“Straight Talk” Program Addresses Sexual Harassment and Abuse

The dialogue in media and public conversation regarding sexual harassment and abuse are effective courses of action to challenge such offensive behavior, according to panelists at a Friday, January 26th Meharry Medical College event addressing the issue.

The program, ”Straight Talk About Sexual Harassment and Abuse,” was an intimate conversation about the evolution of the culture of harassment and how Meharrians can do their part to maintain a safe work and school environment.

Aurdie Amoo-Asante, program manager at the Center for Women’s Health Research, began the conversation by discussing the evolution of policies protecting against harassment and sexual abuse. In years past, “there was little to shield women from inappropriate contact in the workplace,” she said.

The conversation about harassment and abuse must continue, said Sharon Travis, prevention specialist with the Nashville Sexual Assault Center. “We have to keep talking about it, challenging the culture and doing a better job of engaging men,” she said.

Courage to report abuse is key, said Lloyda Williamson, M.D., D.F.A.P.A., chair and professor of psychiatry at Meharry. “The issues don’t stop on their own. They have to be reported,” she said.

Mark C. Smith, assistant vice president of human resources at Meharry, reiterated the policies and procedures Meharry has in place to protect its students and employees. There are numerous avenues to safely report instances of harassment and abuse, he said. “We want to protect those who come forward. There is a hotline that can be reached (888.695.1534) and you can also report to myself or Ayanna Moore in Human Resources,” Smith said.

Ronette Adams-Taylor, associate general counsel and director of corporate compliance and risk management, said, “It is our responsibility to have policies and procedures in place…the goal is to make students and employees feel comfortable enough to report abuse.”

A Meharry student on the panel, Miya Smith, talked about social media’s role in altering the culture of harassment and abuse. “Social media creates space for people to share their experiences of abuse with others,” she said. The third-year medical student also talked about the importance of refraining from normalizing abusive behaviors.

Robin Kimbrough, J.D., M.Div. chaplain and special assistant to the president on United Methodist affairs, moderated the event, posing questions and engaging the audience.

Jessica Powell, director of community affairs, closed the program by charging the students to sign a petition in commitment to standing in solidarity against sexual harassment and abuse. “There are things we can do to create a culture of safety,” she said. The petition sets forth “I will…” declarations for those who sign:

• I will be educated and aware of sexual harassment, abuse and nuances.
• I will treat all with equality, respect and dignity.
• I will listen, believe and not blame the sexually harassed or abused.
• I will intervene if I am present during, or witness circumstances that could lead to sexual harassment, assault or abuse.

CLICK HERE to sign the petition.