Sexual Harassment

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:

  • submission to such conduct is a condition of employment, academic progress, or participation in a university program; or
  • submission to or rejection of such conduct influences employment, academic, or university program decisions; or
  • the conduct interferes with an employee’s work or a student’s academic career, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work, learning, or program environment.

(UW-Madison Sexual Harassment Information and Resources)

Teaching assistants are in a position of authority over their students.  Even though the person in the position of lower status (in this case, the student) may appear to acquiesce to sexual advances, such conduct may still constitute sexual harassment if the conduct is unwelcome.  Sexual harassment may occur between people of the same or different genders and may not necessarily result in tangible injury (e.g. lowered grades).

Classroom and teaching expression are governed by the university’s Prohibited Harassment Policy (Faculty Document 1402c, as amended on 1 March 1999), which states:

    Adherence to the right of freedom of speech and to the principle of academic freedom requires that all thoughts presented as ideas or the advocacy of ideas in instructional settings, if they are germane to the subject matter of the course being taught, must be protected.  This applies to the ideas of faculty and students alike.  The maintenance of intellectual freedom through the open expression of ideas will sometimes be unavoidably hurtful.  Some hurtful expressions, however, play no meaningful role in the free exchange of ideas; they may, indeed, inhibit that exchange, thereby denying some individuals full participation in the learning experience.  These expressions are those that clearly derogate and debase a student or students in the class on the basis of gender, gender identity and expression, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability.

It is the TA’s responsibility to maintain a harassment-free classroom.  Not only must TAs not commit sexual harassment themselves, they must be aware of their students’ classroom interactions and intervene, if necessary, to prevent or stop sexual harassment.

For more detailed information, please see the UW-Madison Sexual Harassment Information and Resources page.