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Northwestern Commits to Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education

University joins other major institutions in National Academies’ action collaborative

Northwestern University is one of 28 founding colleges, universities and research institutions joining the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to establish an Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education.

The collaborative formed as a response to the National Academies’ 2018 report “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine,” which concluded that between 20 and 50 percent of female students and more than 50 percent of female faculty and staff have experienced gender harassment — from overt behaviors to daily slights — which has contributed to women being driven out of academia.

The collaborative unites academic leaders and key stakeholders to address these behaviors across all disciplines and across higher education. It will be an active space where colleges, universities, and research and training organizations can develop and deploy efforts that move beyond basic legal compliance to evidence-based policies and practices for addressing and preventing all forms of sexual harassment.

Northwestern is one of 28 founding members, that provided the initial support to start work and helped refine the goals and plans for the action collaborative in March. In the weeks since, additional colleges, universities, and research institutions have become members, bringing the total membership to 43 institutions.

“Northwestern is proud to be a founding member of the National Academies’ Action Collaborative,” Northwestern Provost Jonathan Holloway said. “This is another step we are taking to create a culture of equity in which our students, faculty, and staff can all thrive.

“The University is committed to excellence in research, scholarship, creative work, and teaching,” Holloway said. “We recognize that we cannot achieve this excellence without fostering a culture anchored in empathy, respect, diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is our responsibility to effectively address and prevent the occurrence of all forms of discrimination and harassment in our environment — including sexual harassment.”

Teri OdomAs a founding member of the collaborative, Northwestern will make a financial commitment to the four-year effort, and key members of the University’s senior leadership will represent Northwestern in the collaborative — including Teri Odom, chair of the department of chemistry, Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry and (by courtesy) professor of materials science and engineering; Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, vice provost for academics; Sarah Wake, associate vice president for equity; and Carole LaBonne, chair of the department of molecular biosciences.

“I am especially grateful to Carole, Teri, and Sarah for their leadership and insightful work on this vitally important topic,” Chase-Lansdale said. “I look forward to working with the entire Northwestern community to drive change and create a more equitable environment.”

The four main goals of the action collaborative are to:

  • Raise awareness about sexual harassment and how it occurs, the consequences of such harassment and the organizational characteristics, and to recommended approaches that can prevent it;
  • Share and elevate evidence-based institutional policies and strategies to combat sexual harassment and lessen its impacts;
  • Contribute to setting the research agenda and gather and apply research results across institutions; and
  • Develop a standard for measuring progress toward reducing and preventing sexual harassment in higher education.

The action collaborative also will deal with the issue of sexual harassment and its intersection with other types of damaging behavior, including incivility, bullying, and discrimination based on other protected classes, including race, national origin, and sexual orientation.

Fostering an equitable and inclusive culture is essential to Northwestern’s scholarly and teaching missions. Important intellectual capital is lost as a consequence of actions that create a hostile or unwelcoming culture, and the collaborative creates an opportunity to address these issues.

Northwestern community members can contact the Office of Equity with any questions about support or resources available for those affected by any form of discrimination or harassment.