Policies on Respectful Treatment of Students and Trainees

Aspirations

The Penn State College of Medicine is committed to assuring a safe, encouraging, and supportive learning environment that reflects our commitments to professionalism, respect, appreciation of diversity, and virtues such as honesty, integrity, compassion, and kindness. All Penn State Hershey Medical Center faculty and staff will conduct themselves in a professional manner and will contribute to creation of an environment supportive of learning. We will strive to treat our students and trainees the way we want them to treat everyone – with dedication, respect, and compassion. We expect that these policies will continue to be living documents, and that we will continue to improve and address issues pertaining to respect in our learning environment as they arise.

Policy Statement

Mistreatment, discrimination, harassment, and sexual harassment are prohibited at the Penn State College of Medicine. Penn State Administrative Policy 47 and Policy 85 are directly relevant.

Definitions

Mistreatment

Mistreatment is intentional or unintentional, disrespectful treatment of a subordinate student, trainee, or colleague that interferes, disrupts, or destroys the learning environment, and would do so for most reasonable learners in that circumstance.

Discrimination

Discrimination is conduct of any nature that denies equal privileges or treatment to a particular individual because of the individual’s age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or veteran status.

Harassment

Harassment is a form of discrimination consisting of physical or verbal conduct that (1) is directed at an individual because of the individual’s age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, genetic information, national origin, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or veteran status; and (2) is sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to substantially interfere with the individual’s employment, education or access to University programs, activities and opportunities. To constitute harassment, the conduct must be such that it detrimentally affects the individual in question and would also detrimentally affect a reasonable person under the same circumstances.

Harassment may include, but is not limited to, verbal or physical attacks, threats, slurs or derogatory comments that meet the definition set forth above. Whether the alleged conduct constitutes prohibited harassment depends on the totality of the particular circumstances, including the nature, frequency and duration of the conduct in question, the location and context in which it occurs and the status of the individuals involved.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination recognized under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment and Title IX of the Education Amendments, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities. If there is any report suggesting violation of Title IX, immediate action is required to be taken due to the severity of the issue at hand.

Sexual harassment involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It is often imposed upon a person in an unequal power relationship through the abuse of authority. Central to this concept is the use of implied reward or threat of deprivation that interferes with the academic or work effectiveness of the victim.

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature constitutes harassment when:

  • Submission to, or rejection of, such conduct by an individual is made explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment or participation in academic activities;
  • Submission to, or rejection of, such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment or academic decisions affecting such individual; or
  • Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or academic performance, or of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working or study environment.

In addition to Penn State policies, Federal law recognizes two different sets of legal grounds for claiming sexual harassment under Title VII:

  • In the quid pro quo (this for that) form of harassment, a person in authority, usually a supervisor or instructor, demands a sexual favor of a subordinate or a student as a condition of getting or keeping a job or getting a good grade in a course. In quid pro quo cases, the offense is directly linked to the individual’s terms of employment or academic success, or forms the basis for employment or academic decisions affecting the individual.
  • A hostile work environment occurs when a co-worker, supervisor, instructor, contractor, visitor, customer or vendor, engages in unwelcome and inappropriate sexually based behavior that is severe or pervasive enough to render the workplace or academic atmosphere intimidating, hostile or offensive. Usually a pattern of this sort of behavior is required to substantiate the claim, but one incident can be enough, if it is severe or egregious.

Examples of mistreatment

When assessing behavior that might represent mistreatment, students and trainees are expected to consider the conditions, circumstances, and environment surrounding such behavior. These examples could be hierarchical, (i.e., supervisor to trainee) or lateral, as in trainee to trainee. Examples of discriminatory, unfair, arbitrary or capricious treatment include but are not limited to:

  • Verbally abusing, belittling, or humiliating a student or trainee.
  • Indicating that a student will be capable of a specific skill because he or she is a given ethnicity or gender (e.g., baking as a female)
  • Not providing students with clear work expectations yet holding them responsible for the expectations.
  • Using grades as punishment rather than as an objective evaluation of performance
  • Taking individual credit for a trainee’s work
  • Assigning authorship based on hierarchy rather than intellectual contribution
  • Intentionally singling out a student for arbitrary treatment that could be perceived as punitive
  • Unwarranted exclusion from reasonable learning opportunities or other neglect of trainees
  • Disparaging a student’s choice of residency, profession, or other career aspirations
  • Assignment of duties as punishment rather than education
  • Pressuring students or trainees to exceed established restrictions on work hours
  • Asking a student or trainee to lie or withhold the truth to a patient, colleague, or superior.
  • Exploitation of students in any manner (e.g. performing personal errands)
  • Directing students to perform an unreasonable number of routine hospital procedures (e.g., “cut” on patients not assigned to them) or general laboratory responsibilities (e.g., an excessive share of shared laboratory tasks) where performing those activities interferes with a student’s attendance at educational activities, (e.g., rounds, classes).
  • Pressuring a student or trainee to perform medical procedures or laboratory experiments for which the student is insufficiently trained (i.e. putting a student in a role that compromises the care of patients or endangers the student).
  • Threatening a lower or failing grade/evaluation to a student for inappropriate reasons
  • Committing an act of physical abuse or violence of any kind (e.g., throwing objects, aggressive violation of personal space)
  • Belittling the occupation of a health care worker, scientist or trainee, as in, “oh, you’re just a nurse’s aide, or, “oh, you’re just a research assistant”

Examples of supervisor or superior behavior that might be unpleasant for a trainee but not considered mistreatment include:

  • Pointing out that a student’s summary of a patient is incomplete in front of a group of her or his peers
  • Pointing out that a student’s research seminar is difficult to follow in front of a group of her or his peers
  • Asking a student to stand for 45 minutes observing a surgical or laboratory procedure without assisting (in the context of having other learning opportunities)

Examples of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment can be exhibited using three types of behaviors: verbal, non-verbal behaviors and gestures, and physical contact.

Examples of verbal behavior that might constitute sexual harassment are:

  • Continuous idle chatter of a sexual nature and graphic sexual descriptions;
  • Sexual slurs, sexual innuendoes, and other comments about a person’s clothing and the way it fits, the person’s body and/or about sexual activities;
  • Offensive and persistent risque jokes or jesting and kidding about sex or gender-specific traits;
  • Suggestive or insulting sounds such as whistling, wolf calls, or kissing sounds;
  • Comments of a sexual nature about weight, body shape, size or figure;
  • Comments about the sensuality of a person, or his/her spouse or significant other;
  • Distribution of written or graphic materials that are derogatory and are of a sexual nature;
  • Repeated unsolicited propositions for dates and/or sexual relations; or
  • Asking about sexual fantasies, preferences or history.

Examples of gestures or non-verbal behaviors that might be considered sexual harassment are:

  • Sexual looks such as leering and ogling with suggestive overtones;
  • Licking lips or teeth, winking, or throwing kisses;
  • Holding or eating food provocatively;
  • Lewd gestures, such as hand or sign language to denote sexual activity;
  • Persistent and unwelcome flirting;
  • Staring at an individual or looking a person up and down (elevator eyes);
  • Giving personal gifts; or
  • Displaying sexually suggestive pictures, calendars, posters, statues, etc.

Unwanted physical contact can range from offensive behavior to criminal acts. While some might dismiss some of these behaviors as an annoyance, others will consider them to be sexual harassment. It should be stressed that all of these behaviors are inappropriate in the workplace.

Examples of unwanted physical contact that would be considered sexual harassment are:

  • Attempted rape or rape
  • Touching that is inappropriate in the workplace or classroom such as patting, pinching, stroking or brushing up against the body;
  • Cornering or mauling;
  • Attempted or actual kissing or fondling;
  • Physical assault;
  • Coerced sexual relations;
  • Touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person;

Examples of unwanted physical contact that might be considered sexual harassment are:

  • Invading another’s personal space
  • Giving a massage around the neck or shoulders;
  • Pranks such as exposing underwear or parts of the body; or
  • Intentionally blocking someone’s path

It is also important to note that while some behaviors may be offensive, unprofessional, against Penn State College of Medicine policy or inappropriate in the workplace, they may not necessarily be considered sexual harassment. For example, general use of profanity and vulgar language may not be sexual harassment unless it is sexually oriented or overused to the point that a hostile work environment is created.

In addition, sexual harassment is generally not the rare or singular occurrence of minor behaviors, such as a comment/innuendo, a joke or a story, asking for a date, or a compliment about appearance or attire. However, frequent occurrences of these types of minor behaviors may rise to the level of harassment if they happen often and if it is reasonable to assume that the behavior might be unwelcome, or if a single incident is particularly egregious.

Power and harassment

There is no typical harasser. A harasser can be male, female, young, old, and from any ethnic background. One thing that harassers generally have in common is that they have some sort of power over an individual or individuals, and they use that power in a negative way to help them feel in control. Harassers generally look for victims who are weaker and less likely to have the ability or the inclination to fight back. This is generally because the victims fear retaliation in the form of loss of employment, economic loss, loss of benefits, loss of status, loss of promotional or advancement opportunities or, in some cases, fear of physical or emotional harm.

This type of behavior is generally seen in supervisor/subordinate relationships, but it can also happen within work groups or student groups as well, if a member is led to believe by the harasser that he/she could have a direct impact on his/her job or status within the group.

Consensual Relationships

Romantic and/or sexual relationships between faculty and students, staff and students, or supervisors and subordinate employees are strongly discouraged. Such relationships have the potential for adverse consequences, including the filing of charges of sexual harassment. Given the fundamentally asymmetric nature of the relationship where one party has the power to give grades, thesis advice, evaluations, recommendations, promotions, salary increases or performance evaluations, the apparent consensual nature of the relationship is inherently suspect.

Even when both parties have consented to the relationship, there may be perceptions of conflict of interest as well as unfair treatment of others. Such perceptions undermine the atmosphere of trust essential to the educational process or the employment relationship. (See Policy 85, for an explanation of reporting requirements when such consensual relationships are established.)

In the event of a complaint of sexual harassment, when the facts establish that a faculty-student, staff-student, or supervisor-subordinate power differential existed within the relationship, a defense based upon consent or previous consent will generally be viewed unsympathetically by the institution. If there is disagreement as to whether the behavior was affirmatively consensual between the involved individuals, the burden will be on the individual against whom the charge or complaint is made to prove mutual consent.

Questions about sexual harassment

Can I compliment one of my co-workers? Yes, as long as your compliments are free from sexual undertones. Compliments such as “Nice legs” or “You look really sexy in that outfit” can make your co-worker feel uncomfortable or threatened. Even if the person you’re complimenting isn’t bothered by the comments, others might be.

If someone says “no” to me in response to a question for a date, can I still pursue them? No means no. If the person says “no” in response to an invitation for a date, or is uncomfortable or evasive, do not use pressure; accept the answer and move on.

What’s wrong with having a screen saver on my computer with sexy pictures on it in my own office or work area? Sexually oriented objects and visuals, such as pinups, centerfolds from sex magazines, calendars or screen savers portray people as sexual objects in demeaning circumstances. They create an offensive, intimidating and hostile work or study environment and create the potential for a sexual harassment complaint, if a co-worker or visitor to your work area finds them offensive.

Aren’t people being too sensitive about this? You may think so, but each of us has a different perspective and different reactions to these types of behaviors. Even if the comment, gesture or behavior was not intended to be offensive, it may be perceived that way. If you are not sure how your humor or teasing is affecting someone, stop immediately.

Can I be accused of harassing someone if we are both the same gender? Yes. Sexual harassment can occur between same genders and is not limited to opposite sexes.