Attending a required workshop on sexual harassment prevention, the faculty and staff members enter guardedly, not quite knowing what to expect. Many warily sit in the back of the room. But this “Life Theatre” workshop engages them with something out of the ordinary.
Four actors greet the audience, explain UC Irvine’s sexual harassment policies and begin a scene dramatizing the workplace interactions of three assistant professors. One professor tells another about a relationship she had with a third colleague at work. Although she ended the relationship soon after it started, he continues to pursue her.
As the scenes play out, the actors reveal the multilayered issues that can arise from sexual harassment and how those dynamics affect the work environment. The audience is hooked.
“I told my wife I didn’t want to go,” admits one attendee afterward. “But if it’s as good as this, I want to go every year.”
The innovative workshop was the brainchild of Kirsten Quanbeck, assistant executive vice chancellor and director of the Office of Equal Opportunity & Diversity. OEOD is responsible for the university’s efforts to prevent discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment, and promote the principles of equal opportunity and diversity.
“We help people help themselves and resolve situations that make them feel unhappy or uncomfortable,” Quanbeck says. “‘Compliance through compassion’ is our motto.”
OEOD offers programs and resources for all segments of the UCI community, including complaint-resolution; nondiscrimination and sexual harassment prevention education, diversity workshops; and equal employment compliance that promotes fairness in hiring.
With a master of higher education administration and a doctorate in law, Quanbeck is exceptionally qualified to direct the office’s wide-ranging initiatives. She seeks to solve problems before they become serious.
“If anyone has a complaint, this is the place to come,” she says. “We are very creative in resolving issues.”
For Quanbeck, the most rewarding aspect of her work is helping a wide cross section of the community, from student to professor to administrator to coach.
“I believe the office makes a difference, and that motivates me,” she says. “A work environment that is free of harassment and discrimination allows people to do the good work they are meant to do.”