Washington Update

NASEM Public Summit Emphasizes Institutional Betrayal and Courage

By: Jacqueline Robinson-Hamm
Wednesday, November 4, 2020

In October, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) held the second annual Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education public summit. Sessions covered a breadth of topics focused on sexual and gender harassment and many talks and posters highlighted the themes of institutional betrayal and courage.

Institutional betrayal is the failure of institutions to respond appropriately to sexual victimization and has been shown to exacerbate trauma. Institutional abuse has compounding layers, including the betrayal of the victim by the perpetrator, the failure of the institution to protect the victim or respond proactively after abuse has occurred, and systemic level failures, including victim-blaming, stigma in the community, and disinterest from the institution.

Conversely, institutional courage is an institution’s commitment to seek the truth and engage in moral action, regardless of any potential unpleasantness, risk, and short-term costs. When present, institutional courage is associated with increased job satisfaction, trust in management, perceived gender equality, and decreased work withdrawal behaviors and intentions of leaving within one year.

Institutional courage may be promoted by:

  • Going beyond mere compliance of the law
  • Educating the institutional community, especially leadership
  • Responding well to victim disclosures and creating a trauma-informed reporting policy
  • Being accountable and apologizing
  • Cherishing whistle blowers
  • Conducting scientifically sound anonymous surveys
  • Regularly engaging in self-study
  • Being transparent about data and policies
  • Using the organization to address the societal problem
  • Committing to ongoing funding and resources for all steps

NAESM’s Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education is an ongoing effort with resources available in addition to the yearly public summit. Recorded sessions from this year’s public summit and presentation slides are available on the 2020 summit website.