Administrators in the UW-Madison Department of Sociology are struggling to rebuild trust as graduate students challenge steps officials say are being taken to respond to sexual harassment and improve climate in the department.
“I think I speak for everybody in the department in recognizing that building trust and confidence is an ongoing challenge,” chair Jim Raymo said in a statement Monday.
Raymo said last week that he became aware of concerns regarding sexual harassment — and two cases in the department — after he became chair in fall 2016. Since then, several steps were taken, including establishing a climate committee to provide a “permanent, transparent, and safe mechanism for any student, faculty, or staff member to raise a concern about behavior that interferes with their ability to perform to their full potential,” he said.
But graduate students said Monday they were not comfortable with the members named to the committee, its lack of diversity, or assurances about student confidentiality.
A survey last spring by the Sociology Graduate Student Association, a UW-Madison student organization, found that 58 percent of the 67 students responding wanted different members on the committee.
Its members now include Raymo, three additional faculty members and two staff members.
Feedback about the committee circulated to the sociology community Monday recommended the department develop “an explicit, transparent accountability system” for committee members. Students also asked department officials to add language to policies about sanctions for faculty and staff and clarify the relationship between reports to the department committee and to the university’s campus system.
Leadership of the graduate student association declined immediate comment.
Raymo first spoke to sexual harassment and climate issues in the department after the Cap Times sought comment about repeated references to sexual harassment involving the department in a national online crowdsourced log of such incidents in higher education.
The Cap Times has sought information about handling of sexual harassment cases in the sociology department through open records requests.
UW-Madison campus officials announced last fall that they had begun developing a centralized reporting system and database of sexual harassment complaints. Complaints may initially be made at the department or school level, or to the campus Title IX coordinator.
The university also has introduced mandatory sexual harassment awareness and prevention training for all faculty and staff.
Raymo said Monday that student opinion on the climate committee had previously been sought and that the committee “will draw upon this feedback to make changes to membership in order to ensure that a greater diversity of perspectives is represented.”
“Student engagement is crucial to our progress and success as a department,” he said.
Raymo also said that a department survey on climate will be conducted this semester.
The survey will identify strong and weak points and provide a baseline to assess progress, he said. “I expect that as we continue to work with students, faculty and staff on challenging issues, additional steps and plans of action will emerge,” Raymo said.