Date of Award

Fall 1997

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Barbara Houston


This dissertation addresses male to female student to student sexual harassment in public middle schools, arguing that this issue is not merely a legal one, but an educational issue with legal components which demands the attention and intervention of educators. I argue that no legal policy, regardless of how explicitly it is written, or how expertly administered, can, by itself, adequately address student to student sexual harassment. This is not a fault within the legal system: it is a recognition that the law cannot do the work of education. We need to acknowledge the complexity of sexual harassment and its location: deeply embedded in our cultural norms and beliefs about sexuality, gender and power.

I trace the development of legalistic school policies, drawing from salient case law which has recognized and defined sexual harassment, first in the adult arena of the workplace, and more recently, in school settings. I critically appraise the efficacy of the resulting school policies and find them inadequate. Such policies rest on two questionable assumptions which I refer to as the Reconfiguration Presumption and the Equal Standing Presumption.

I further argue that legalistic policies cannot recognize nor address the ethical dilemma girls experience when, from their perspective, they are asked to choose between their social relationships and the right to name sexually harassing behaviors as wrongs and to claim redress. In my discussion of this moral conflict for the girls, I employ an ethical perspective which draws from both the ethics of care and the concept of rights within relationships.

Finally, I develop and discuss an alternative approach to current school sexual harassment policies: an educative, embodied policy in which sexual harassment is addressed by educators and students within a framework of care as well as rights.