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The Hot Seat: Sexual Harassment and Bullying

A Report by Allison Ristaino '14

Hot Seat! Ethics Panel this month featured faculty and students answering tough questions about sexual harassment and bullying.

Sexual Harassment and Bullying: two unfortunate offenses that many people deal with every day. This week, two Smith faculty members were put in the hot seat to discuss these issues. Frazer Ward, art professor focusing on the history of contemporary art and architecture, was questioned first about his past experiences with these topics of concern. Professor Frazer shared that he had been physically bullied as a young man, but that the larger kids who kicked him in the legs meant it in more of a joking manner than a malicious one. This brought up the issue of the meaning of the term bullying. Dean Jennifer Walters, who was moderating, stated that bullying is an intentional act to create a power dynamic between individuals or groups. Maureen Mahoney, dean of the college, spoke on her experiences of being bullied as a child, which related to the definition that Dean Walters had given. Dean Mahoney recalled a childhood incident in which one of her friends bonded with a new friend who got her to ignore and abandon Dean Mahoney. This left her feeling upset, and even lead her to become a bully in a later instance of jealousy, which she now admits was a "totally weird thing to do."

This anecdote brings up a good question: Does bullying lead to more bullying? According to Professor Ward's boxing experiences, the answer is yes. "The boxing doctrine is you bully a bully" Ward told the panel. When he was boxing, he was taught that if another boxer was bullying, the correct thing to do was to give it right back to him. Although he stated that this tactic isn't effective when dealing with real life situations, it was an interesting point to bring up. A student watching the panel gave her advice on the topic saying that in her studies of elementary education, it is often effective for a teacher to form a strong community that will create strong bonds between students so that they will stick up for one another when one is bullied.

"How does this apply to Smith?" asks Hayat Nancy Abuza, listening to the discussion. Surely, twenty year old women are more complex than elementary students, so do the same principles apply? At this point everyone in the room had something to add about the house community at Smith and how bullying issues are brought up and dealt with. "I don't think anyone is being intentionally malicious," noted one student. Nevertheless, we can't ignore that forms of bullying take place on our campus, whether intentional or not. The group generally conferred that the best way to deal with the issue is to sit down and talk with all parties until an understanding is reached. We all agreed, however, that we should keep looking for better ways to deal with bullying so that it can be minimized in the future.