Thursday, March 13, 2014

I Was Sexually Harassed at Hunter College

In 2007 I began a counseling degree at Hunter College. I was excited to share my empathy and good listening skills with others. I was quickly accepted into a work study program where I was then placed into a residential treatment facility as a vocational rehabilitation counselor.

The facility was well-known and respected in the community of substance abuse treatment. I had a supervisor at Hunter College who monitored my progress at work working with real life addicts who were recovered and looking to re-enter the workforce.

At first, things were great. I was wonderful at my job. I got along great with my office mate, Tara (also a Hunter Student) and my clients found my insight into their mental health issues valuable. I loved what I did and coming to work was a joy.

Slowly, things started to change. Tara (who was a great support to me) went out on maternity leave. I had my office to myself and my supervisor felt freer to (shall we say) be who he was. He began to make inappropriate comments to me about my wardrobe.

One day, I wore a work appropriate dress. He called me into his office.
"Can I talk to you for a second?" He asked.
"Sure." I replied, thinking nothing of it.
"Your boobs are popping out all over the place." He said to me flippantly. "You can't wear things like that to work. You'll excite the clients."
My jaw dropped. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. He felt it was appropriate and acceptable to speak his employee like that.

Similar and even more racy comments were made to me. I felt afraid to report the incident to Human Resources, because I was scared to lose my job. The job that was paying my tuition.

So I didn't say anything. I lived in fear.

One day, after being harassed continually for weeks, I finally reported it to my the head of the facility. I told him about feeling violated. He responded:
"Sometimes, when you stop using drugs, your clothes fit tighter. Maybe that's what he (my boss) is reacting to."

So the head of the facility thought I was an ex-addict and a slut. Great, I thought.

I decided I'd better report the incident to my Hunter College supervisor. One day, when I was sitting down with her, I told her about the repeated inappropriate comments. I told her I felt awful coming to work every day but didn't want to lose my placement.
"Oh, that's just the way he is," She said. "He's being playful. Don't pay attention to it."

I felt alone. My job and the university had abandoned me.

During my time at the residential facility I become pregnant. My boyfriend and I were excited. I went out on maternity leave with the plan that I would switch jobs after the three months was up.

I secured a job at an outpatient facility. I gave a few references for the facility to check. One day, I went up to Hunter College to check in with my supervisor. I was told that the rehab counseling team was meeting. I had the unfortunate timing of hearing the tail end of their meeting.
"What are we going to do about Sarah?" One of the team said.
"Bill called over and told the outpatient facility that she reported him for sexual harassment."

Bill (not my supervisor's real name) had called over to my new job and told the company that I reported him for sexual harassment.

As soon as the team exited their meeting I confronted my supervisor at Hunter:
"I just want to let you know that I heard what you said about me in the meeting."
"Shit! You weren't supposed to hear that." She replied

I felt (once again) all alone and confused.

The outpatient facility hired me anyway, but they treated me like I was a whistle blower. They were afraid of me. I was supposed to have a male supervisor, but that was quickly changed to a female one.

I was discouraged. I was heartbroken. I quit my job abruptly and dropped out of the program. I felt unsupported and let down by the university that was supposed to protect me.

Five years later, I attempted to return to the program at Hunter to finish my degree. I was told that there was a grant waiting for me. My tuition would be taken care of. All of a sudden, the university's dean informed me that my credits were expired and there was nothing he could do to help.

I explained that there were extenuating circumstances. I had been sexually harassed by my boss. He said that he was "sympathetic" to my situation but there was nothing he could do to help.

I find this whole series of events to be baffling and devastating. I went through emotional hell and upheaval during my graduate education. I should be able to finish my degree. Hunter College needs to account for what happened to me and make it right. I will not stop until I get my M.S.ed.

1 comment:

  1. They do need to account for their mistakes. That is so unprofessional on so many levels. I cannot believe that they would allow that to happen to a student! I'm sorry Sarah!


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