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Defining Harassment in Academic Engineering: A Study of Student, Faculty, and Staff Perceptions

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Minorities in Engineering Division Technical Session 1

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Paper Authors


Amir Hedayati Mehdiabadi University of New Mexico

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Amir Hedayati-Mehdiabadi is an assistant professor in the Organization, Information & Learning Sciences program at the University of New Mexico. Hedayati has received a Ph.D. degree in Human Resource Development from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In broad terms, his research focuses on issues of ethics and inclusion in talent and professional development. His research explores how we can enhance ethical decision-making among professionals by understanding their ethical judgment processes. He is also interested in cultivating educational environments that are inclusive and free of harassment.

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Elizabeth Moschella-Smith University of New Hampshire

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Elizabeth Moschella-Smith, Ph.D., is a Research Scientist at the University of New Hampshire’s Prevention Innovations Research Center (PIRC). She graduated with a Ph.D. in Social Psychology and a M.A. in Justice Studies from the University of New Hampshire. Dr. Moschella-Smith has over seven years of experience collecting, managing, and analyzing quantitative and qualitative data and utilizes mixed-method and longitudinal designs in her research. Her research focuses on factors that promote resiliency and growth in trauma survivors, including factors that protect against future victimization. Dr. Moschella-Smith has researched outcomes of bystander action in situations involving interpersonal violence and intervention for recipients of sexual and dating violence disclosure. Recently, she has examined prevalence rates of sexual and dating violence among college students attending two-year institutions, along with victimization rates of understudied populations, including lesbian, gay, and bisexual college students.

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Mala Htun

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In recent years, the adverse impacts of harassment on career outcomes of women and racial minorities in academic engineering have been increasingly recognized. The way individuals define harassment has important implications for designing prevention programs and the ability of the engineering community to recognize and address this issue. This paper explores how undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty and staff in engineering define harassment in response to open-ended questions. The study is based on semi-structured individual interviews from 92 participants at two research universities in the United States. To build a comprehensive understanding of harassment, content analysis was used to identify themes in participants’ responses. We also explored whether and how participants associate harassment with their own identity (e.g., gender, race). Participants recognized three overarching types of harassment: sexual (e.g., unwanted sexual attention), identity-based (e.g., race, gender), and general (i.e., neither sexual nor identity-based). Participants revealed a spectrum of behavioral indicators, including offensive language (e.g., comments, jokes), discrimination, and disrespectful behaviors. Whereas women and men perceived similar behaviors as indicators of harassment, the types of harassment were somewhat related to their social identity and status at the university (e.g., student, faculty). The implications of the findings for future research and practice are discussed.  

Hedayati Mehdiabadi, A., & Moschella-Smith, E., & Htun, M. (2022, August), Defining Harassment in Academic Engineering: A Study of Student, Faculty, and Staff Perceptions Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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