FEATHER-LIGHT, a touch should be the least intrusive and the most inoffensive of gestures.
Yet in the recent case involving a Mandaue City instructor accused of harassing his students, the authorities may consider that, aside from cleaning classrooms and dusting books, back-to-school preparations for teachers and students should also include a refresher course on naming.
Unlike the seemingly innocuous “touch,” the French “touché” makes a point that all teachers would do well not to ignore.
In Oscar C. Pineda’s report in the June 7, 2008 issue of Sun.Star Cebu, two Mandaue City College (MCC) students filed a case of harassment against their instructor.
In their joint affidavit, the students cited six incidents when the teacher allegedly touched the breasts, embraced and kissed them, and made sexual insinuations against their will.
The teacher has denied these accusations. According to the Sun.Star report, he has presented notes written by students, clearing him of wrongdoing.
One note pointed out that “the issue is all about wrong interpretation of closeness.”
It is odd and disquieting to hear this old excuse is still part of public discourse, given that sexual harassment is more prominent than it used to be.
In the university setting particularly, there are widely circulated guidelines regulating the faculty’s one-on-one consultation with students. For instance, the policy of leaving doors open is supposed to protect both the teacher and the student from the possibility of actual and trumped-up charges of harassment.
Inappropriate conduct includes jokes, remarks or gestures that are offensive to a party. There are grounds for filing a complaint of inappropriate behavior after the accused repeats a behavior or remark after he or she has been explicitly told to stop as he or she is causing distress.
According to The Cavalier Daily, the defense of “innocent flirting” is a bit of grey area sometimes cited as a defense.
But sexual harassment guidelines explicitly state that when there is an imbalance of power, all relationships beyond the professional should be avoided. Even a consensual relationship entered by a teacher and a student is risky because, according to statistics, many harassment cases are filed after a romantic relationship grows sour between a student and a teacher.
A teacher is vulnerable to accusations that he or she has taken advantage of his or her ascendancy to either academically reward or punish a student for personal favors or slights.
So the prudent advice is for teachers to take extra precautions to avoid, at the very least, of being misinterpreted. “Avoid any apparent or actual contact,” advises www.cavalierdaily.com.
Adds William Shakespeare, “Their touch affrights me as a serpent's sting."
* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 8, 2008 issue