Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sexual Harrassment and Standardized Testing

Dear Provoust office when you complete your disability sensitivity training i will take your dumb harassment quiz. And, fyi, people who pass it still harass.

The first time I failed the sexual harassment quiz at UVa I thought it was kind of funny. It’s true that I once, in a state of new mother exhaustion, accidentally played footsie with a young male grad student whom I mistook for a table leg,. And I do in the end probably hug more of my students than most professors. But I’m the least of the sexual harassment problems in any institution I’ve ever been a part of. I know I’m not the only female faculty member who gets more than their share of disturbing stories running the gauntlet from inappropriate eroticism in the classroom to too much touching and even biting. (ok, on the last one I may be one of a few but still…). And I was once reprimanded for leaving a harassment workshop early because I had to teach. The facilitator was in the middle of one of her favorite stories about a Med School Professor who had apparently thought it was ok to put his penis on the shoulder of his secretary. The workshop had been called because of some issues in my department, and this story allowed the group listening to feel pretty good because they knew THAT was inappropriate. (and yes of course I’ve been harassed,patted on the head,propositioned, touched inappropriately, threatened by male students etc... as has just about every other woman I know)

We handle sexual harassment at UVa like we handle everything else, with an online module designed to protect the University against legal action. I’m quite sure that just about every faculty member who has sexually harassed passed the quiz.
There’s also a drinking quiz that seems to have worked wonders on alcohol related violence. No doubt the fact that faculty who want to serve one bottle of wine to their colleagues have learned actual blood alcohol level numbers stops binge drinking by students in university-sanctioned housing.

I’m not sure why I’m digging my heels in about this, but the test is harassing me. I have attempted it a few times but multiple choice has never worked for me. The computer test is the adult equivalent of the SRA test we took in elementary school. All my friends got in the 90th percentile, and I hovered at the low IQ 40th percentile. In high school ETS lost my large type periodic table of the elements and thus tanked my AP chemistry test. They later lost my large type verbal GRE, and I'm fairly certain I have the lowest verbal GRE of any tenured professor I know. And by the way, the usual ways of, shall we say, outsmarting the test are not available to those without a good visual memory. This starts to feel like tenth grade where almost everyone but me cheated on French quizzes. I failed to cheat not out of a superior moral compass but out of inferior eyes through which to see the cheat sheets. (If you’re reading this and you were in madam whoever’s class at T.C. Williams don’t deny it…) And by the way, my guess is that my French now exceeds that of my classmates who aced those silly quizzes.

But back to sexual harassment. If you don’t take the quiz, you are offered a two-hour workshop that I’m also not willing to attend. I can only hope it would include such gripping tales as the above-mentioned penis-on-the-shoulder story. I also always like the skits about offering to give your students better grades if they go out to dinner with you. I will try very hard to remember not to do that next time. But it’s also worth noting that the workshop would no doubt be two hours of power point; which I will not be able to see. I usually handle such encounters by very aggressively text messaging on my large type cell phone.

And in the realm of potentially inappropriate humor see below for my husband’s response to the note I did not send to the provost's office.

Dear Professor Gordon,
We note that you have not yet completed the harassment training test that is REQUIRED of all legally blind small female faculty. We understand that you cannot pass computer standardized tests, and we are happy to offer a special seminar for people with your intellectual limits. Please meet this Friday evening at 9:30 pm in JPJ Arena for 3.5 hour special seminar. The class is longer than the normal because we take into account that you are somewhat slow sometimes. Don't worry, all visuals will be projected on the scoreboard screen.


  1. Dear Professor Gordon,

    In light of your personal situation, I am arranging a special one-on-one meeting with you to work through the harassment curriculum. Because this is a special accommodation, we need to meet after hours and off campus....

  2. Nice blog! I like your writing way. I'm doing practice GRE here: . I hope it's useful for GRE test takers.