Sexual harassment victim speaks out

BY JEREMY BERKOWITZ
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 11, 2002

As a precursor for a trial involving the University that begins Monday in Washtenaw County Circuit Court, the Defend Affirmative Action Party and the Institute for Research on Woman and Gender sponsored a sexual harassment forum in the Michigan Union last night.

Paul Wong
Former music student Maureen Johnson stands outside of the Michigan Union yesterday after speaking at a sexual harassment forum. Johnson has a harassment lawsuit against the University which goes to trial Monday. (JESSICA YURASEK/Daily)

"I think it's important for people to feel that they can fight sexism," LSA junior and DAAP member Katie Stenvig said, adding that she feels it is critical that "women feel like they can come forward with these sorts of things."

The forum's primary speaker was former Musicstudent Maureen Johnson. Johnson is suing the University and former Music School Dean Paul Boylan, claiming that she was harassed by former visiting Music Prof. Pier Calabria when she was a student during the 1997-1998 academic school year. Johnson filed her lawsuit in March 1999 and after three years of delays and discovery, Judge Melinda Morris rejected the defendant's motion for dismissal last month.

DAAP is playing a strong role in encouraging students to attend the trial Monday to support Johnson.

"Sex harassment is a pervasive element of women's experiences in school and poses a major barrier to educational equality for women," DAAP said in a written statement.

Johnson also feels this hearing is about resolving a part of her life which was damaged.

"There's also a part that wants justice for myself," she said.

Johnson said that when she was in Calabria's orchestra, he repeatedly made advances and offensive remarks to her and other students. When Johnson refused to accept his advances and then later issued a complaint, she said he retaliated - demoting her first-chair oboe position in his orchestra and publicly humiliating her. Johnson said after filing a complaint and being lead on a "bureaucratic runaround" by many University officials, Johnson withdrew from the University in the middle of her first year of graduate studies. Miranda Massie, Johnson's attorney, said Calabria was known to have made advances at students before Johnson complained and blames Boylan and the University Board of Regents for not taking action.

"We lay the responsibility and the blame at the doorsteps of Dean Boylan and the regents," Massie said. "They had a thousand different opportunities to handle the situation."

Massie also said she feels it is important for people "to recognize that sexual harassment is a matter of fundamental equality rather than respect." She added that the ramifications of sexual harassment are a distraction from a work or school environment and a feeling of inferiority among women.

"If an environment is hostile, you can't focus on the work at hand," Massie said. "Women are expected to play a role of sexual gratification in respect to man."

University of Michigan at Dearborn behavioral sciences Prof. James Gruber, a sexual harassment expert, said students in the United States and other countries say sexual harassment usually occurs in an environment where there is a sense of gender inequality in the workplace. In a university environment, a higher percentage of tenured professorships and administrative positions held by men breeds a better chance for sexual harassment to occur. He referred to Finland, which has one of the largest gender equalities in workplaces in the world and very low levels of sexual harassment.

"When you battle gender inequality, all sorts of things fall into place - one being lower levels of sexual harassment," Gruber said.

LSA sophomore and DAAP member Agnes Aleobua said there needs to be more of a focus toward combating sexual harassment at the University. She claims there has been a rise in sexism at the University over the past year with several rape allegations and the many peeping tom incidents in residence halls. She also said there needs to be a bigger role for students in investigating these cases and fighting the administration who sometimes show a bias toward professors.

"The interest of students is different from the interests of the administrator," Aleobua said.