Report: “Perspectives and Discourses on Sexual Harassment in International Higher Education Contexts” Jiaxi Hou

Time and Date
March 27 (Tue.), 2018
Laboratory room, 6F, III Main Building, Hongo Campus
Organized by
Prof. Kaori Hayashi's Lab., The University of Tokyo Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies
The Educational Project 4 “Producing Multicultural Communities” & The Educational Project 5 “Cultural Diversity and Imagination,” Integrated Human Sciences Program for Cultural Diversity, The University of Tokyo

The workshop concentrating on the issue of sexual harassment in international higher education contexts was co-organized by the IHS project 4 and 5. As an activity held in an interactive atmosphere, it was designed into three parts to encourage participants from diverse backgrounds to express our own experiences and opinions. First, four IHS students from the University of Tokyo, who had attended the study trip to Freie Universität Berlin in Germany in early March, introduced their experiences and reflections during the trip. Clearly, they achieved fruitful results both in their English presentation skills and in exploring the issue of gender equality, as one of them accurately pointed out that gender equality is a matter of justice rather than a matter of care. Second, Prof. Eun-Jeung Lee from Freie Universität Berlin shared with us the ongoing project of the international-scale survey on sexual harassment and violence in university contexts. After that, attendees including both master’s and doctoral students from the University of Tokyo and staff of gender equality NGO respectively shared their opinions with professors as well as with each other on the topic of sexual harassment and violence in the educational environment.

The survey on the awareness of sexual violence at universities is a project containing various universities from societies in Latin America, Europe, and East Asia. Prof. Eun-Jeung Lee explained why her team would like to tackle with the gender issue by focusing on the sexual harassment in the higher education environment, and the reason was to not only understand the situation but also to increase the awareness of the topic within universities, which is a special environment. She also introduced us to the difficulties to carry out this research in Germany, and also in the other participating universities. For example, one of the primary difficulties is connected with people’s sense of privacy and the stigmatization on victims of sexual abuses. On the one hand, people are reluctant to share their personal information, experience, and even demographic backgrounds with the researchers when a large-scale of survey is conducted on the topic of sexual harassment. It is essential but extremely difficult for the researchers to build trust with the potential participants of the survey, as the university is constructed in a hierarchical power structure that any leak of these data can cause serious problems. On the other hand, she also mentioned that they divided the questionnaire into two parts, harassing behaviors one have experienced and those one have observed. While almost no one reported the sexual harassment as a real personal experience, many of the participants reported them using a bystander point of view. Concerning with the stigmatization problem on victims of sexual abuses, the strategy that participants used in this survey could be regarded as both a solution to address the issue and another proof of how the gender related quantitative studies are challenging to conduct.

My motivation to attend the workshop was to have a better understanding about the sexual harassment issue in diverse societies. Although this topic is relatively unrelated to my own research, I am interested in the gender-related topics and regard it as an important entry point to understand contemporary society. During the discussion, other participants referred to related issues on campus such as the discriminating comments on women’s abilities in certain fields or how people perceive the definitions of sexual harassment. From my personal point of view, there are various issues under the topic of gender. However, they can be categorized into different domains, for example the behaviors and the discourses, or the realities and the values. While different people from different societies or social groups are facing the gender problems at different levels, these issues themselves may also be sequenced according to their perceived importance. For example, in the contemporary Chinese case, the birth rate of female and sexual crimes may be problems more urgent to deal with compared to discriminative discourses in mass media. I am not saying that the latter issues are not important, as my own research is actually in the field of media studies, but that the previous ones may deserve more attention, as they are not as obvious as the latter one and their impacts are overwhelming. The workshop encouraged me to think of how to improve the current situation. In fact, after the workshop I applied to be a volunteer teacher in a Chinese NGO, which concentrates on offering anti-sexual-abuses classes in elementary schools in the less development areas in China. I believe that gender is a critical issue in contemporary world and I would like to make my efforts in not only contributing to it with my own research in the domain of criticizing the dominant ideology but also in practice to improve other people’s living environment.

I am sincerely appreciative for Prof. Hayashi, Prof. Lee and the staff of IHS project 4 and 5 for organizing such an inspiring workshop. By learning about the difficult situations in the pursuit of a more gender equal society through the workshop, I am also encouraged to make some efforts. Last but not least, I hope Prof. Lee’s research works well not only in collecting data but also in improving the general awareness of sexual harassment in higher educations.

report date : April 4th (Wed.), 2018