Q&A: The Gender Gap in Physics and Sexual Harassment Policy

Responses to questions submitted for our May 23 discussion on the gender gap in physics, as answered by department chair Donald Marolf, Title IX officer Ariana Alvarez, and Equal Opportunity and Discrimination Prevention (EODP) officer Ricardo Alcaíno.



1. What is the department/university policy on sexual harassment?

The university policy on sexual harassment can be found on the Title IX website. The policy states that the university does not tolerate sexual harassment, sexual violence, retaliation and other prohibited behavior identified by the policy. Details about how the university prevents, corrects, and responds to sexual harassment and the confidentiality of filing a complaint may be found on the website.

The department does not have a separate policy on sexual harassment, but does have a policy on harassment and hazing more generally, which can be found here. To deal with violations, the department 1) encourages intervention on the part of bystanders, 2) state that faculty and staff should intervene, and 3) report sexual harassment to EODP/Title IX. Reports are also incorporated into staff reviews.

On general climate issues that fall short of harassment: It is difficult to fix such issues if the chair does not know about them, so reporting to the chair is encouraged, or to someone (e.g. the graduate advisor or a faculty supervisor) who will report them to the chair. These can be reported in private, or in some cases at the quarterly meeting of graduate students with the chair.

2. What resources are available for reporting harassment and discrimination and which of these resources result in filing an official complaint? Is there a department point of contact for gender discrimination/harassment issues?

There are confidential and official reporting resources.  If you wish to keep your matter confidential, you can share the information with CARE, CAPS, ASAP, or Ombuds without triggering a University response. If you wish to report the matter to the University for a response, there are several ways you can do this. The Title IX office has recently made it possible to report an issue online. Go to the Title IX website, click on menu, and select "Filing a report." Alternatively, you can talk in person to any professor, or Title IX officer, or Judicial Affairs and the complaint will be filed with Title IX. Anyone employed by UCSB (Professor, Staff, TA, GSR, etc) is required to file an official report with Title IX if they learn of sexual harassment or sexual violence that involves a student.

3. What is currently being done by the department and by Title IX to address the gender gap and sexual harassment?

The EODP Office is currently doing a review of the cultural climate in the department, including, but not specific to, issues relating to gender. The results of their review will be presented at a faculty meeting before the end of the quarter.Claudio and Don are working to set up an energetic task force to suggest and implement a variety of changes in response to the report.  Student input will be encouraged, the exact form of which is not yet determined.

Additionally, the department is now mandating (as of January 2017) that members of faculty search committees undergo an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity and Diversity Briefing, presented by the EODP Office and the Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Academic Policy. The training is intended to help the search committee minimize the effects of implicit bias. In future years, this training will be required before the committee members have any access to the applications.

Other efforts that are aimed at improving the cultural climate for undergraduate students include: general improvement of undergraduate instruction; larger faculty to allow more sections of class; use of lecturers in some TA-like roles to further support undergraduate classes; use of undergraduate language assistants to provide extra assistance in discussion sections and to promote more active learning; continued efforts to develop a separate upper division physics study room (PSR); prominent display of Harassment and Hazing Policy in the PSR; and PSR fellow interviews with focus on monitoring this policy and relevant interventions.

There is yearly sexual harassment training for all faculty, staff, and students. The department will work to overhaul the sexual harassment training in the annual graduate student orientation.


4. What has the department done in response to the recommendations from the 2011 APS site visit on "Improving the Climate for Women in Physics"? In particular, how has the department addressed the disparity between L&S and CSS undergraduate students and the environment in the PSR?

The department now requires quarterly meetings between graduate students and the graduate student advisor (currently David Berenstein). These meetings are, in part, intended to address any climate issues for graduate students in the department.  The formation of the Grad Life Committee was also in response to the 2011 site visit, with the intention of promoting graduate student interaction and to bring forward graduate student issues to the department.

With respect to graduate admissions, the department now ensures that every application is read (as opposed to, e.g., removing those with GRE scores below some threshold).  The department also makes an effort to solicit applications from likely sources of strong candidates from underrepresented groups.

The department has done some restructuring of the undergraduate major to better balance L&S and CSS. This restructuring includes optional Phys 103 and moving the required Math methods course (Phys 101) to the Spring. The department is trying to diversify the instructors in the Phys 20 sequence and, when possible, to split 20-sequence lectures into more sections that are smaller.  Additionally, the large tables in the PSR have been broken into smaller tables to help prevent large cliques of students gathering and dominating the atmosphere within the room.

5. How can students, TAs, and faculty be more aware of situations in which women and minorities in the department are made uncomfortable? What can be done to address these situations among peers, as TAs interacting with students, and between Professors and students?

This is an unanswered question that will hopefully continue to be addressed by everyone in the department. The department cannot improve an issue it is not aware of, so people are encouraged to help the faculty become more aware of existing issues.  This can be done by talking to the physics chair, any physics faculty, reaching out to Ricardo Alcaíno to participate in the ongoing department review, or bringing the issue to a weekly Women in Physics lunch.  

Students and faculty in the department are encouraged to try to identify their implicit biases. A good resource to check your biases is to take The Implicit Association Test (IAT), which measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. It is also recommended to view a brief video entitled Immaculate Perception by UCLA's Chief Diversity Officer, Jerry Kang, which explains implicit bias. The video can also be found at the EODP website. Everyone is encouraged to speak up if s/he witnesses inappropriate behavior, either by reaching out to the target, talking to the perpetrator, or reporting the instance.  

6. What are the department’s guidelines for workplace romance? How might they be changed to improve the climate and address the gender gap?

The University does not have a specific policy in relation to workplace/academic romance; however, the University's Sexual Violence & Sexual Harassment Policy briefly addresses consensual relationships on Page 7. Some relevant passages are:  faculty-student "Whenever a faculty member is responsible for academic supervision of a student, a personal relationship between them of a romantic or sexual nature, even if consensual, is inappropriate. Any such relationship jeopardizes the integrity of the educational process." Unacceptable conduct for TAs "Entering into a romantic or sexual relationship with any student for whom a TA has academic responsibility (instructional, evaluative, or supervisory)."

"All TA's should particularly note that the assembly of the Academic Senate has formally endorsed the position that faculty members and TA's should not become romantically or sexually involved with students in their classes or under their supervision. A romantic liaison with a current student could seriously impair the educational environment, not only for the teacher and the student involved but also for the other students. Such a relationship could give rise to charges of unacceptable discrimination by the other students and could prejudice the teacher's defense in the event that charges of sexual harassment or discrimination were to arise from the relationship."

7. Are staff (nonfaculty - i.e., machine shop, cleanroom, etc.) currently required to take sexual harassment training? Are they under the purview of the physics dept?

All University employees are required to take some form of sexual violence and sexual harassment prevention and awareness training on an annual basis. The various trainings may differ in content, presentation and length, but generally, a similar message is conveyed; that is, sexual violence and sexual harassment are prohibited. The Title IX Office Coordinates most of the training in this area for all faculty, staff, and students. If someone has not completed the training, the Title IX Office would follow-up with the individual to ask that they complete the training as soon as possible. If the training is still not completed upon request, the Title IX Office may follow up with the Chair and/or Dean. Completion of annual sexual harassment training is documented annually in career staff performance evaluations. Physics department staff (e.g., machine shop) are under the purview of the physics department. The cleanroom is managed by Engineering/CNSI, but if issues are reported to Physics, the department can then pursue these issues with them.

8. What is current policy in terms of departmental history? If there is an issue, will it be forgotten about as soon as there is a new department head, or is there a system to keep track of problems over time?

The department documents in writing areas of concern. These documents are maintained in a confidential personnel folder, separate from academic, student, or staff personnel folders.

Upon receipt of any report, the Title IX Office checks its database for any history related to the involved parties and/or department. The Title IX Office retains records for seven years in accordance with the University retention schedule. If the Title IX office learns of any history involving the individuals or department, it will consider the history in its assessment of the response to the current matter.

The EODP Office keeps records for the same lengths of time and follows the same protocols as Title IX regarding complaints of discrimination.