A Blue Light on Construction Sites???

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—by Susan Eisenberg

We rightly like to call apprenticeship the OTHER 4-Year Degree, and point out its advantages. But we can also use the lens of college to identify what falls short.

The day after the AP story about tradeswomen came out I gave my daughter a ride to work. She’s been commenting on tradeswomen issues since she kicked me in-utero building the Westin Hotel at Copley Place in 1983. Or when, a few years later, she came with me to referral, looked up from her coloring book at the room of men and asked in a loud kindergarten voice, Where are the women? Her take-away from the AP story was that how the construction industry deals with sexual harassment and assault wouldn’t pass muster on today’s college campus. I hadn’t thought about it that way. Anyone who’s taken their high schooler on a campus tour knows that emergency phones with blue lights are everywhere. But the issue of assault is more complex and the U.S. Dept. of Education has placed dozens of colleges under investigation for possible violation of Title IX for inadequate “handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.” Campuses nationwide have organized around this issue. In the best scenarios, universities have involved activists and victims to develop better procedures.

What’s clear is that without procedures that are workable, publicized and funded, policies on a poster are just a piece of paper. People need to not only know what to do, but be prepared and responsible to act. Like we learn CPR. One issue under particular scrutiny is reporting, including the responsibility of any college employee to report any harassment or assault they’re aware of, and procedures for when the administration’s response is inadequate.

Apprenticeship programs are a wonderful hybrid of school and work, but that also makes victims of sexual violence doubly vulnerable — both their training and employment come into jeopardy. And the perpetrator is more likely to be the equivalent (at a college) of teacher or administrator, and the person to whom they can report, more likely to be that person’s friend, colleague or relative. There are a lot of challenging issues: when assault should be reported to police, how to investigate sensitively and efficiently, how to train frontline responders to intervene effectively.

This seems like an important issue for Joint Apprenticeship Committees to join with their women members to evaluate, implement, and re-evaluate. Practices under discussion at colleges can offer a useful starting point. Advice like, Just ignore that nitwit, ignores the real damage of sexual assault on a person’s training, employment, and well-being. In an industry like construction, what does zero tolerance mean in practice?

The campus demonstration slogan, Carry the Weight Together — inspired by Emma Sulkowicz and students at Columbia — sounds a lot like Solidarity.

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