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A Code of Ethics on Sexual Harassment: Guidelines of the Organization of American Historians

The following statement was written and passed by the OAH Executive Board at its November 1992 meeting. The statement was originally published in the February 1993 issue of the OAH Newsletter. (PDF

A Code of Ethics on Sexual Harassment: Guidelines of the Organization of American Historians

I. A. Sexual harassment within academe is unethical, unprofessional, and threatening to academic freedom. In the context, the term "sexual harassment" may be used to describe a wide range of behaviors. It includes, but is not limited to, the following: generalized sexist remarks or behavior, whether in or out of the classroom; requests for sexual favors; sexual advances, whether sanction free, linked to reward, or accompanied by threat of retaliation; the use of authority to emphasize the sexuality or sexual identity of a student in a manner which prevents or impairs that student's full enjoyment of educational benefits, climates, or opportunities; and sexual assaults. Such behaviors are unacceptable because they are forms of unprofessional conduct which seriously undermine the atmosphere of trust essential to the academic enterprise.

B. The potential for sexual harassment is not limited to incidents involving members of the profession and students. Use of asymmetric power by members of the profession resulting in sexual harassment of colleagues or staff is also unethical and unprofessional.

C. Further, it is unprofessional behavior to condone sexual harassment or to disregard complaints of sexual harassment from students, staff, or colleagues. Such actions allow a climate of sexual harassment to exist and seriously undermine the atmosphere of trust essential to the academic enterprise.

II. In addition to sexual harassment, amorous relationships that might be appropriate in other circumstances are inappropriate and should be avoided when they occur between members of the profession and any student for whom he or she has a professional responsibility. Implicit in the idea of professionalism is the recognition by those in positions of authority that in their relationships with students there is always an element of power. It is incumbent upon members of the profession not to abuse, nor seem to abuse, the power with which they are entrusted, since relationships between members of the profession and students are always fundamentally asymmetric in nature. Such relationships may have the effect of undermining the atmosphere of trust among students and faculty on which the educational process depends.

III. The Organization of American Historians encourages chairs of departments of history to pass these guidelines on to the members of their departments. It suggests, moreover, that department chairs urge their respective universities to enforce existing federal regulations prohibiting sexual harassment and to take whatever measures are necessary to publicize grievance procedures available to students, faculty, or staff who have been subjects of sexual harassment.