Shira Epstein, Ed.D, facilitated a program on sexual harassment and discrimination as a part of The Jewish Theological Seminary orientation week. The participants were engaged by the administration as part of a mandatory program. All participants were adult learners, primarily students of Jewish education. The program defined JTS policy on discrimination and sexual harassment, identified the officials who were on staff that can be reported to, and engaged learners in interactive role-plays to begin to understand the “gray” or “fine-line” areas of these topics. Students were encouraged to discuss and report out on feelings and thoughts. Particular references were made to the student handbook, which was on-hand for reference and review. Points driven home were to not be silent, know the resources available and to be thinking about how education, rabbinical, and cantorial students can begin to think about the kind of safe communities they want to nurture when they enter the field as professionals.
Training Contact Information:
Adaptability of Program:
This program was intended for graduate students (adults), thus making it easily adaptable for educator training in institutions. Furthermore, this format can be utilized to help participants understand the policies on inter-staff relations as well as foster conversation and reflection around their roles in creating safe spaces for their own learners. Given that the material and format is geared towards professionals, if one is interested in training on discrimination and sexual harassment trainings for teens, there are a myriad of resources for policy-making and implementation. Two such programs are: • “Harassment Free Hallways,” a taskforce report produced by the American Association of University Women (AAUW); AAUW suggests that clear sexual harassment policies may not be effective if students have not had opportunities to define and discuss the issue of “sexual harassment.” • A web-downloadable training program for harassment and discrimination produced by the ACLU. The ACLU materials are specifically geared for youth advocates who want to engage in peer-to-peer training and educators who can help them facilitate this process.
Entry Points Used:
Institutional policies, frontal presentation, scenarios/role-plays, and small group discussions
Outside Resources used:
• Participants appreciated the interactive nature of the small group processing in the session. • Participants recognized that there was no single way to respond to the scenarios. While the scenarios help to open up a conversation about elements of harassment and discrimination, the facilitator emphasized that “gray areas” exist in all of the scenarios. • Participants understood that the larger goal of the session was to emphasize that the school fosters the goal of creating a climate that is safe and comfortable for all learners. • Participants understood that a variety of resources were available to them, including guidance counselors, social workers, and institutional legal council. Legal or disciplinary action does not have to result from talking with someone.
Outline of Program:
Policies/Counseling Center: The Dean of Student Life reviews the institutional policies and describes the resources and support systems, including Counseling Center and “Designated JTS Officials” for informal resolution of a complaint. The Facilitator identifies the purpose of the program: to provide information and to make participants’ experiences as students as successful, safe, and comfortable as possible. The focus of the program is not about crime/punishment but about communication and exploring the ways in which lines may be crossed, unknowingly, that can make others in our community feel uncomfortable. Interactive Role-playing: A brief scenario is enacted in which a female student attends a male professor’s office hours; the professor asks the student to close the door to the office. A discussion ensues about what problems the scenario poses and how students would have handled it. The institutional policy is reviewed, and another discussion begins about challenges to speaking up. Participants brainstorm responses. Break-out/Discussion Groups of Various Scenarios: Students divide into groups and read a scenario aloud in their groups. They have the choice to either role-play or discuss what the issues or fine lines are. Questions they tackle are: Why might this scenario lead to a situation where a student might feel uncomfortable? What are various ways you could see a student responding? Learners are given several scenarios to choose from for this exercise. Learners reconvene for a large group debrief in which each group reports out about what they learned. Facilitator reminds learners that school communities are small, and people need to be careful about the ways in which they share information with fellow students about of the students and faculty in the community. Facilitator reminds students that the scenarios present “gray areas,” which offer a range of methods to deal with each situation; silence is a choice, but it one feels uncomfortable, it is better to talk to someone. If one finds that while trying to express how one feels to the other person and one is not being heard, the facilitator encourages talking to someone from the list of resources given out at the beginning of the session. Wrap-up (5 minutes): Remind learners that this is the beginning of opening up discussions about how the group interacts as a community; the scenarios can spark a larger discussion. In addition, it is important to think about our roles as educators and rabbinic presences and how learners might help to establish a sense of community in their own institutions.