National Academies’ Report Calls on Academic Institutions to Overhaul Campus Culture to Address Sexual Harassment
National Academies’ Report Calls on Academic Institutions to Overhaul Campus Culture to Address Sexual Harassment

June 2018

On June 12, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released the findings of a comprehensive public report on the effects of sexual harassment on women in science, engineering, and medical careers.

Drawing on decades of research, a meta-analysis of survey data, and 40 qualitative interviews with women who were targets of harassment, the report calls for sweeping changes in the culture and climate of higher education as well as significant improvements in the way women are treated in the academy and scholarly professions—especially the sciences.

According existing data, 58 percent of women across the various disciplines studied have experienced sexual harassment. During the release of the report at the National Academy of Sciences, the authors noted that the cumulative effect of sexual harassment has resulted in significant damage to research integrity and a costly loss of talent in academic sciences when women leave their jobs or stop their education in the wake of sexual harassment.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Sexual harassment is common in academic science, engineering, and medicine.
  • Organizational climate is the single most important factor in determining whether sexual harassment is likely to happen in a work setting.
  • Gender harassment is by far the most common form of sexual harassment.
  • When women are sexually harassed, their least common response is to formally report the experience.
  • Sexual harassment undermines women’s professional and educational attainment and mental and physical health.
  • Sexual harassment training has not been demonstrated to change behavior.

The report offers 15 evidence-based recommendations for combatting sexual harassment in academic institutions. They include improving transparency and accountability, creating respectful work environments, providing strong support for the target, and moving beyond legal compliance to address sexual harassment as a culture and climate issue, among others.

While the report focused specifically on science-related fields, its conclusions and recommendations are applicable beyond the sciences. The authors expressed hope that academic science, historically a male-dominated area, will position itself as a national leader in addressing sexual harassment in the midst of the Me Too movement.

“This report sends an important signal to the entire academic and scientific community, including the education research field,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine. “Much more needs to be done at all levels to produce a culture change where sexual harassment and victimization are no longer common practice. Associations like AERA recognize our role in this change and seek to do our part.”

At the 2018 AERA Annual Meeting in April, AERA held a town hall meeting titled “‘Me Too’– A Town Hall Meeting: Confronting Sexual Harassment in the Academy and Scholarly Professions,” which presented an opportunity for Annual Meeting attendees to openly address reducing sexual violence, intimidation, and harassment in research and academic environments in which students, faculty, research professionals, support workers, and other academic and research personnel live and work.

Prior to the start of the 2018 Annual Meeting, AERA also issued and widely shared a statement emphasizing the association’s commitment to making all of its meetings and activities free from harassment or discrimination for all attendees.

Last week, at its June meeting, the AERA Council held a dedicated discussion of the topic, the Academies’ report, and ways that AERA can make a difference for members and all who work in the education research field.

In February, the National Science Foundation announced several steps to bolster safe research environments, including requiring “grantee organizations to report findings of sexual harassment, or any other kind of harassment regarding a principal investigator (PI) or co/PI or any other grant personnel.”

The National Academies has posted several resources in addition to its report—including infographics, slides from the release event, and a video about its recommendations—on its website here.