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Sexual Harassment in Experiential Learning: A Courage to Act Research-to-Action Project

Written by: Britney De Costa

We’re excited to share Courage to Act’s latest research-to-action project: Sexual Harassment in Experiential Learning, one of the first national research studies on this issue.

The first two phases of the Courage to Act project revealed a significant gap in research addressing sexual harassment and gender-based violence (GBV) in experiential learning spaces. While there is increasing attention to workplace sexual violence, most, if not all, research on sexual harassment leaves out the population of students who are completing experiential learning opportunities such as internships, co-op, placements, and other opportunities that integrate academic and workplace learning.

Because of the power differentials between students and employers, supervisors, and instructors, along with the fact that many students rely on experiential learning opportunities to complete their education and gain meaningful employment post-graduation, these students are vulnerable to sexual harassment and GBV in the workplace. Exacerbating this is the fact that students have been deeply economically impacted by the pandemic and are facing increased pressures to gain meaningful employment. This is especially true for Indigenous, racialized, and disabled students, among other marginalized identities, and is particularly concerning considering students from these communities already experience higher rates of GBV.

Given this context, it is important that we don’t ignore the unique realities of sexual harassment and GBV in experiential learning spaces. This research is long-needed, and this need has intensified in the past couple years. The goal of this project is to produce tangible recommendations and tools that will support prevention and response efforts specific to the experiential learning context.

To achieve this goal, we’ll build on the literature review and environmental scan conducted in phase two of the Courage to Act project, and engage with stakeholders – including students and career development and experiential learning faculty and staff – to:

(1) outline existing institutional processes for responding to sexual harassment in experiential learning;

(2) define the legislative and policy context; and

(3) identify promising practices for addressing and preventing sexual harassment in experiential learning.

Using what we learn through this initial information-gathering and stakeholder engagement phase, we’ll develop policy and legislative recommendations and produce tools for practice that will support prevention and response. We’re looking forward to contributing to making experiential learning a safer pathway for students, and to bring attention to this issue.

For those who work in career development or experiential learning spaces, we invite you to join us for a Research Design Jam on Wednesday, February 9th from 1:00-2:00 PM EST. This is an opportunity to share your ideas and perspectives on what we should be looking at and who we should be engaging with to better understand and develop responses to sexual harassment in experiential learning spaces. Email britney@possibilityseeds.ca with any questions.

Stay tuned for more updates and ways to get involved!

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Suggested Citation: De Costa, B. (2022, January). Sexual Harassment in Experiential Learning: A Courage to Act Research-to-Action Project. Courage to Act. www.couragetoact.ca/blog/experiential-learning-project.

Britney De Costa

Britney De Costa (she/her) is a settler living and working in Thadinadonnih, or “the place where they built,” territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit. She is a researcher and policy analyst who holds a Master of Social Work and a Master of Laws from the University of Windsor where she learned from students, community advocates, and critical scholars who informed her approach to systemic, community-led advocacy. Britney brings experience working for poverty reduction, disability justice, and access to education, and most recently worked at the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance as staff support for student leaders advocating for safe and accessible post-secondary education in the province. She is passionate about gender justice and brings experience from her time as a student advocate educating others and raising awareness of the prevalence of gender-based violence on campuses and in the community. Her work with Courage to Act focuses on creating safer, trauma-informed complaints processes and addressing the gaps that make students vulnerable to sexual harassment in experiential or work-based learning.

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