Blog Posts, Uncategorized

Rethinking Institutional Action to Prevent and Address Sexual Harassment

By Terri Frasca

With the release of the Biden administration’s Final Rule on Title IX regulations in April, finding ways to prevent and address sexual harassment in higher education is likely top of mind for many senior administrators and leaders. However, it can be hard to know where to start and what innovative and promising practices exist to combat sexual harassment in institutional environments. At The National Academies’ Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education, we answer this need with a wealth of free and publicly available events, summative publications on research and practice, and descriptions of innovative work to motivate and support such efforts.

Created in April 2019, the Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment grew out of a desire among higher education institutions to collaborate and learn from each other as they worked to act on the findings and recommendations from the National Academies’ 2018 consensus report, Sexual Harassment of Women. Composed of member organizations from over 50 academic and research organizations, the Action Collaborative achieves these goals by holding public workshops and meetings to learn from experts and share lessons learned, as well as through >publications, which seek to help higher education leaders implement change at their institution. Our Member institutions also submit yearly descriptions of their efforts and novel practices that they have employed to prevent and address sexual harassment at their institutions. Some of the most interesting practices rethink our norms in higher education and have focused on improving transparency around hiring practices, addressing the vulnerability created by graduate students’ dependence on their advisors, and better protecting individuals who report sexual harassment from experiencing retaliation. Below, we introduce three practices that deans and other senior administrators can use to create a safer campus environment.

Finding Ways to Diffuse Hierarchical Power Between Graduate Students and Their Advisors

In 2021, MIT implemented their Guaranteed Transitional Support Program, which aims to reduce abuses of financial power and limit the impact of power asymmetries between Ph.D. students and their advisors by providing one semester of stipend support for students who want to change advisors. Importantly, the student does not need to provide evidence of any harassment, which can empower students, allow them to escape hostile environments, and make this funding easier to access. The student is also provided with a Transition Support Coordinator to advocate for them as they navigate finding a new advisor. You can read more about how to implement this practice in our Reducing Abuses of Power publication and listen to the Public Summit session.

Preventing the Unknowing Passing of Harassers from Institution to Institution

The Action Collaborative recently released a publication identifying ways to address the practice of “Passing the Harasser,” a phenomenon where faculty who have been accused of or found responsible for sexual misconduct quietly move on to new academic positions at other institutions of higher education without the disclosure of their behavior. The ramifications of passing the harasser include not only failing to hold harassers accountable for their actions but also reinforcing an institutional climate in which sexual harassment is perceived as tolerated. The aim of this paper is to provide institutions with an examination of the landscape of practices and the considerations for implementing procedures to prevent passing the harasser, as well as examples of how some colleges and universities are addressing specific challenges so that administrative leadership has the information they need to create policies tailored to their institution’s needs.

Protecting Individuals Who Report Sexual Harassment from Experiencing Retaliation

The Action Collaborative also recently released a publication exploring ways to prevent retaliation after reporting sexual harassment. The paper illustrates how legal protections can fall short when various types of retaliation occur and explores how institutions can creatively address retaliation with broader policies. In particular, this paper explores policies that expand on and hone institutions’ current anti-retaliation practices and engender effective communication of their response to various forms of retaliation. Institutional examples include Johns Hopkins University’s use of individualized anti-retaliation plans that seek to proactively address reporters’ concerns about retaliation.

These represent just a few examples, so we invite you to learn more by exploring our website and attending events such as our free Public Summit on October 15-16th, 2024. If you and your institution are interested in becoming more involved and helping to lead the way in higher education, the Action Collaborative welcomes applications from institutions to join the membership each year in January. To learn more about getting involved with the Action Collaborative, please contact Director Frazier Benya at Together, we hope to motivate real action to address and prevent sexual harassment across higher education.


Terri Frasca is a Program Officer at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.