Prevention of Sexual Misconduct on University Campuses (2018-2019)


Sexual misconduct is disturbingly common in society. While it is not a new phenomenon, in recent months the issue of sexual harassment has become a part of daily conversations. The #metoo movement has given many women the courage to come forward and report sexual harassment and assault. Unfortunately, this problem is extremely common, with one in four women reporting that they suffered from harassment in some form. While these numbers are lower for men, they experience harassment and assault as well. Thus, sexual harassment and assault may be one of the most serious issues that society must confront. On university campuses, it can take different forms: between students; between students and faculty; between faculty; and between faculty or administrators and staff.

Training programs are used by virtually all organizations and workplaces; however, it appears that they fail to make a difference in reducing sexual misconduct. Little research has attempted to examine these trainings and interventions, leaving us with scant knowledge as to which training method and/or content may be effective in addressing this issue.

This Bass Connections project is a part of a larger endeavor to examine these questions and systematically test effective ways of intervening to prevent sexual harassment and assault on campus.

Project Description

This project team will focus on several factors that can potentially affect prevention of sexual harassment as well as the handling of such situations as they unfold and after they occur. These factors vary from organization-level aspects to individual-level traits and behaviors. Organizational factors such as culture and climate; policies regarding sexual harassment and their implementation; and individuals’ attitudes toward and trust (or distrust) of the system can be relevant for the prevention and treatment of the various types of sexual harassment. On the individual level, the team will examine how people’s personal characteristics are related to their behavior and reactions to sexually hostile environments or behavior, especially as bystanders and as members of the community. Many different characteristics can encourage individuals to take a stand, respond to individual misconduct and promote the elimination of such behavior on campuses and workplaces. One such characteristic is courage, which may positively influence individuals’ willingness and ability to successfully intervene in potentially harmful situations. Another characteristic is self-awareness, which can play both a positive and negative role in interventions.

The project’s goals are to summarize the problems and best practices in sexual harassment intervention and training by conducting a review of the literature and identifying current best practices; examine the potential role of courage and self-awareness in incidents of sexual harassment, as well as the ways these characteristics could be developed in individuals and incorporated into interventions including training; and to develop designs that utilize these insights.

Team members will conduct reviews of the relevant literature about scientific and practical insights regarding potential interventions and meet with scholars and practitioners. Next, they will design experiments and surveys that will empirically examine the role of various system- and individual-level factors in creating a safe environment on campus and facilitating individuals’ recognition of problematic behavior (that either involves harassment or can potentially lead to it), reporting these behaviors and intervening in such situations. Team members will collect and analyze data and communicate the results in oral and written presentations and by writing journal articles, as well as by developing issue briefs to be communicated to university administration and other organizations or HR departments.

Anticipated Outcomes

Presentations at conferences, issue briefs, publications in journals, applications for external funding, catalogue of interventions to educate and train individuals on prevention and reacting in situations of sexual harassment


Fall 2018 – Spring 2019

  • Fall 2018: Review literature on sexual harassment interventions, training and issues, courage and best practices; design experimental study and submit IRB
  • Spring 2019: Conduct research, analyze data and prepare a presentation of the results

Team Outcomes to Date

Prevention of Sexual Misconduct on University Campuses (poster by Suzanne Shanahan, Sim Sitkin, Moran Anisman-Razin, Adam Stanaland, Carolyn Bell, Elisabeth Collins, Alexandra Davis, Ryan Geitner, Carly Levi, Sonali Mehta, Nicoly Santos, presented at Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 17, 2019)

See related team, Prevention of Sexual Misconduct on University Campuses: Intervention, Implementation and Evaluation (2019-2020).

Unwanted physical contact

Team Leaders

  • Suzanne Shanahan, Kenan Institute for Ethics|Arts & Sciences-Sociology
  • Sim Sitkin, Fuqua School of Business

/graduate Team Members

  • Adam Stanaland, Psychology-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Carolyn Bell, Neuroscience (BS), Psychology (BS2)
  • Elisabeth Collins, Psychology (AB)
  • Alexandra Davis, Psychology (AB)
  • Ryan Geitner, Political Science (AB), Asian & Mid East Studies (AB2)
  • Carly Levi, Computer Science (BS)
  • Sonali Mehta, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Nicoly Santos, Psychology (BS)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Moran Anisman-Razin, Kenan Institute for Ethics