Ateneo community calls on admin to act on sexual harassment on campus

Bianca Velasco
Ateneo community calls on admin to act on sexual harassment on campus
Ateneo Loyola Schools Faculty Association calls for an independent review on existing investigative processes after another allegation of sexual harassment involving faculty surfaces online

MANILA, Philippines – In the wake of another allegation of sexual predation involving faculty that surfaced on Facebook, the Ateneo Loyola Schools Faculty Association (ALSFA) urged the administration to uphold a “zero-tolerance” policy against sexual harassment on Wednesday night, October 16.

Posted on ALSFA president Carmel Abao’s Facebook, the faculty association called for an independent review on existing processes in handling sexual harassment cases, saying the current system was not serving its purpose. They said the independent review must also involve revisiting all cases with the aim of learning from and improving on protocols and processes, rather than overturning the outcomes of previous cases.

Outrage was sparked over sexual harassment on campus after a Facebook post detailing a student’s experience of allegedly being touched inappropriately by a respected instructor from the university’s English department surfaced online. The student also claimed that the said English professor had harassed 4 other victims, 2 of whom were professors.

This is not the first time that Ateneo has encountered a case of sexual harassment involving faculty. In 2018, the AdMU student council filed a case with the university against a longtime male professor after a post in Facebook group “ADMU Freedom Wall” drew attention to the professor’s alleged sexual harassment.

“The recurrence of protests and the very high level of frustration reflect a systemic problem that must be immediately addressed,” they said in a statement

ALSFA acknowledged the university’s efforts to end sexual harassment on campus, especially as the faculty association pushed for the creation of a gender hub and worked with the admin in crafting the university’s gender policy. However, a rally held outside ADMU’s humanities building on Tuesday, October 15, showed that the university’s efforts are not enough and highlighted the “inadequacy of ADMU’s response to issues of sexual harassment.”

“The recent expression of outrage, however, points to the reality that the efforts have not been enough. This is the main issue: the inadequacy of ADMU’s responses to issues of sexual harassment,” they added.

The Ateneo administration acknowledged “the burden is on the university to gain the trust and confidence of the community” but it cannot divulge the details about its proceedings involving sexual harassment cases “because of confidentiality restrictions in the Data Privacy Act and the Safe Spaces Act.”

This caused frustration among members of the Ateneo community due to a system they claimed favored perpetuators. ALSFA stressed that while the university avoids discussing cases due to legal constraints, it doesn’t take into consideration the right of the community to know the progress of these cases.

“While the university should comply with pertinent laws, it should also resist approaching compliance as the end-all and be-all. Sexual harassment amongst faculty is not only about criminal liability; it is also about fitness to teach and the judicious use of power. The task of the university is to foster a culture that rejects sexual harassment and gender-based violence,” ALSFA said.

Ateneo has been criticized for the supposed “lack” of updates on reports about several professors who allegedly committed sexual harassment. (READ: Ateneo on Safe Spaces Act: Be specific about school responsibilities)

The association remained firm against publicly naming perpetrators and victims. They stressed that sexual harassment can happen to anyone and associating harassment with particular departments or schools will not be beneficial. 

Students against sexual harassment

Online, the Ateneo community echoed their disappointment on the progress of sexual harassment cases within the university. Over 1,100 alumni signed a statement calling for an end to sexual harassment on campus. Senator Risa Hontiveros, a graduate of the university, was among those who signed the statement.

It called allegations made online “a reasonable avenue for persons in distress in light of the power imbalance between students and teachers—or even junior faculty and tenured faculty—and the current opaqueness and inaccessibility of the grievance procedure.”

The statement also gave the university administration suggestions on how to be more transparent about their investigations into sexual harassment. It said that “the composition of the assigned Committees on Decorum and Investigation (CODI) tasked with investigating these cases must be made public,” as the present “opaqueness”of the composition contributes to lack of accountability among decision-makers.

The signatories also called for more specific penalties for specific actions. 

Sanggunian ng mga Paaralang Loyola ng Ateneo de Manila, the university’s student council, similarly pointed out that the current system failed to create a safe environment for its students due to numerous sexual harassment cases against the university’s faculty members.

“We trust, time and time again, in a system that is supposed to protect the student body from these abuses, but we see our hopes being shattered by menial punishments and the administration’s short term memory loss,” they said.

Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan Katipunan (SPARK – Katipunan) shared the same sentiments on the university’s current environment. The group emphasized that failing to adequately punish sexual perpetrators creates a dangerous environment for its students and employees. 

“Justice delayed is justice denied. There can be no ‘safe spaces’ in an environment that denies justice, in an environment where the abused who voice out are not listened to,” they emphasized.

Despite the administration’s claims that students and employees are safe from sexual harassment, SPARK-Katipunan asserted that predators remain “dispersed across various departments and continue to victimize students to this day.”

They added that students have tried to work within the system in place but were met by “continuing leniency and lack of transparency.”

Ateneo Association of Communication Majors (Ateneo ACOMM) emphasized that accountability is needed in tackling sexual harassment cases. They highlighted that sexual harassment should not happen to anyone in the university.

“Ateneo should be a safe space for students and faculty alike, yet predators are walking on campus grounds, not being held liable for their actions,” they wrote.

Council of Organizations in the Ateneo (COA) encouraged student organizations to adopt necessary measures to protect their members from sexual assault. They stressed that creating a safe space can start within their respective organizations.

“We stand in solidarity with all victims coming forward with their stories, and encourage all organizations to create safe spaces within them to encourage and empower their members to report any cases of sexual abuse and misconduct,” they said in a statement.

Current and former graduate students of ADMU’s Department of Philosophy, as well, expressed their support for sexual harassment victims. They called on other members of the ADMU community to be in solidarity with these victims, and add their voice to the call of accountability and justice.

“If Ateneo is truly committed to the pursuit of social justice, it needs to confront the hard truth: the campus is unsafe, the processes have failed us, and the university is complicit,” they said.

Several members of the Ateneo community also expressed their frustrations by changing their Facebook profile pictures and cover photos to a picture saying “Ateneo protects sexual predators” to underscore how the current system within the university favors perpetrators.

The Ateneo administration gave assurances on Wednesday, October 16, that the university has measures to protect students and employees from sexual harassment, and to ensure due process for all parties involved.

Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin, SJ shared in a statement that the university is crafting an anti-sexual harassment manual that expands the definition of sexual harassment in the workplace and education setting.   with a report from Janella Paris/Rappler.com

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