by Rose Brennan & Gabriella DePinho, A&E Editor & News Editor
In order to be compliant with new New York State and City laws, Manhattan College held a mandatory sexual harassment training for all student employees, graduate assistants and other employees.
The fast-approaching deadline for this training is Oct. 9, leading the Human Resources department to hold a single day of training on Wednesday, Sept. 4. Four separate hour-long sessions were held at 9 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
The sessions were led by Natasha Bowman, an adjunct for the School of Continuing and Professional Studies and the author of “You Can’t Do That At Work: 100 Legal Mistakes That Managers Make In The Workplace.”
Bowman has several years of expertise in the field of business, leading her to write her book and to facilitate these sessions at the college.
“I’ve been the head of human resources at several organizations and I would notice that people were promoted into leadership positions that had not been properly trained for,” Bowman said. “There were a lot of things that leaders didn’t know about employment law. And they were making mistakes and breaking the law, but just honestly didn’t know,” Bowman said.
Bowman’s presentation began with the description of classes that were explicitly protected against discrimination by law. The classes included race, color, gender, religion, physical or mental disability, veteran status, age and genetic information.
“No matter what state you live in, you are protected by law from being discriminated against or harassed by your protected class,’’ Bowman said.
Other states, including New York, have also added sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression as protected classes.
The majority of Bowman’s presentation, however, focused on a case study of sorts. Bowman set up a scenario between two employees named Tanya and Bill. Bill was romantically interested in Tanya and asked her out on a date. Tanya politely declined, and Bill then proceeded to leave flowers on her desk. Bill then continued his advances, which gradually became more severe, including liking all of Tanya’s Facebook posts and making inappropriate commentary about women in the break room.
Tanya and another male co-worker asked Bill to stop, but did not report his behavior to management, and because of this, Bill was promoted to a supervisor position, where Tanya was his direct subordinate. He began to treat her differently from other co-workers, and when Tanya confronted him again, Bill said it would stop if Tanya agreed to go on a date with him, and she reluctantly agreed and they began a relationship.
Reactions to the presentation and its content were mixed. Senior management major Alice Russell, a student archives assistant at the O’Malley Library, was one of several students required to attend the presentation.
“I felt the presenter did a good job really emphasizing the importance of diffusing the situation and reporting it, and the various things sexual harassment can be,” Russell said in a written statement to The Quadrangle. “But I did notice that not once did the presentation say the best way to stop workplace sexual harassment is to not sexually harass people. The presentation put the onus of stopping sexual harassment on those who are victims of it and those who witness it.”
“My friend did it at his work on the same day and his training actually said, ‘The best way to not get a sexual harassment complaint is to not sexually harass people,’” she said.
While Russell did notice discrepancies in the presentation, she does not think they were coming from a place of malice.
“I think the yearly employee training is a great idea but I felt it wasn’t comprehensive enough. People seemed to be taking it seriously, though, which I appreciated,” she said. “I don’t think any of these things were explicitly coming from a bad place, but they still stuck out to me as a way to make the presentation better and more inclusive.”
Russell was not the only one who had a mixed reaction to the presentation. Senior economics major Sierra Arral, who works for Student Engagement and the Center for Academic Success, did see some positives to Bowman’s presentation.
“I enjoyed the energy she brought to the room, how she engaged the room by asking questions and moving about the room,” said Arral. “I do think she was able to cover a lot of ground when it comes to harassment inside and outside the workplace, online harassment, and coercion.”
However, Arral also felt like the presentation was lacking when it came to treatment and discussion of victims and bystanders.
“I wish she addressed the topic of those who witness sexual assault differently. At the end of the session, it kind of felt like she was blaming those who are exposed to sexual assault in the workplace, and were not the intended recipient, for the perpetrators “crime” in the first place. I think in the future they should cover more about power dynamics in the workplace because many student employees work without peers,” said Arral.
Gillian Puma contributed reporting.