The University Scholars Programme is committed to creating an environment in which people respect each other despite differences between them, as well as feel encouraged to communicate with each other about those differences. Such an environment is one of the conditions for the building of a community.

Sexual respect is a crucial part of such an environment. Although such respect matters both inside and outside the classroom, it is especially pertinent in the residential college, where we live together and occasions for conflict can arise more frequently.

Definition of Sexual Respect

The term “sexual respect” has many meanings, but we use it here to encompass the following:

1. Respect for Others’ Sex

We expect men to respect women, and vice-versa, and we do not tolerate sexism, misogyny, or misandry. Such disrespectful attitudes and actions can constitute sex-based harassment, the derogation of a person based on her or his sex. Historically, such sex-based harassment tends to be directed towards women, but men could also be subject to it. Sex-based harassment can be manifested in persistent sexist behaviours that convey insulting and degrading attitudes:

  • making obscene sounds and gestures when a person walks past
  • staring at and commenting on others’ body parts

2. Respect for Others’ Gender

While “sex” is usually thought of as a biological category, “gender” refers to cultural and social attributes, behaviours, and roles. A biological man can behave in feminine ways, and even identify as a woman (and thus consider herself “transgender”). Likewise, a biological woman may present herself as a man — say, by choosing to dress in male clothes. More subtly, women may also choose to behave in ways that are not stereotypically “feminine” — by refusing to be “sweet and innocent,” or choosing to be decisive and determined.

We expect members of the USP community to respect each other’s choices when it comes to the way they decide to live their gender, for instance, in their preferred gender pronoun (that is, the pronoun that individuals choose to use for themselves). Actions and behaviours which exemplify disrespect or show hostility toward individuals who violate conventional gender norms can constitute gender-based harassment. Examples of gender harassment include:

  • derogatory comments or unwelcome jokes targeting a male’s perceived effeminate mannerisms or a female’s perceived “masculinity”
  • threats or aggression directed at individuals because of their gender identity

3. Respect for Others’ Sexuality

“Sexuality” often refers to sexual orientation: whether someone is hetero-, homo-, bi-, or asexual. We ask that all sexual orientations be respected. “Sexuality” can also refer to a range of sexual acts, activities, and behaviours. We likewise respect such sexual diversity. Behaviours which exhibit disrespect towards others’ sexuality can be called sexuality-based harassment. Examples include:

  • derogatory comments or unwelcome jokes against gay men and women
  • degrading gossip about others’ sexual conduct, sexual proclivities, sexual experience, sexual deficiencies or prowess, and sex lives
  • threats or aggression directed at individuals because of their sexual orientations

4. Respect for Others’ Sexual Boundaries

Each person has different boundaries about his or her sexuality, body, and other related dimensions. Since it is not always easy to ascertain another person’s boundaries, it can be difficult to respect them. Nevertheless, we expect everyone in the USP community to cultivate such respect. For instance, the residential college has a rule that members of the opposite sex are not allowed on single-sex floors between 11 pm and 8 am. This rule aims to protect residents’ sexual boundaries by maintaining an environment in which residents will not encounter members of the opposite sex on those floors at night.

Behaviours or actions which exemplify disrespect for others’ sexual boundaries can constitute sexualised harassment. Some examples of sexualised harassment include:

  • direct proposition and/or subtle pressure for unwanted sexual activity
  • unwelcome sexual advances, whether they involve physical touching or not
  • persistent and unwanted requests for dates
  • unwelcome and inappropriate letters, telephone calls, email, texts, graphics, and other communications or gifts
  • intruding into others’ rooms
  • going through and/or taking others’ intimate items (e.g. underwear) without permission
  • voyeurism, or spying on others when they are engaging in intimate behaviours, including showering and undressing
  • molest, indecent exposure, and rape

5. Summary

“Sexual harassment” is sometimes used as a catch-all label to refer to all four forms of disrespectful behaviour: sex-based harassment, gender-based harassment, sexuality-based harassment, and sexualised harassment. But the first three forms of harassment are usually about denigrating or insulting someone. In contrast, sexualised harassment is typically about trying to entice or coerce someone into a sexual relationship or sexual activity against one's will. Despite the difference in aims and degrees, in all cases the disrespect is manifested as harassing behaviour.