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policy on sexual, racial, and other discriminatory harassment

The American Society for Environmental History seeks to build an inclusive, welcoming, supportive, and diverse community of scholars and professionals. As a community of scholars, ASEH is dedicated to a free, open, and vigorous exchange of ideas.  

We deplore harassment, ad hominem attacks, and the harm suffered by individuals and our community when persons rather than ideas become targets.  Harassment damages the ASEH community by discouraging participation in our organization and by compromising the free exchange of ideas that is at the center of our mission as an organization.  

ASEH welcomes members from a variety of cultures, nations, educational systems, and generations, which can lead to misunderstandings.  We emphasize the role of education and conversation in helping a diverse membership develop a shared understanding of the norms that govern our professional interactions.

Scope and Definitions

This policy covers behaviors at ASEH activities, such as conferences.  While we encourage respectful behavior in all settings, we are not the appropriate body to address issues that arise outside ASEH activities. 

Discriminatory harassment generally (1) demeans individuals based on personal traits, such as race, sex, gender, age, abilities, appearance, ethnicity, citizenship, economic status, or religion; (2) is unwelcome, and (3) is repeated after a request to stop.  Harassing behaviors include negative comments about groups based on stereotypes, jokes, gestures, and dismissive or insulting modes of address.  

Sexual harassment is behavior likely to demean, humiliate, or threaten an individual or group on the basis of sex or gender.  It includes jokes about sex or gender, unwanted touching, repeated and unwelcome requests for dates, and coercive sexual activity.  Sexual harassment does not refer to occasional compliments of a socially acceptable nature nor to consensual personal and social relationships.

Racial harassment is behavior likely to intimidate, denigrate, or harm an individual or group because of their perceived ethnicity, color, or race.  

While discriminatory harassment usually means the repetition of offensive behaviors, certain actions are so clearly offensive that they constitute harassment on the first occasion.  Examples include the display of swastikas and sexual assault.  

Scholarly criticism is not discriminatory harassment.  Scholarly criticism focuses on work; discriminatory harassment focuses on personal traits.  

Scholars, educators, and activists sometimes provide examples of offensive words and images in their work, and these examples can be important to illustrate how discrimination operates.  So long as the purpose is to advance understanding, not to promote discrimination, such use is not harassment. 

Respectful Behavior Committee

The committee comprises the vice president, executive director, and an executive committee member appointed by the president.  The president may appoint a fourth member of the committee from the ASEH membership at large with an eye to diversity (especially age, ethnicity, race, and gender identification).  If committee members have a conflict of interest on a specific matter, the president has the power to replace them temporarily with another ASEH member.  

The committee’s first role is to encourage respectful behavior.  ASEH assumes that its members want to behave appropriately.  It recognizes that individuals may arrive at ASEH events with different ideas about appropriate behavior.  People of different ages and cultures may vary, for example, in their understanding of personal space.  The committee uses various means to educate the membership.  For example, it may publish advice in the newsletter and publish this policy in the conference program.  

The committee’s second role is to respond to incidents of discriminatory harassment when necessary.  The committee need not get involved in every incident.  For example, if someone observes or experiences discriminatory harassment, we encourage them to ask the perpetrator to stop.  If the perpetrator does so (and preferably apologizes), the committee usually does not need to take further action.  At the other extreme, anyone at an ASEH activity who witnesses or is the victim of a crime, such as sexual assault, should go directly to the police by calling 911.  

The Respectful Behavior Committee can assist those who experience discriminatory harassment at an ASEH event.  At conferences, those with complaints can contact the executive director, who is often at the registration desk and can be emailed at dspatz@aseh.net.  They can approach other committee members, who are identified at the conference by ribbon or by name in the program.  Options for responses by the committee include:

  • Acting as a supportive ear for those who wish to talk through and assess experiences.
  • Providing information about the ASEH harassment policy and procedures.
  • Speaking with the alleged harasser to clarify expectations for behavior and consequences if unacceptable behavior continues.  
  • Advising victims to report crimes to the police or to consult other professionals, such as counselors, as appropriate.
  • In extreme cases, and as a last resort, expelling a perpetrator from an event.  This decision typically would be taken after obtaining approval from the president.

 A person who has been the target of harassment may lodge a formal complaint.

  • Complaints must come from the alleged victim, be in writing, spell out what occurred, and be sent to the Respectful Behavior Committee through the Executive Director within 45 days of the incident.
  • The written complaint must go to the alleged perpetrator, who has a chance to respond, in writing, within 45 days of receiving the complaint.
  • The Respectful Behavior Committee evaluates the documents and responds in writing to the complainant and the alleged perpetrator.  The committee may decide to take no action, or it may forward the complaint to the Executive Committee with a recommendation for action.  
  • The Executive Committee is responsible for any decisions involving penalties, such as future exclusion from meetings.  

Once a year, Review Committee submits an anonymized report to the Executive Committee about its work. The report includes a list of education efforts, the number and types of complaints, and the committee’s responses.

This statement is informational and is not a contract. It does not create legally enforceable protections or obligations on the part of ASEH. It is not intended to, nor should it be used to support a cause of action, create a presumption of a breach of legal duty, or form a basis for civil liability.

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