Revised Policies Expand Definition of Sexual Harassment

The UC Irvine Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity has revised its sexual harassment guidelines by developing a new policy regarding consensual relationships in order to reflect recent systemwide revisions made by the UC Office of the President.
To comply with federal disclosure requirements regarding policy updates, UCI Student Affairs recently sent an e-mail notifying students of the updates.
UCOP Spokesperson Ravi Poorsina explained that the changes were not made because of any specific incidents.
‘It’s actually just routine to continuously update the policies as do the federal guidelines on sexual harassment,’ Poorsina said. ‘No one event prompted the changes.’
According to Kirsten Quanbeck, assistant vice chancellor and director of UCI’s OEOD, no significant shortcomings existed in the previous policy.
‘Our policy was really up-to-date,’ Quanbeck said. ‘We had redone ours fairly recently … so there are not really any substantive changes for us.’
Quanbeck explained that the UCOP changed the guidelines for the entire system because the UC Regents wanted a consistent policy across the campuses.
‘The Board of Regents thought it would be a good idea for all the universities to have the same exact policy, so that prompted the revision of our policy,’ Quanbeck said. ‘The systemwide committee that helps develop that policy also gave us some procedural guidelines that go along with the policy, essentially how to implement the policies on our campus.’
Among the revisions is an expanded definition of sexual harassment, which clarifies between whom sexual harassment might affect and the types of relationships that may be involved.
‘Sexual harassment can be between any two people, so it could be a student harassing a faculty member, it could be a woman harassing a man, it could be a woman harassing a woman, a man harassing a man, it can be all the variations,’ Quanbeck said. ‘Sexual orientation doesn’t matter, gender doesn’t matter, age doesn’t matter. … Our policy is very ‘equal opportunity,’ if you will, in that it allows for any potential situation.’
One portion of the sexual harassment policy that was revised substantially was the part regarding consensual relationships.
According to Quanbeck, drafters of the revised policy have separated language regarding consensual relationships into a new policy.
‘There used to be something called the consensual relations section that was part of the UCI sexually harassment policy,’ Quanbeck said. ‘But if you think about sexual harassment … for conduct to be sexual harassing, either under our policy or under the law it needs to be unwelcome, so it can’t be consensual. So it didn’t make sense, necessarily, to have a policy which deals with consensual issues in the sexual harassment policy.’
In addition to updating the definition of sexual harassment and a new consensual relations policy, revisions also include a clarification of the UC’s obligation to promptly and effectively respond to reports of harassment, provisions for the training of university employees and the education of the university community regarding sexual harassment.
‘We have a real transient population here at UCI,’ Quanbeck said. ‘People are constantly transferring in and graduating out, so continual education is important.’
Most students are unaffected by or even unaware of the recent updates.
‘I saw the e-mail but I wasn’t really aware of the significance,’ said Joseph Morcos, a third-year biological science major. ‘I heard more about sexual harassment in high school than I do here.’
Tuong Tran, a fourth-year film studies major, echoed these sentiments.
‘I wasn’t even aware such changes were needed to remedy any shortcomings in the school’s policy,’ Tran said. ‘Sexual harassment is a problem any time it occurs, but I haven’t really seen anything warranting a need for these changes.’