Defining Harassment

Controversy leads Reed College to ask: Should colleges bar even consensual relationships between supervisors and their subordinates? Are student employees entitled to know about harassment findings in departments in which they work?

December 8, 2014

The last week has seen protests and public statements at Reed College about a sexual harassment investigation that found no wrongdoing -- and that angered many students.

In a suggestion of the issues at play, John Kroger, president of the Oregon college, published a letter in The Quest, the student newspaper, outlining a potential weakness in the college's policies barring sexual harassment.

"As some community members have pointed out, the [Discriminatory Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Policy] does not seem to prevent or ban all activities that might cause serious harm. For example, the DHSM bans faculty and staff from entering into sexual relations with students, but it does not ban supervisory staff and non-supervisory staff from seeking or entering into consensual sexual relations with one another. As you known, many workplaces ban such conduct because of its great potential for harm, but our DHSM does not. Instead, it leaves this question up to the judgment of staff members, and their judgment about what is appropriate (and what might happen as those relations play out) might be flawed."

Kroger suggested that faculty and student leaders might draft changes in the policy. He also noted that he was open to suggestions on new approaches to communicating about harassment investigations, but noted challenges posed by the need for confidentiality in some cases. Any such changes in policy could come too late for a case that has upset many students.

The president's letter did not mention any specific case, but he was responding to campus criticism about a recent finding that rejected a harassment complaint filed against Milyon Trulove, Reed's new vice president and dean of admission and financial aid. A previous email from Kroger to the campus confirmed that a complaint had been filed against Trulove and that an investigation had found no violation of the harassment policy.

In the wake of that finding, Andrea Hendrickson, senior assistant dean of admission, quit her job; the college confirmed her resignation. Hendrickson was popular with the many students who work in the admissions office, and they have had a series of meetings with Reed officials to say that they feel uncomfortable with the idea that the head of the division was accused of harassment and cleared -- without anyone knowing why. Students are also unhappy that the administrator they trusted and respected (Hendrickson) is suddenly gone, and not commenting on the case.

In response, about 100 students spent some of last week in what was billed as a "sit-in/work-in" outside of Kroger's office, trading off shifts to assure a presence while also going to class. Saying that they wanted to draw attention to what they view as inadequate policies about harassment, they organized using the hashtag #outofrespect. Student leaders say that administrators -- in this case a senior administrator -- have complaints against them handled by a small group of senior administrators, under standards that are not equal to those that would be used to evaluate a student accused of misconduct.

Trulove did not respond to an email seeking comment, and a Reed spokesman said that he did not believe he was commenting.

The spokesman said that Reed officials were concerned about the distress of students who work in admissions, and that the college was working to reassure those students through the meetings about what happened.


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