Man On The Beat: Joan Slavin, director of NU Sexual Harassment Prevention Office

Armour, Kristyn

Joan E. Slavin, who started her newest job in September, brings years of experience as an employment lawyer for three Chicago law firms. In this interview she helps navigate the intricacies of sexual harassment on campus. The website for her office is northwestern.edu/sexual-harassment/.How many sexual harassment complaints does NU receive on an annual basis?It really varies. Not all complaints of sexual harassment come to my office. Complaints by students against other students are handled by Mary Desler in Student Affairs.Are there areas of campus where these incidents happen more frequently?I would say that goes in phases. We may have a complaint out of one school or unit in one year and then none for a few years. A big part of my job is training the University community on sexual harassment prevention, and I am trying to reach all areas of the University with different training programs.What happens if false allegations are made? If a complainant intentionally made false allegations, there would be disciplinary consequences. Our office takes every allegation of harassment seriously, and conducts an investigation to find out whether improper conduct has occurred. We keep all of our investigations as confidential as we possibly can.At what point are sexual harassment complaints turned over to the police?I would turn over matters involving claims of sexual assault or threats of bodily harm to University Police.What are your most frequent complaints regarding?We see a certain number of complaints involving the misuse of electronic media, such as sending sexually explicit e-mail and viewing inappropriate computer content. We also see complaints about inappropriate sexual comments made to others or in the presence of others. Some other danger zones to watch out for are comments on personal appearance, hugging or other touching, nicknames, personal questions, off-campus conduct, and posters, pictures, jokes, etc.Where do you draw the line on complaints? Do accused students often believe they are not sexually harassing someone?Each case is unique and must be evaluated on its own merits. NU’s sexual harassment policy defines the standards for sexual harassment. Often, a respondent is shocked that his or her conduct has offended someone.