions before entering the workforce. 

Beyond programs such as AWARES, Ohio State is also looking at ways to address sexual harassment on campus and prepare students for future employment. According to the 2017 climate survey, 46% of undergraduate female students say they have experienced sexual harassment. And in the last year, reports have gone up by 60%, according to Brennan. 

Allyship among women is important, all panelists agreed. Simple acts like thanking peers for sharing their stories and for their trust, and educating one’s self on campus resources so that they are able to share with a peer in need, can go a long way. Also reporting incidents of sexual harassment one sees and being an active bystander in situations. 

By the end of the panel, students and mentors walked away equipped with an understanding of sexual harassment under the law, with an overview of on-campus resources, and with insight into how HR can help employees in the workplace. AWARES participants will continue to meet throughout the spring semester, covering additional curriculum such as building mentorship, imposter syndrome, building confidence, and more.


by Chip Tuson