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Graduate Student Senate executives voice concerns about current sexual harassment policies

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After a journalism professor was found responsible for sexually harassing a graduate student last week, the Graduate Student Senate leadership team has spoken out.

An investigation by the Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance on Friday found Ohio University journalism professor Yusuf Kalyango responsible for sexual harassment of a graduate student.

This is the second reported case of a male professor sexually harassing a female graduate student in two years. The first, a suit filed against former English professor Andrew Escobedo; that case was settled this week, according to the Athens News.

Kalyango, a tenured professor, will not be teaching or advising this semester, E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Director Robert Stewart said in an email to The New Political. The university is expected to release a more detailed statement soon.

“The hierarchy of power is much closer in proximity, and you’re more of an actual peer than like a subordinate kind of situation,” Kevin Pomorski, Graduate Student Senate Treasurer, said.

Pomorski noted that inappropriate, one-on-one relationships between advisers and students are difficult to spot unless the student chooses to file a complaint or speak up.

“It’s a very closed-door relationship and the power is always there, the structure is always there, the construct is always there,” Pomorski said. “It’s really hard, unless the people actually speak out and make it apparent that things are not right. The current structure is always that if nothing’s said, it’s assumed to be okay.”

Graduate Senate President Maria Modayil likened the disciplinary action taken by Ohio U against Kalyango and Escobedo to the national consequences faced by men accused in the #MeToo movement.

A code of conduct specifying what constitutes an inappropriate interaction between professors and graduate students doesn’t exist, at least to the best of the Graduate Senate’s leadership team’s knowledge. If the policy were to exist, Modayil said, it would be handled by Faculty Senate.

“That process is usually very long,” Modayil said. “I remember last year they were trying to have a graduate faculty status — for faculty members — and it was a conversation for two years and it’s still not happened.”

Graduate Senate has worked with the Better Bystanders student organization to raise awareness about intervening when a peer is in a potentially inappropriate or abusive relationship with an adviser.

“Hopefully, bringing awareness to this starts the conversation earlier in the process before actually things happen,” Pomorski said. “So you can see key indicators that things are not good beforehand, so you can have that conversation before anything gets too far.”

The Scripps J-school has had a tumultuous few years regarding sexual harassment scandals including; sexual misconduct investigation at WOUB finding male students responsible for making female counterparts feel unsafe in the workplace, and the removal of Roger E. Ailes’ name from WOUB’s newsroom after allegations of sexual assault.

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