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K.C. Wagner

K.C. Wagner speaks to a staff member after a forum on workplace harassment.

This year, Teachers College has begun giving employees more direct education on the legal and ethical responsibilities surrounding workplace harassment, offering a two-hour training session titled "Promoting Mutual Respect and Preventing Workplace Harassment." The session is led by K.C. Wagner, Director of Workplace Issues at the Cornell School of Labor Relations.

The program has been overseen by TC's Office of the President, Diversity and Community and its director, Janice Robinson, but it grew out of the discussions among a committee of administration and staff, including Interim Dean William Baldwin; Jim Mitchell, Director of the Office of Residential Services; Robinson; TC Ombudsperson Erwin Flaxman; Academic Computing's Stacey Thomas; Curriculum and Teaching's Michelle Hill; Julie Cohn, Manager, Human Resources; Hank Perkowski, Associate Vice President and Controller; and Diana Noriega, Program Coordinator in the President's Office of Diversity and Community. The program is a continuation of work that led to training sessions on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Robinson believes that workplace education efforts must address harassment. "We want to empower people to make sure their environment is a good one," she says.

The committee decided to make the sessions about harassment in general, and not just sexual harassment, "because those were the needs of the community," Robinson says. "In addition to issues of sexual harassment, people had been taking about gender discrimination, as well as racial and other bias activities that were going on. We decided to find a trainer with the expertise to combine all of that in a single curriculum."

They found that in Wagner, a 24-year veteran of promoting inclusiveness in the workplace. The Office of Diversity and Community worked with Wagner to develop TC-specific background and scenarios to use in the session.
Robinson hopes the seminars give all members of TC's faculty and staff a fresh perspective. "It's important that supervisors know they have an additional responsibility to ensure their unit is free from harassment, and it's important that everyone realize that it's not just upper management's responsibility to create a harassment-free workplace. Everyone has a responsibility to participate."

Flaxman hopes the sessions give people the confidence to raise complaints about harassment without fear of reprisal. "Do they feel comfortable in initiating a complaint? Do they feel protected enough in the process? Do they feel that action would be taken, and would they have assurance that the situation would not be repeated?" he asks. "These are things we must ensure."

He believes that the seminar will shed light on aspects of harassment that people hadn't considered before. "For example, the distinction between intent and behavior is surprising to people. They say -'I didn't intend to do that,' but legally it's the outcome of the action that matters."

Robinson says evaluations from the sessions have contained very positive feedback, "which is kind of astounding for a mandatory training."

The committee is now preparing for how to build on these seminars. Robinson sees Web-based training in the future for existing employees, with required participation in on-site training for new employees. The Human Resources Office, under Cohn, will take a larger role in these sorts of sessions in the future and is now creating a long-term strategic plan for professional development at TC.

Meanwhile, Robinson says, the sessions on harassment should "improve the way we work and improve our community. Yes, it's a little about the law, but mostly it's about how we get along together."
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