Culturally Sensitive Sexual Misconduct Prevention Programming for International Graduate and Professional Students


The University of Pittsburgh is home to 2,200 international graduate and professional students from 99 countries. Their diverse perspectives and experiences enrich our campus community. We in turn have a responsibility to support this distinct yet diverse constituency. Creating a supportive environment will aid recruitment and retention. The AAU Campus Climate Survey does not consider international status. The Title IX Office offers very limited resources for these students: informational and instructional materials are provided in English; the online module Bridges, mandatory for graduate students in DSAS, was not specifically designed with international students in mind.

There is limited research on the unique risks and vulnerability to sexual harassment and sexual violence international graduate students face on U.S. campuses. However, extant research (references available on request) suggests this group can face increased risks due to the perceived vulnerability of those inexperienced with the host culture and its language, social cues, laws, and resources. Students experiencing acculturation stressors – language difficulties, cultural and academic adaptation, homesickness – may be more socially isolated and hence at greater risk of victimization, including of relationship violence and harassment by faculty and peers. They may be less likely to seek help, too. Racial discrimination and feelings of inferiority, reported disproportionately by graduate students of color (e.g. Asia, Latin America, Middle East), can further heighten risk. Students operating with different or vague understandings of consent are at greater risk of abuse. The wide variance of cultural perspectives on violence, rape myths, and research on victim blaming in Asian cultures add complexity. Female international students in male-dominated fields may be at higher risk of victimization of sexual misconduct especially from male peers and faculty. As University of Pittsburgh Policy 06-05-01 acknowledges, sexual harassment “most often takes place where there is a power differential between the persons involved.” The more power a perpetrator has over the target of sexual abuse, the greater the negative consequences the victim experiences (NASEM, Sexual Harassment of Women, 2018). As gender and cultural norms inform the perception of power hierarchies, international students might be reluctant to report incidents for fear of retaliation, including revocation of visa where funding is tied to (often male) advisors. International students can also face distinctive vulnerabilities with regard to committing sexual misconduct if they misperceive sexual intent or struggle to navigate gender norms.

Universities thus face particular challenges and a responsibility to educate international students in culturally sensitive ways on sexual misconduct, their rights, and resources. Enhancing prevention education, communication, and awareness in our cosmopolitan campus community, we will leverage the expertise of multiple stakeholders to (1) make extant informational materials and reporting and support systems more accessible as international students engage terminology and concepts around sexual mis/conduct, develop awareness of U.S. cultural norms, policies, and laws, and operate with culturally contingent help-seeking behaviors; (2) research priority needs and design and implement new culturally-sensitive training; (3) raise awareness around pertinent issues and resources.

Principal Investigator 

Holger Hoock
Co-Principal Investigator
Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, Dean's Office

Mary Besterfield-Sacre 
Co-Principal Investigator 
Engr-Dept Chairperson's Office, SSOE

Adam Lee 
Co-Principal Investigator 
Office of the Dean, SCI

Select Collaborator

Anthony Verardi 
Team Member 
President, A&S GSO 


Goal Area