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Five Myths About Sexual Harassment in Experiential Learning

In the realm of experiential learning, sexual harassment remains a significant yet often misunderstood issue. Since 2022, Possibility Seeds has delved deeply into this underexplored area, engaging in research, consultations, and dialogues with hundreds of stakeholders. Through our Sexual Harassment in Experiential Learning Research-to-Action project, we’ve unearthed misconceptions that hinder understanding and pose barriers to addressing this critical problem. Let’s debunk these myths together:

Myth 1: Sexual harassment is easy to recognize.

Many believe that sexual harassment is unmistakable and evident at first glance. However, the reality is far more complex. Sexual harassment can occur in subtle, nuanced forms, making it challenging to identify and articulate, especially in the absence of standardized definitions and education. Moreover, our tendency to normalize these harmful actions leaves everyone—students, staff, faculty, and experiential learning providers—unsure whether something is “serious enough” to be sexual harassment.

Myth 2: Students will report sexual harassment.

It’s commonly assumed that students will promptly report incidents of sexual harassment. Yet, the truth reveals a different narrative: in our research, only 11.8% of students who were subjected to sexual harassment chose to report it to their institution. Various barriers, including power differentials and institutional shortcomings, deter students from reporting. In experiential learning settings, where educational progress and career prospects intertwine, many students feel obligated to opt for silence, enduring harassment rather than risking repercussions.

Myth 3: Increased care will solve this issue.

While genuine concern is pivotal, it alone cannot combat sexual harassment effectively. Beyond empathy, institutional frameworks made up of policies, protocols, and professional development are crucial. These structures mitigate harm and safeguard against institutional betrayal and staff burnout, fortifying efforts to address this pervasive issue.

Myth 4: It’s up to the institution alone to solve this issue.

Addressing sexual harassment demands collective action from various stakeholders, including post-secondary institutions, governments, and employers or experiential learning providers. Each entity has a vital role in fostering safe environments, with post-secondary institutions implementing comprehensive frameworks, governments enacting supportive legislative and policy measures, and experiential learning providers integrating awareness, prevention, and response measures into their operations. And we all need to contribute to ongoing research and dialogue, making a collective commitment to create lasting change.

Myth 5: There’s no support to address sexual harassment in experiential learning. 

Addressing sexual harassment in experiential learning can feel daunting, heavy, and hard. And up until recently, there was very little in the way of support, tools, and resources to address this issue.  

Thanks to over 500 students, staff, faculty, employers, and experiential learning providers participating in Possibility Seeds’ research-to-action project, this has changed. There is more momentum and proven strategies, resources, and tools to support post-secondary institutions, staff, students, and experiential learning providers in addressing sexual harassment in experiential learning. You can find these free, evidence-based resources at https://possibilityseeds.ca/experiential-learning-project/. You can also contact us to support the implementation of these resources at your institution – we’d love to hear from you.   

You are not alone in championing student safety in all aspects of their learning and working environments. We’re honoured to be doing this work alongside you. 

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