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Recognizing Sexual Harassment

When it comes to recognizing instances of sexual harassment in the workplace, age is a fundamental factor in shaping individuals’ perceptions of interactions, according to a University of Maine sociologist.

Amy Blackstone, an associate professor of sociology and chairwoman of UMaine’s Sociology Department, found age is important because how perceptions shift over time links to several age-related processes such as maturity and historical context.

“When it comes to how we understand harassment and how we respond to it, age, maturity and experience matter,” Blackstone says. “Our study suggests that employers should consider tailoring harassment training and interventions to the specific needs and experiences of workers at different life course stages.”

Blackstone worked with Jason Houle, a UMaine alumnus who is now an assistant professor of sociology at Dartmouth College, and Christopher Uggen, a Distinguished McKnight Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, to examine how perceptions of sexual harassment at work are linked to an individual’s age, experience and historical backdrop.

The findings were documented in the article, “‘I didn’t recognize it as a bad experience until I was much older’: Age, experience, and workers’ perceptions of sexual harassment,” which was published in June in the Mid-South Sociological Association’s journal “Sociological Spectrum.”

As many as 70 percent of women and 1 in 7 men experience sexual harassment at work, according to previous findings cited in the article. To study changes in perceptions of related experiences, the researchers analyzed data from 33 women and men who were surveyed over the course of 14 years and interviewed in 2002 about their workplace experiences from adolescence into their late 20s.

Three themes emerged among participants: As adolescents, respondents perceived some of the sexualized interactions they experienced at work as fun; while participants did not define some of their early experiences as sexual harassment at the time, they do now; and participants suggested prior work experiences changed their ideas about workplace interactions and themselves as workers.

The researchers used data from interviews with 33 participants in the Youth Development Study (YDS), a longitudinal survey of 1,010 adolescents in Minnesota that began in 1988, when respondents were 14–15 years old and in ninth grade, the article states. In the 2000 administration of the survey, when respondents were 26–27 years old, they were asked if they experienced sexual harassment in jobs held during and since high school. In 2002, when respondents were 28–29 years old, the researchers interviewed 14 men and 19 women of varying races.

Looking back at jobs held during adolescence, the majority of interviewees recast some of their early workplace experiences as sexual harassment, but said flirting and other sexually charged behaviors were considered normal interactions because they were at a point in life when sociability was believed to be an important aspect of the work experience. The participants also viewed some interactions as acceptable for adolescents but inappropriate for adults, the researchers found.

While some respondents attributed their shift in perceptions to role or status changes — growing older, marriage or parenthood — others cited the importance of historical context and landmark sexual harassment cases that altered workplace policies and garnered national attention, according to the article.

Public consciousness about sexual harassment may have heightened during the time participants were in high school, the researchers suggest, as a result of high-profile events such as the 1991 televised hearings of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and the Civil Rights Act of 1991 that included amendments to Title VII that allowed for compensatory damages in cases of sex discrimination.

Interviewees reported that at least some of the sexualized interactions they experienced at work were not perceived as problematic because the interactions occurred among peers. Several participants said they enjoyed some of the workplace flirting and joking.

One participant said she and her co-workers at an an ice cream shop talked about sex because most of the workers were ‘‘at the age where people are starting to become sexually active so that’s a big deal.’’

Upon reflection, some respondents said they have redefined some experiences during adolescence as sexual harassment, and some participants — both men and women — felt they may have offended co-workers in the past, according to the researchers.

Based on the findings, the researchers suggest sexual harassment training and policies would be most effective if they were better tailored to workers at particular life stages, and further research should be considered.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

Sociology Staff Member, Alumna Featured in WVII Charlie Howard Memorial Report

Laurie Cartier, administrative specialist for the University of Maine Sociology Department, and Linda Fogg, a 2014 UMaine sociology graduate, were interviewed by WVII (Channel 7) for a report on a Charlie Howard memorial held in Bangor to mark the 30th anniversary of his death. Howard was an openly gay man who was bullied and murdered in Bangor in 1984. Fogg, who now works for Wings for Children and Families serving at-risk youth in Bangor, spoke about restorative justice. “It helps people see each other as real people,” Cartier said.

Blackstone a Guest on Virginia Talk Show

Amy Blackstone, an associate professor and chairwoman of the University of Maine’s Sociology Department, will appear with her husband Lance on Virginia’s “The Joy Sutton Show” on Sunday, July 13.

On the show, which was taped Sunday, July 6, Blackstone discusses her research on childfree adults, as well as the blog she runs with Lance titled “we’re {not} having a baby!”

“The Joy Sutton Show” is a 30-minute talk show that features life-changing stories and lifestyle segments on beauty, fashion, fitness, career and family. The show airs on WDBJ (Channel 7) in Virginia, and also streams online.

Barkan Writes Op-Ed for BDN

The Bangor Daily News published the opinion piece “Why it makes no sense to put more people in jail,” by Steve Barkan, a sociology professor at the University of Maine. Barkan also is a member of the Maine Regional Network, part of the Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week.

2014 GradExpo Winners

More than 100 presentations were made made during the 2014 Graduate Academic Exposition (GradExpo) in separate categories of four areas of competition — poster presentations, oral presentations, intermedia and fine arts exhibits, and a PechaKucha, or rapid-fire slide show event — as well as a graduate student photo contest.

About $15,000 worth of prize money was awarded at this year’s expo, including the $2,000 President’s Research Impact Award given to the graduate student and adviser who best exemplify the UMaine mission of teaching, research and outreach.

Following are the winning presentations:

More Than 100 Students to Showcase Work During GradExpo

University of Maine graduate students will showcase their research and artistic works during the Graduate Student Government’s 2014 Graduate Academic Exposition.

More than $8,000 in prizes will be awarded to participants of the GradExpo. The event will be held 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Thursday and Friday, April 3–4 in the Innovative Media Research and Commercialization (IMRC) Center on campus.

The GradExpo will feature four areas of competition — posters, oral presentations, intermedia and fine arts exhibits, and a PechaKucha, or rapid-fire slide show event. About 106 submissions are expected at this year’s event.

The poster and oral presentations will highlight the physical sciences and technology, natural sciences, humanities and social sciences. The intermedia and fine arts exhibits will include art works, projects and performances. The PechaKucha competition, open to students in all academic disciplines, invites participants to share their work in a slide show lasting under seven minutes. Unlike the other presentations, the PechaKucha talks will be judged by the audience rather than faculty reviewers.

Two new awards have been added this year, and will be presented during the awards gala, slated for 6 p.m. Friday, April 4 at the IMRC Center.

The Provost’s Innovative/Creative Teaching Award worth $500, $300 and $150 will be given to graduate students who are lead instructors of a UMaine course and use innovative and creative teaching methods. Eligible candidates will present at the expo. Jeffrey Hecker, UMaine’s executive vice president of academic affairs and provost, will designate judges to select the winners.

The UMaine Alumni Association Alum Award worth $250 will be given to a graduate student who earned their undergraduate degree at the University of Maine. Selected candidates will present their research to Alumni Association staff members who will select the winner.

Other awards will include:

Details of the expo are online. For more information or to request a disability accommodation, contact Robin Arnold, Graduate Student Government vice president, at robin.arnold@umit.maine.edu or 207.581.2398.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

Blackstone Talks About Childfree Living for WABI Report

University of Maine sociologist Amy Blackstone spoke with WABI (Channel 5) for the second part of its two-part series “Baby? Maybe?” Blackstone and her husband spoke about their reasoning and decision to not have children. Blackstone said having discussions about choosing whether to have children is important and that “every kid deserves to be wanted.” Blackstone and fellow UMaine sociologist Kim Huisman also discussed motherhood and childfree living for the first part of the series.

Blackstone, Huisman Discuss Childfree Living with WABI

In WABI’s (Channel 5) two-part series on parenthood, University of Maine sociologists Kim Huisman and Amy Blackstone discuss motherhood and childfree living. “In some cultures, motherhood is expected and if you’re not a mother then there is a stigma attached to you,” said Huisman, who teaches a course on the social construction of motherhood. Blackstone says while women have more opportunities and choices today, there is still a stigma attached to being childfree. “We definitely have a pretty narrow idea of what the ideal family is in our culture, and if you go outside that 2.5 kids and a dog and a cat and a mom and a dad, you’re probably going to experience a little bit of cultural pushback,” she said. Part II of the series, which is slated to air Tuesday, Feb. 25, features two families. One has five children younger than 7 years old and one has two people — Blackstone and her husband.

Several UMaine Faculty Co-Author Journal Article on Community Engagement

The Tamara Journal for Critical Organization Inquiry recently published an article co-authored by several University of Maine faculty members who were part of a Community Engaged Research Teaching and Service (CERTS) learning circle. In “Moving Beyond the Single Discipline: Building a Scholarship of Engagement that Permeates Higher Education,” the co-authors, led by Linda Silka, director of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and a professor in the School of Economics, and Robert Glover, an Honors preceptor of political science, use the example of the Sustainability Solutions Initiative to explore the challenges and opportunities associated with engaged scholarship that is designed to address community problems, according to co-author Amy Blackstone, an associate professor of sociology. Other co-authors include Laura Lindenfeld and Claire Sullivan, associate professors in the Department of Communication and Journalism; Karen Hutchins, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism; Catherine Elliott, an associate extension professor with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension; and Melissa Ladenheim, an adjunct assistant professor in Honors.

Watkins Mind Body Spirit Magazine Publishes Article by Markides

The winter 2013 issue of the London-based Watkins Mind Body Spirit magazine features an article written by University of Maine sociologist Kyriacos Markides. The article, based on Markides’ work, is titled “Inner River: A Pilgrimage to the Heart of Christian Spirituality.”


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