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Online tutorial is a concise guide to harassment basics

20 August 2003

In a pre-med class on communicable disease, the instructor graphically describes sex acts by which humans can transmit the HIV/AIDS virus, both heterosexually and homosexually. Some students are offended and complain to the dean, requesting that the instructor be required to present this information less graphically.

Is this an example of academic freedom or a case of sexual harassment?

This is one of the scenarios you’ll face when you take the campus’s new online training, “Preventing Sexual Harassment.” The basic course, which takes about 40 minutes to complete, is both comprehensive and specific to the university setting.

The program is online at www.newmedialearning.com/psh/ucberkeley/index.htm. You may choose among editions for faculty, for staff who are supervisors and those who are not, and for students.

The interactive tutorial is part of the campus’s expanded programs in harassment prevention, which also includes in-person workshops and department meetings.

The course was developed by New Media Learning, a St. Helena-based company, with input from the campus. Berkeley is one of six UC campuses that make the course available. It is also used by corporations and colleges across the country.

Using scenarios and question/answer segments, you’ll learn how to identify sexual harassment, get an overview of its legal consequences, and better understand your responsibility in helping to create an environment free of harassment.

The course explains that sexual harassment does not depend on intent; it depends on the impact of a person’s behavior. A jokester, for example, may not intend to offend or harass anyone, but the impact of his behavior is what counts, according to the course.

One joke will probably not result in a sexual-harassment claim, but if this type of behavior is pervasive, chances are someone will find it offensive and unwelcome. And behavior that is pervasive and unwelcome, we learn, is what defines sexual harassment.

Also provided are examples of how to tell a harasser to stop offending you, whether the person’s actions include sexually explicit talk or e-mails, sexually provocative images, comments on physical attributes, or inappropriate touching.

As you move through the course, links to detailed information on court decisions, state law, and campus policy and resources are available.

So what’s the answer to the question about the scenario in the pre-med class? We’re afraid you’ll have to take the course to find out.