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From the Field: “Hazed” Tells Her Story of Harassment

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Today I’m going to share something different with you all. Because of this blog, I get a lot of email and contact with women who have stories to tell about their experiences in science. I have heard enough of these by now, stories of harassment and assault, of belittling and being passed over, of subtle and overt sexism, that I feel it’s time to share some of them. What I’ve noticed from these stories is that some individuals, when doing field research in foreign countries, behave in ways that would be considered morally repugnant at home. My hope is that if more people see the reality of these stories, we can work towards solutions around better community monitoring, speaking up, and institutional change.

Deciding to share one’s story is a brave, and in some cases dangerous act. Therefore, in the story you are about to read, the author and I decided to change a few details to protect her anonymity.

* * *

When I began to experience sexual harassment as a graduate student, I felt I was being hazed. As one of few female students in a male-dominated field, I assumed my professor wanted to see how tough I was.  I must say, I rose to the challenge.  I laughed off his and other male students’ sexualized banter and came back with insults of my own in an attempt to fit in.  I was a young, enthusiastic researcher and I wanted to be accepted. I interacted with my professor and male colleagues informally, not realizing how badly it could backfire. As time passed I became a target, rather than a participant in the joking.

In moments of discomfort, I kept my feelings to myself.  At our research site in a foreign country, my professor and the male students often made lewd comments about the local women.  One day early in my training, my professor took us on a tour of a rural town.  We came across a friendly young pregnant woman and her husband.  My professor chatted with the couple in their language then turned to me. In English, he commented approvingly upon the woman’s breasts.  Her husband realized what he was saying and ordered his wife to cover up.  The young woman quickly drew her shawl across her chest, eyes cast to the ground. My professor seemed unconcerned about the humiliation he caused them. I was put off by his lack of respect, but I said nothing.  The incident has nagged at me for years.

My professor often joked that only pretty women were allowed to work for him, which led me to wonder if my intellect and skills had ever mattered. He asked very personal questions about my romantic life, often in the presence of the male students. His inappropriate behavior was a model for them, making it not only acceptable, but the norm. My body and my sexuality were openly discussed by my professor and the male students. Comments ensued about the large size of my breasts and there was speculation about my sexual history. There were jokes about selling me as a prostitute on the local market. Once I mentioned that I admired a senior female scientist and they began describing scenarios in which she and I would have sex. Pornographic photos appeared daily in my private workspace. What started out as seemingly harmless joking spiraled out of control. I felt marginalized and under attack, and my work performance suffered as a result.

Often, I was left with a pile of work at night while my professor and his male students went out to bars.  They enjoyed the attention of local women, who were attracted to their wealth and prestige as foreigners. Many of my co-workers engaged in affairs with local women. On the other hand, I received unwanted attention if I went out unaccompanied. Local men would follow me down the street, making catcalls, sometimes groping me.  Foreign women were often treated that way.  Because of this, I became increasingly reliant on the men I worked with, though I felt nearly as unsafe at work as I did in the streets.

By the time the harassment got out of control, it was too late for me to back out. I had spent too many years immersed in the research to walk away and start over.  So I modified my own behavior, hoping things might change. I dressed as modestly as possible to avoid drawing attention to my body, but the sexual comments continued. I tried dating one of the male students, thinking that if I had a boyfriend I would be protected. But the romance fizzled, leaving me more vulnerable to humiliation than before. I also tried working twice as hard as everyone else, but my professor never noticed.

I finally confronted my professor, out of desperation rather than courage. It didn’t go very well. He told me that I was oversensitive and that I kept talking like that he’d fire me. And for many reasons, mainly shattered self-esteem, I stayed. The most blatant sexual jokes and comments stopped.  My professor curbed his comments out of fear of the consequences. But our relationship deteriorated so much after that conversation that he eventually revoked his promise to fund me through graduate school.

In the early days of my research I knew nothing of academic life. I didn’t realize that many research projects are run like pyramid schemes, with rigid status hierarchies, ruthless competition, the exploitation of students and objectification of women.  I realized too late the extent of the strings attached to the funding my professor had promised. My education was compromised for no reason other than my femaleness.

When a professor makes the commitment to mentor a student, the student’s professional future is in their hands. This should never be taken lightly, and in the case of male professors and female students, it is crucial to maintain ethical boundaries. Women students at foreign research sites are particularly disempowered, being far from family and other support networks. This is the kind of setting in which the power imbalance between student and professor can be exploited.

I have read about sexual harassment lawsuits underway at Yale University.  Some of the stories are eerily similar to mine. We start with a young, enthusiastic, intelligent woman.  A male professor takes an intellectual interest in her, takes her under his wing, gives her a job and training.  When the inappropriate comments start, she feels uncomfortable, but says nothing. She feels indebted to the professor, and he has promised to guide her to a successful career.  She becomes deeply engaged in and committed to the research, but the professor continues to pester and demean her.  She feels increasingly insecure, and she must decide whether to confront her harasser or leave the research she loves. She has to pay a price, simply for being a woman.

Someone always asks, “Why didn’t she just leave?” Well, she might not leave because she is funded, and there aren’t many other opportunities. She may be too committed to the research.  She could be years into a graduate program, and changing professors would slow her progress to graduation substantially.  Potential new professors will want to know why she left, and it will be difficult to answer.  Others in her field will think she is an unreliable scholar for switching horses midstream. Her professor may refuse to give her a recommendation, limiting her options. She knows her life and her choices will become subject to public scrutiny. She knows that some would say that she was “asking for it.”  Finally, she knows that there is a lot to be lost from standing up to an abusive professor.

What can we do about this? Individual responsibility is fundamental, and many women do set boundaries and investigate potential graduate programs for any history of sexual harassment.  I wish I had thought of that. But it is not enough to place all responsibility on the would-be victims.  Women students deserve to have the same learning options that male students do. In this day and age women should not have to forego certain educational opportunities out of fear of being demoralized, harassed or abused. Universities must hold their professors accountable for their actions.  There must be a safe place for women to present their concerns about harassment without having to risk their futures. I also believe that professors with a record of harassment should be ineligible for research funding until they demonstrate a commitment to professional conduct.

I managed to graduate and have a great job doing research I love, but I bet a lot of women in these situations don’t.  Fortunately I have discovered a community of brilliant, outspoken and supportive female scientists.  If I’d had role models like them as a graduate student, things would have been very different.

To the women who have had experiences similar to mine, I hope you are healing, and I hope you consider sharing your story. And to any women who are currently in such a situation, you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out for support.  As I’ve learned the hard way, women in academia really need to look out for each other.

Kate Clancy About the Author: Dr. Kate Clancy is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois. She studies the evolutionary medicine of women’s reproductive physiology, and blogs about her field, the evolution of human behavior and issues for women in science. Find her comment policy here. Follow on Twitter @KateClancy.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Anne Jefferson 9:30 am 01/30/2012

    Thank you for sharing your story, Hazed.

    I hope that Kate and I and the many many other professors who find such behavior repugnant and totally unacceptable can be good allies and help students like yourself find a safe place, support, and help in stopping such behavior without destroying the student’s career. But, to all those who consider ourselves allies, how do we make our presence and willingess to help known to students trapped in bad situations? And how do we help students isolated by working in remote or overseas locations?

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  2. 2. scicurious 9:53 am 01/30/2012

    I’m so glad this person shared their story, their experiences mirror some of my own when I was younger. The more we expose this kind of activity, the better we are able to stand up to it.

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  3. 3. Paleoecologist 10:32 am 01/30/2012

    Thank you, Hazed, for sharing your story. I agree that it’s common for people to simply say, “why didn’t you leave?” when in reality, these experiences so often start out with small, subtle warning signs like you’ve described. Sharing stories like this one goes a long way to explaining why even the initial, seemingly benign stages of jokes and off-color comments should be seen as warning signs, and are not okay.

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  4. 4. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 10:39 am 01/30/2012

    Anne, you ask such important questions, and I’m not sure I have even the beginnings of an answer. I think if we know of something happening, we should let that student know we know, and at minimum tell them we are here to support them.

    The other thing that PIs need to do, is that if we know a field site has these problems, we 1) should never send our students there and 2) we should not collaborate with those PIs. I know of field sites where this kind of behavior is known, and the PI still sends students. That’s what I find appalling — that someone would know, and put their student at risk anyway, all in the name of a good dataset.

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  5. 5. Mammals Suck... Milk! 10:39 am 01/30/2012

    I think having the conversation is the first step. We can empower our undergraduates before they go to grad school. We can start the conversations with incoming cohorts of grad students so they know they have people to turn to. We can bring these issues up in informal conversations with our colleagues. And even though DHS trademarked the slogan (seriously!), I’m stealing it “If you see something, say something.”

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  6. 6. kristilewton 11:05 am 01/30/2012

    Hazed, thanks for sharing this personal story. Like the other commenters, I also think that sharing these stories is an important first step to decreasing the prevalence of these experiences, in that students can (and should) be “warned away” from PIs with a known past of harassment. But like they say about crimes, it is not the job of the victims of crimes to prevent them (ie, from removing oneself from the situation). The criminals must stop. So how do we get the harassers to stop their behavior? Ineligibility for funding could be a good step, as Hazed suggests, although this is a consequence that would need to stem from institutional policies.

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  7. 7. whosyourboi 11:29 am 01/30/2012

    I can’t help but feel that some of the responsability for you situation getting so out of hand lies with the other (male) grad students. They had the ability to support you and even provide evidence against your professor. How are things ever meant to change if this generation are just as bad as the one before?

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  8. 8. tbrock 12:23 pm 01/30/2012

    Thank you for speaking out with your story. I appreciate your courage to do so.

    I am a graduate student and a man, and I know many of my female graduate students have encountered similar situations: as a man it is frustrating for a number of reasons. The first is that it is a terrible thing, and I can tell that it has a detrimental effect on their lives, let alone their research and careers. Second, is that it is a terribly frustrating element of academia for men who are NOT doucheclowns. Men who engage in harassment hurt my reputation as a student and a scholar because I’m a man in a male dominated field. They hurt my discipline because they make it an unsafe place for half the population to participate, and discourage the best and brightest to enter my field. And, most importantly, they hurt women. Period.

    I have some professional experience in working in sexual assault and relationship violence prevention programming with college students, and there are a couple things I have learned from working with men on these topics: first, most men are pretty swell dudes, and don’t engage in this behavior (although, as this post points out, it can be contagious, particularly when it’s perpetuated by someone with power). Second, those men, typically, are under the belief that sexual harassment is a “woman’s issue” and that men aren’t welcome in being a part of the solution. Of course, it’s not a woman’s issue: it’s a social issue, and men play a critical role in making sure it stops.

    The final paragraph in this post makes a call to women to share their stories and be vocal: I’d like to expand that call to men. Be vocal about your displeasure that our female colleagues don’t find research labs, classrooms, or offices safe. Be vocal when you hear a colleague make a sexual comment about another colleague or student. Make sure your actions are a reflection of your best self. Encourage your male colleagues to treat every woman they teach, work with, or employ the way they’d like their daughter’s teacher, colleague or boss to treat them. And, of course, lead by example.

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  9. 9. edyong209 12:25 pm 01/30/2012

    I think Kristi’s right in noting that institutional policies need to change. The sort of bottom-up support we’re seeing on this thread is clearly important for making victims of harrassment feel that they have support, but I suspect that it’ll take top-down management to effect bigger changes. For example, the bit where Hazed’s professor threatens to fire her stuck out for me. Do professors really have the power to do that? Aren’t institutional policies meant to prevent people from making good on childish threats?

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  10. 10. Glendon Mellow 12:30 pm 01/30/2012

    Like whosyourboi, I’m pretty surprised and dismayed none of the other male grad students spoke up. Makes me wonder which of my friends, or how I would react in a similar situation (feeling indebted to the professor, etc) if I saw that happening around me.

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  11. 11. tbrock 12:43 pm 01/30/2012

    whosyourboi and Glendon: I agree entirely, that the other grad students should have spoken up. But this does, in some ways, point to the power that advisors hold over their students. While some of these guys may have also been jerks, some of them may also have felt the need to conform in order to make sure they don’t lose favor. Sexual harassment is a form of claiming power, and he certainly didn’t hesitate in pulling funding from Hazed: my guess is he wouldn’t hesitate to do the same to a male grad student who spoke up. With that said, most institutions, particularly higher ed institutions, have safe and secure channels for people to go through to report these types of things (both within and outside the department). So, even if they may have been afraid to approach the faculty member directly, there are other channels to go through. Of course, this does require some knowledge about the system and what those channels are, and I doubt sexual harassment is part of any graduate program’s orientation (Although it certainly should be).

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  12. 12. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 1:10 pm 01/30/2012

    The problem, in part, is that while we have institutional policies, academics also like to think they are a very independent, individual bunch. If there are policies, folks don’t read them. And if you are famous enough, you are probably protected even if a grad student did try to sound the alarm.

    So I wonder how we make policies stick. I wonder how we arm students better before they leave the field so they are truly protected. I wonder how we do a better job speaking up about assholes. Since becoming a prof I have had no direct contact with another faculty member that has made me think I need to speak up or report that person for anything, but it happened a few times when I was a student. So I haven’t had to think about or deal with this since becoming a more “powerful” person in the hierarchy.

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  13. 13. tbrock 1:31 pm 01/30/2012

    I think that graduate students should receive some training about the grad student/advisor relationship during their first semester at graduate school. This should include conversations about sexual harassment, but also other things: it is an inherently unequal relationship, and that needs to be understood. Also, students need to know their rights and the resources that are available to them. Who can they report things to safely? How can they ensure that they won’t be negatively impacted by a report? Obviously, this empowers students in a big way, but it also puts faculty on notice. Imagine being the chair who institutes this: you’re saying “we don’t tolerate any behavior that makes any of what we’re teaching necessary”.

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  14. 14. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 1:39 pm 01/30/2012

    Yes, I like this tbrock. If this were a mandatory part of new grad student orientations in each department (rather one big meeting for new students across the university) and the head or chair was unequivocal in their support of students, this would help. And if there were more training of faculty, this would help as well. One of the most powerful experiences I’ve had as a faculty member is deciding to go to a totally voluntary LGBT Ally training. I went thinking “oh good, now I’ll be in the network and it will be all official” and left thinking “I thought I was an ally, and I wasn’t doing or modeling nearly enough.” Even folks who think they are allies usually could use specific training and awareness to make sure we think well about these issues all the time. We should have sensitivity training on sexual harassment, diversity, LGBT and trans issues, disability and access issues, and more. It’s not enough to have a policy. The faculty need to be trained whether they think they need it or not.

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  15. 15. Mammals Suck... Milk! 1:41 pm 01/30/2012

    To follow up on tbrock- I think the expectations of a mentor and the grad student/ advisor relationship should be included in faculty training.

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  16. 16. abhayes 2:50 pm 01/30/2012

    This is an important story. I would like to add that, not only do “women in academia need to look out for each other,” but men in academia need to speak up when other men do something that exclude or humiliate women. As a grad student, I would argue that many men haven’t matured enough to speak up, or even to see how harmful this is. I saw the same kind of thing as a grad student, and I didn’t realize in time that I should have spoken up.

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  17. 17. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 3:10 pm 01/30/2012

    Thank you, abhayes, and thanks to all the men who have spoken up in this thread. It’s very cool to see you all think on how we can all resolve this social issue together.

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  18. 18. abhayes 3:29 pm 01/30/2012

    Kate, do you write political stuff on any other blogs? I am trying to read more important topics and less news-fluff.

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  19. 19. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 3:31 pm 01/30/2012

    Nope, just here, but you flatter me by asking. Gotta get tenure so I need to limit my non research publication writings! :)

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  20. 20. brynnscott 4:14 pm 01/30/2012

    Might I suggest that one place to seek allies might be to contact organizations such as NOW, BPW, AAUW or the Feminist Majority or your universities Women’s Studies Dept? You don’t need to re-invent the wheel.

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  21. 21. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 4:19 pm 01/30/2012

    brynnscott, I hear you, but I wonder if contacting NOW etc wouldn’t seem overly alarmist — not because that isn’t a good idea, or doesn’t reflect the seriousness of the situation (it does) — but because of the way academic culture works. We seem to like to handle all things in-house. I don’t think this is a great idea — colleges typically handle sexual assaults in-house when they can, for instance, which I found really problematic — but I wonder if there are other ways to promote change without rocking the academic boat so hard that no one listens to us.

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  22. 22. Alex Wild 4:26 pm 01/30/2012

    My impression of male dickishness is that much of it isn’t directly intended to intimidate women, even though it has that affect. Rather, a big function of machismo is to establish a pecking order among men. Guys are trying to be more Manly than the next guy, and in a workplace this can turn into a “greatest sexist asshole” competition right quick.

    While there is no substitute for having a good institutional policy in place to prevent harassment, it certainly helps if some men in the Great Guy Pecking Order Contest step in to make sure that, however else male status is determined, being an oppressive dick is not among the accepted options.

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  23. 23. Alex Wild 4:27 pm 01/30/2012

    Ug. *effect*. Here’s hoping that spelling is not used to establish male dominance.

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  24. 24. gregdowney 5:01 pm 01/30/2012

    Sobering column and interesting comments, including the discussion of arming grad students with knowledge of harassment policy. I’m not aware of any current colleagues at my current institution who are power abusers, but I knew some when in grad school. I think people who are not in academia don’t realize just how asymmetrical the student-supervisor relationship is. Students working on their PhDs can be borderline depressed simply from the overwhelming expectations placed upon them; it’s a terribly vulnerable position to be in, and I can imagine that people interested in having power over vulnerable people might find this dimension of our professional trajectories attractive.

    But my comment is that currently, we’re hearing a lot about making the student-supervisor relationship in anthropology (like in humanities) *closer* with more interaction, more feedback, and even adopting the collaborative project approach seen in hard sciences. That is, there’s some suggestion that we need to make students and their projects MORE subordinate to their supervisor’s research agenda and scrutiny.

    When I went to grad school, cultural anthro students were pretty much on their own — I don’t think I spoke to or corresponded with my supervisor for over two years at one point. Granted, the hands-off approach likely contributed to both very slow completion and high drop out rates, but the project was the student’s, not an addendum to the supervisor’s work.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I suspect we’ll see more opportunities for abuse as the stronger master-apprentice, project leader-team member model is taken up by the more humanities-inclined dimensions of anthropology. So the need for conscientious policy is probably more pressing than ever as we may be putting more and more students into vulnerable positions.

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  25. 25. DeepSurvivor 5:08 pm 01/30/2012

    Yeah, life sucks in a hierarchy when you need to rely on others for your own survival, success, wealth and status improvement and others are in charge but don’t recognize their own dysfunction.

    If you look at those who climb out of the depths to the top you’ll see mostly males, but if you look at the bottom you’ll see far more males. The abuses here are socially acceptable because society accepts class issues as normal. The problem with parsing by gender is that it misses the bigger picture.

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  26. 26. DeepSurvivor 5:12 pm 01/30/2012

    So, I encourage the author and the readers here to consider that the narrow focus here, while very real in terms of being unfair and unacceptable, is only one type of ridiculous symptom of a bigger systemic disease. Turning power and class issues into solely gender issues is not the scientific way to approach this.

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  27. 27. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 6:16 pm 01/30/2012

    DeepSurvivor, can you say more of what you mean here? What is the bigger picture? Is there harm to sometimes talking about gender issues? I ask because of course there are many kinds of oppressions and the idea here isn’t to privilege one kind over another. But at the same time, we have to sometimes be able to talk about one of them without worrying about the Oppression Olympics. Does this resonate with you at all?

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  28. 28. DeepSurvivor 3:25 am 01/31/2012

    The problem w/ slanted anecdotal accounts- that is, the issue here is painting a selected group based on an arbitrary factor- gender in this case- in solely a negative light.

    I would also note that the storyteller uses a male for protection pretending it was actual interest.

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  29. 29. Cotesia1 9:27 am 01/31/2012

    Interesting column, and I feel for “Hazed”. I have been very lucky with my advisors (undergrad, MS, PhD), all three were different in their approach, but all made me feel comfortable within a research group. But this kind of behavior affected me indirectly. My study animal was a common pest in Africa, but I never visited the areas for which we were trying to find pest control strategies because it was just too dangerous for women. Funding was insufficient so sending multiple people was not an option either. I now have my own research group, a small one, currently just one female grad student, and we mainly do bench work.

    A male friend of mine has a large research group in Engineering. It has been his goal to have at least 1/3 of his lab be female (4-5 female students) because one of the things he has learned over the years is that females will not automatically become best friends just because they are XX, and should not be expected to. But the 1/3 ratio seems to signal to male graduate students that being a female engineer is not a novelty – making the group more cohesive.

    There is also a rule against dating in the lab (a rule that is not actually enforceable ;-) ), which may sound strange but has prevented some uncomfortable situations and has helped women speak up against unwanted advances from male lab mates.

    One of the biggest issues has been that a fair number of the female students come from other countries, mostly China. When they do their research with engineering firms they come across gender and cultural stereotypes within corporate cultures. My friend takes extra time traveling to these companies with the female students to model appropriate behavior and to signal that the student should be taken seriously and that she has things to contribute. Something he does not have to do with his male students.

    If you ask him if it is all worth it he will say yes, despite the extra work. He now enjoys the pay-off too. For him it is much easier to recruit top female grad students because he has such a good reputation.

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  30. 30. Cotesia1 9:40 am 01/31/2012

    DeepSurvivor, you write:

    “I would also note that the storyteller uses a male for protection pretending it was actual interest.”

    I assume you mean that the storyteller tried dating a male lab-mate? To me it sounded that this was a tactic of almost last resort. She is very honest in the article about why she entered into the relationship, and is not proud of it. She desperately needed to find protection, but it did not work.

    I hope that my previously posted comment also puts your mind at ease. There are some great men out there who are good advisors and colleagues. We all know men and women who are trying hard to make these “anecdotes” (as you call them) stories of the past – but for now we need to keep telling them. Here Kate Clancy focuses on gender, but there are also many stories involving race and sexual orientation that need telling too.

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  31. 31. DeepSurvivor 3:23 pm 01/31/2012

    Cotesia1, you write:

    “I assume you mean that the storyteller tried dating a male lab-mate? To me it sounded that this was a tactic of almost last resort. She is very honest in the article about why she entered into the relationship, and is not proud of it. She desperately needed to find protection, but it did not work.”

    That is a very telling paragraph- you want to side with this woman- and are willing to ascribe a character trait with the “…and is not proud of it” part you made up to make a coherent picture of who she might be (she didnt say anything to that effect). How do you know she’s not a sociopath? it is the behavior of one to use another like that. Does me pointing this out to you make you thnk twice about your own gender bias?

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  32. 32. Matthew P. 4:36 pm 01/31/2012

    Appalling and yet familiar scenario. What I’ve seen is women graduate students dismissed by senior faculty as “crazy” people, no doubt a code and a veil for all manner of failings in which faculty will accept no responsibility at all.

    Something else – the “metaphysical” status of the relationship between faculty and the graduate students who come under their mentorship and advisement is the *first thing* that the university administration will reach for when confronted by student workers who want collective bargaining. So these are different faces of the same problem and the same notion is invoked to sustain these and other forms of exploitation.

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  33. 33. Cotesia1 4:20 pm 02/1/2012


    Agreed. I should not have used “…and is not proud of it.” She may very well be proud of breaking the “do-not-you-know-what-where-you-eat”-rule as a way to feel accepted/safe in her research group.

    You suggesting that she acted like a sociopath because of entering a relationship that could benefit her both personally (she calls it a romance) and professionally does make me think twice about gender bias, but not just my own.

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  34. 34. DeepSurvivor 8:38 pm 02/1/2012

    @Cotesia- Yeah…no: I came to no hard conclusion about the sociopathic nature of the writer– but the evidence is there to warrant not excluding the likelihood thereof. I am accepting of the notion that sexism toward women abounds in academia– especially in older generation faculty where ideas about gender differed quite a bit from more recent generational attitudes. Specifically, the younger generation academics are trying to offset it with sexism towards men. But I progress.

    So what support- other than me pointing out uncomfortable things and/or merely disagreeing with you- is there for leveling a possible “You’re sexist” at me?

    The answer is ‘none at all’ -in case you’re wondering. Just another hyper-vigilant feminist calling sexism and gender inequality w/ no support & evidence.

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  35. 35. Cobaltkk 10:42 pm 02/1/2012

    Great article. Unfortunately the same problems arise in the regular job market. The biggest issue I have seen is that there are many women who encourage the bad behavior, in fact TV does it daily. And until we tackle how women are viewed in general, including by other women, you won’t change the other issues. It is very sad and the problem is getting worse.

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  36. 36. leafwarbler 12:21 pm 02/2/2012

    I wonder: is machismo and the male pecking order particularly prevalent in the fieldwork based disciplines, or do people get away with this kind of dickishness in labs on campus too? I’ve seen enough of this in my field (wildlife and ecology) to know it is a persistent problem for many women, and try to do what I can to combat it whenever it is apparent. (and yes, scicurious, I’m a DUDE!). The culture of machismo Alex points out doesn’t always make it easy for male graduate students to intervene – but that is no excuse for not stepping up in the face of such harassment as is described here by Hazed.

    Let me add my own “anecdote”: as a graduate student from another country, not entirely familiar with the systems in the US, I faced an escalating series of racially based harassment from my advisor. Like Hazed, I too was far too committed to the research, and too deep into my Ph.D. by the time it became unbearable, to withdraw from the lab. In trying to get my thesis committee, the department ombudsperson (who was also on my committee!!), and the rest of the campus’ system to intervene, I learnt some harsh lessons in how much the system is stacked against graduate students who are the lowest on the totem pole. The Ph.D. advisor-advisee relationship is a very particular one of massive power asymmetry which often leaves the student entirely at the advisor’s mercy. Departmental power politics may also mean that other committee members (even ombudspersons) may hesitate to intervene unless really pushed hard by the students. Faculty may be unwilling to antagonize a tenured colleague on behalf of a student who won’t be around either way. And it is easy, especially when one is doing an individual field project (i.e., not part of a team) in a small department where faculty expertise may be limited, for the advisor to raise questions about the quality of the work and threaten with rejection from the program. I ended up with funding withdrawn, which led to loss of visa status (a particular vulnerability for foreign students because student visas don’t allow us to work off campus, leaving us entirely at the advisor’s mercy), and long-term repercussions due to lack of recommendation letters, etc. I was fortunate to find support from some faculty (from another campus) who helped me maintain visa status, even as I pushed back as hard as I could within the system. My committee and dept. chair were eventually sufficiently convinced of the seriousness of the problem to rein in my advisor and allow me to graduate. The irony is that my advisor was never conscious of his racism and was (probably still is) convinced that he was giving me some tough love to strengthen my character and help me overcome my “cultural baggage” which was “holding me back”!

    Academia, especially at the higher-tier research institutions, rewards extreme competitiveness, even if that trait (testosterone linked?) comes bundled with all kinds of dickishness. How do we make the reward systems more supportive and nurturing of basic human decency? How can granting agencies, whose peer review systems are already burdened with too many applicants vying for dwindling funds, also take on the monitoring of sexist/racist/homophobic/other harassment? How would I, as an individual reviewer, incorporate such criteria in my review?

    There are a number of tough questions for those of us who care about basic human dignity in academia to confront. Thank you for creating the space for such discussions to occur, Kate. Long-term change will require us to work towards shifting the broader culture as well, both within and outside our campuses.

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  37. 37. scicurious 12:51 pm 02/2/2012

    I’ve noticed something from this and other recent conversations about the balance of power between trainees and PIs. Trainees see a lot about power abuses, I see many people get belittled by their bosses, suffer sexual harassment in the lab, or deal with other issues. But most PIs I know never see problems with other PIs (unless the PI in question is physically throwing chairs, which I have heard about), and I imagine this is because they aren’t on the receiving end of the power differential anymore (not to mention the fact that they probably don’t see their colleagues in the same situations, nor do they see the other lab members interacting on a day to day basis with each other). Just because PIs don’t see it in their colleagues doesn’t mean it’s not there. I think education on trainee/faculty relationships for both trainees and faculty would help a lot in letting people know what kind of a relationship is expected and what is not. I definitely never got anything like that at any stage of training.

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  38. 38. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 2:01 pm 02/2/2012

    Sci, I think you make an important point. I really don’t see any abuses of grad students since I became faculty. This isn’t because it isn’t happening — although I honestly would contend that the bio anth folks in my department, at least, are pretty extraordinary and self-aware and certainly work hard to be non-oppressive — but because I’m now faculty. What student would come up to me and tell me their story? Because of my status as a blogger, I’ve had a few, which is why I’m starting this new “from the field” series. But my status as faculty means I am not in the field at others’ field sites, I’m not in others’ labs. I can only say what’s happening in my field and lab.

    This is why big parts of the answer to this problem are mandatory sensitivity training for all faculty and students, and a clear and strong anti-harassment stance from each university.

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  39. 39. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 2:03 pm 02/2/2012

    leafwarbler, I’m so glad you bring this up. This is yet another layer of the asymmetry. When I was a grad union organizer harassment of international students was one of the biggest issues we dealt with. And I never felt like we were able to do enough because the university wasn’t really committed to fixing the problem at all.

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  40. 40. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 2:04 pm 02/2/2012

    I think DeepSurvivor is doing a great job of outing himself as a sexist without Cotesia, or the rest of us, really having to say anything at all.

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  41. 41. DeepSurvivor 5:09 pm 02/2/2012

    @Kate- yeah gtfo. Evidence and logic are preferred to preschool antics.

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  42. 42. AVeile 4:23 pm 02/3/2012

    When I began my current postdoctoral position, I received a letter from the chair of the department stating explicitly what my duties were; how many hours a week I would spend engaged in different activities, how much time I could spend on my own research and how much I was expected to spend working for my advisor. I feel protected by it. I agreed to those terms when I accepted the position, and if I ever started to feel exploited I could always refer to it.

    It seems like a mechanism like this could serve to protect graduate students who are enlisted to work for professors. Being employed by someone who is also your academic advisor can be incredibly disempowering, as we see in the situation with Hazed and with leafwarbler as well. Having an agreed upon set of working conditions from the beginning would be useful in clarifying mutual expectations and protecting vulnerable students from exploitation and abuse.

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  43. 43. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 5:33 pm 02/3/2012

    I agree, DeepSurvivor. Which is why it would be great if you could demonstrate evidence or logic to support your claims.

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  44. 44. DeepSurvivor 6:41 pm 02/4/2012

    @Kate- which claims? should we go to another forum if you’d like to go off-topic?

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  45. 45. masshistoria 10:00 pm 02/4/2012

    @DeepSurvivor – you claim in your initial comment that the author (Hazed) exhibits a “…narrow focus here,” which “…is only one type of ridiculous symptom of a bigger systemic disease. Turning power and class issues into solely gender issues is not the scientific way to approach this.” Neither Hazed or anyone else here is trying to reduce “power and class” to gender or to deny that other components of identity come into play when those in possession of a great deal of power (in this case PIs) abuse it. Since we’re clarifying claims, I’d like to see you clarify: “the younger generation academics are trying to offset it [sexism against women] with sexism towards men.”

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  46. 46. ejwillingham 8:44 pm 02/5/2012

    Concern troll aside, I wanted to comment about what Leafwarbler noted/asked. My lab experience has included some field work, but it was with an all-woman group, so we didn’t have the harassment aspect within our group. What we experienced instead, out in the middle of the southwestern desert, was harassment from locals and from law enforcement. I’ve not quite ever felt as isolated and vulnerable as I have standing in the middle of that desert with two other women, watching some stranger approach while the three of us stood there, armed only with nets to capture lizards, maybe a knife or two.

    I have to say that the only sexual harassment I ever witnessed in any lab I’ve been in was during graduate school when a man in the lab insisted on that sort of behavior. The thing is, the lab was majority female (our advisor was male), and we rebuffed that behavior at every turn, firmly and unequivocally. In the context of lab hierarchy, this fellow was near the bottom, not because of his status as grad student or postdoc, but because he was a sexist jerk. he didn’t get away with that in the close confines of our lab on a university campus. The field…that’s another thing entirely.

    This same person and another, older researcher associated with the lab, however, also engaged in ethnic harassment of a Chinese (he was from China) grad student who joined our lab and actually blackballed him to our rather detached advisor to the extent that the advisor asked the Chinese grad student to leave the lab. He did and promptly made a major finding in someone else’s lab.

    Finally, when I was a postdoc, there was a terrible incident in our lab that I think was a huge misunderstanding but was translated as attempted murder by local authorities. The two people involved were postdocs and Chinese nationals, and when the story broke, the racist comments I read online were more than I could stand, as I knew both parties well and especially knew that the accused *in no way* did what the authorities claimed he did. He later was released and never charged; the upshot was that a whole lot was lost in translation during the questioning by investigators. I think that the willingness to assume guilt was in part because of my colleague’s national origin.

    In other words, science is a white, male culture in many places in the US, but your mileage may vary depending on whether you’re a woman in the field or a non-white anyone in the lab.

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  47. 47. gregdowney 3:36 am 02/6/2012

    DeepSurvivor, I’m afraid I’m with Kate on this one. Starting from your first comment (#28), your comments have some points, but also a fair mix of being both aggro & dismissive (‘Just another hyper-vigilant feminist calling sexism and gender inequality w/ no support & evidence…’ #34) and playing the victim card in odd ways (a woman who is enduring entrenched victimization is potentially a ‘sociopath’ for getting in an ill-advised relationship? really, mate, you’ve read the story and this is the clue to who’s a ‘sociopath’ you want to latch onto? yeah….. most likely candidate in this particular story….).

    I’m fully Y-chromosme equipped and former victim of domestic violence myself, but your comments drip with barely contained misogyny. If you really can’t see that, then I suggest you look very carefully at the way you’re expressing yourself. You may not see yourself in this light, but others are certainly going to.

    I’m not even sure what original point you were trying to make back in #28 that got side-tracked: you were objecting to a gender ‘slant’ that you perceive in the story of sexual harassment? Really? She was a single woman harassed by a team of men? If you’re not like this, then don’t get defensive. I’m not.

    Getting so defensive to what is a pretty straight-forward and entirely believable account of a really dysfunctional workplace just demonstrates what your head is at, bro. The feminists aren’t out to get you. Trust me, I’m married to one, and raising another one. They like us — when we’re not being pigs.

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  48. 48. Mia D'Ambrigo 12:29 pm 02/6/2012

    Unfortunatly this story is all to familiar too me. There were and still are so many times in my academic career that I have run across the sexual bias and harrassment towards women in general. Hopefully bringing the problem into the spotlight will go a long way in helping female students find the support they need.

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  49. 49. DeepSurvivor 10:26 pm 02/6/2012

    @TeamDebate- so we’ve read the story and agreed that it is clearly an account- fictional or not- of male- probably white male- sexism.

    I then pointed to a revealing point by the storyteller where she stated that she pretended to care about someone because she felt her victimization took precedence and was justification.

    Someone up there rushed to fill-in the gaps in the picture of this character to elicit sympathy for a female.

    When confronted with this, she backed-down, but instead of pointing to the obvious character flaw- using someone w/ the pretense of romance- she points to flagrant violation of workplace romance?


    I was called sexist for being disagreeable on this.

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  50. 50. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 10:45 pm 02/6/2012

    I can assure you, DeepSurvivor, that the account is very true and I actually had it verified by one other source before moving forward. I know Hazed personally as well. Shame on you for the accusation.

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  51. 51. DeepSurvivor 10:57 pm 02/7/2012

    @Kate- couple things to wrap up:

    1) “I can assure you, DeepSurvivor, that the account is very true..” because you know her personally doesn’t provide a basis for your readers beyond faith. It does give insight into the one fundamental flaw with your fixation of females (aka feminism)- it is riddled with much of the same structural issues found in other belief systems– and beliefs in general.

    2) Once again the problem with anecdotal pieces like her story is the narrow focus of an issue- in this case gender- give us nothing to go on. What conclusions can be drawn from this? That academia has a wide-spread problem? How do we know her case is still prevalent today? how do we determine a trend?

    Are we expected to assume that the author was treated well be many/most/all/none other men in her life? In brief, what is the point? why not provide stories of men treating women well? or are you the faux news of sci am bloggers merely pretending to be fair and balanced?

    I hope you see this as someone attempting to be scientific or science-oriented. Perhaps I am not the best critic- I’ve got a lot on my plate these days, so maybe ask another neutral party (aka not a feminist or an anti-feminist) to review this article and perhaps your future work.

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  52. 52. jbyoder 3:13 pm 02/8/2012

    @DeepSurvivor- Couple things to wrap up:

    1) If you don’t trust Kate’s word, but can’t demonstrate any reason why she should be untrustworthy beyond your disagreement with her, feel free to stop reading her writing.

    2) Actually, if you don’t understand the value of specific stories in describing broader problems, or how to tell when an anecdote is being used as a basis for unfounded extrapolation instead of illustration, you probably shouldn’t read ANYONE’s writing.

    3) How, exactly, would I identify someone who is “not a feminist or an anti-feminist”? Do I ask around for folks who are in favor of oppressing women exactly half of the time?

    I hope you see this as someone attempting to be neutral, since I’ve announced that it is. Perhaps I’m not the best critic? Because I think you’re a supercilious jerk.

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  53. 53. gerty-z 3:23 pm 02/8/2012

    ahahahaahahahahaha!!111!!! Too bad DeepSurvivor has “a lot on his plate” and can’t help you be a better writer, Kate. But THANK FSM he can clear some of his precious time to comment on your blog. Phew. Us poor ladeez need menfolk like him to help us understand the meaning of teh wordz.

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  54. 54. Paleoecologist 3:25 pm 02/8/2012

    DeepSurvivor, the problem with the “fair and balanced” reporting that you reqest is that the world is not fair and balanced. As with climate change reporting, there are not two “equally correct” sides to represent here. Men who do the right thing (i.e. are not sexist bigots) are not blog-worthy in the same way that the average person acting decently is not newsworthy: it’s the basic standard. The feminist community has a term for this phenomenon: wanting a cookie. You don’t deserve a cookie for doing what every person should do as a matter of common decency. You don’t get a cookie for not running someone over in the cross-walk. If you DO run someone over in the cross-walk, you get arrested. If you’re not saying something sexist (or not raping someone, or what-have-you) you don’t deserve a cookie. When you do say or do something sexist, that should get called out.

    It is deeply troubling that your equate feminists, who believe in equal rights for women and men, with anti-feminists in terms of both being somehow wrong and/or biased. As Noam Chomsky stated, “you can’t be neutral on a moving train.” Believing in equal rights does not make me biased, it means that I’m not an asshole. Believing that humans are changing the climate does not make me biased, it means that I understand the available data.

    In fact, much of your (very flawed) logic reminds me of climate change deniers– you might find it helpful to think in those terms. You cherry pick a particular study to scrutinize, while ignoring the vast multitude of scholarship. You derail conversations. You ignore evidence presented to you. You trivilaize things you have no experience with. You sidestep decades worth of scholarship, enormous sample sizes, and powerful personal anecdotes. You are a textbook case of an antifeminist troll– to the extent that your responses are so predictable that there are bingo cards made of them (

    Here are some references that you may find helpful:

    How do you know it’s sexist?

    Taking the Red Pill: Let’s Talk Privilege:

    Resources for allies:

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  55. 55. infectenthuse 4:53 pm 02/8/2012

    DeepSurvivor: You should read, and deeply consider, what Paleoecologist said. Please read it several times, until you ‘get it’.

    No, anecdotes are not a good way to describe bigger trends. But the purpose of the anecdote and its value lie in how:
    (1) it sheds light on hidden transgressions, the kind that go unreported and will not appear in your aggregated statistics,
    (2) it describes in detail how isolated the student felt, why the situation was not reported, and why the student stayed; which helps us think of ways we can prevent these kinds of situations in the future,
    (3) several commentators have strongly identified with the anecdote and shared their own stories (and not all of the shared stories were about sex or gender discrimination), generating more discussion about the issue, and
    (4) this entire thread now serves as a great resource for students who find themselves in a similar situation.
    More than enough reason for a dedicated blog post.

    Also, I don’t think the post at all suggests that getting protection was her sole motivation for dating the male student. It’s natural to assume that once you are in a relationship you will be exposed to less harassment because you are no longer ‘available’ and your partner will speak out on your behalf (one can hope). What, were you expecting her to be in love before she dated the guy? I don’t care about her love life and neither should you. What’s relevant is, being in a relationship did not help, and when it ended things got worse.

    Thank you for sharing, Hazed.

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  56. 56. ejwillingham 5:10 pm 02/8/2012

    “maybe ask another neutral party (aka not a feminist or an anti-feminist) to review this article and perhaps your future work.”
    Yes, Kate, please search around on Planet Lala Land for someone “neutral.” The very proposal shows a total willful or egregious misunderstanding of this issue. Either you are a feminist or…you’re not. If you’re not a feminist, you’re anti-feminist. There is no neutral. This one doesn’t offer a fence to ride or a middle of the road to drive.

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  57. 57. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 9:14 pm 02/8/2012

    You guys are all brilliant and thoughtful.

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  58. 58. tom_wise 9:19 pm 02/10/2012

    Hazed asks: What can we do about this?

    I have no idea. It does appear to be a recurring theme in the culture of academia. And I base this on simple reading.

    Along with what can be done about this type of behavior, it also might be asked; how do you disseminate the information to future students to help prevent similar circumstances?

    I think both of those questions are uber-pertinent here, and as yet unanswered.

    One thing that I would encourage is, courage. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but there is a severe lack of courage in this world. And typically, the higher up the chain you look the less you see it.

    And to be totally sexist about it, yes I do think the males in Ms. Hazed circle all let her down.

    And the Professor? I’ll bet his Mom would not approve of his behavior. And what about this guy? He sounds like a real charmer. A power wielding ass too. With little courage and impotent power. I say impotent because with all that supposed power he ought to have had the ability to effect change within.

    Here I am almost thirty years removed from the very first time I had to intervene in the harassment of a female. I was fortunate that I was in an organization that supported my intervention. And can you believe it, it was the U.S. Navy. I intervened with a superior way (way!) up the chain of command. He got canned. Nothing was ever said to me either way. Only the result was evident.

    I believe in gender roles. I love sex and flirty play.

    But then, I know how to behave.

    Courage, we don’t all have it, but those that do need to use it.

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  59. 59. BethRich 4:07 pm 03/3/2012

    I am stunned at how familiar this story is to me. I was one who left. It was many years before I was over the diagnosed PTSD, and I am thrilled that I can read this story without regressing back to that very dark place. I am proud of Hazel for getting through it, and even more proud of her for telling her story and opening herself up to hate and distrust. Rock on, Hazel.

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  60. 60. Amy Farrah Fowler 12:15 am 03/25/2013

    If any of the female Honors/PhD students in the lab I did my PhD in had gone to the newspapers, our prestigious university could have been SHUT DOWN. I am not kidding. Sexual harassment by our supervisor/boss was a daily occurrence and EVERYONE in the faculty knew but he was so powerful that no-one dared to speak up. This has to stop!! We need to speak up.

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  61. 61. Amy Farrah Fowler 12:21 am 03/25/2013

    PS. I experienced almost EXACTLY to the point what the author is describing, plus the supervisor (male, much older, married) touching and stroking me, putting his hand on my leg ALL THE TIME, pressing himself against me, wanting to hug and cuddle. And if I said something, I was oversensitive. He particularly targeted students with no family/from abroad who were more vulnerable….. COMPLETE BASTARD but I am still afraid of him. He still has a lot of power in my research field.

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  62. 62. Amy Santee 11:17 am 04/14/2013

    I really appreciate you sharing your story, Hazed. And thank you Dr. Clancy for taking the initiative to conduct your study on harassment and share this story on your blog. This is important stuff, not just for our own discipline, but for women everywhere. We need to have conversations like this to effect real change. This is a great form of advocacy anthropology if you ask me!

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  63. 63. Loves to Teach 1:05 am 04/24/2013

    I find all of these stories heartbreaking. Here is mine.

    I love teaching. It is a kind of ministry to young people. We excite them, we open doors for them, we talk about new ideas with them, get them engaged, give them opportunities to express themselves and have wonderful conversations. I love the possibilities.

    After a hard earned masters degree in graphic design and several years of industry experience often working 60 hour weeks, I accepted a position as an assistant professor of graphic design in the art department at Towson University in the fall of 2000. I was excited to enter this new chapter in my life. I was not prepared for what I was about to encounter. 

    The art department consisted of 16 full time faculty and many adjunct faculty. The majority of the tenured senior faculty were men. The majority of the nontenured faculty were women. What people don’t talk about is how dependent the junior faculty are on senior faculty. The imbalance of power is far stronger than the power imbalance of faculty to student. A student wants a good grade to move on to the next class. He or she wants to graduate or continue into a good graduate program, and eventually move away from the university. The junior faculty must have the approval and support of senior faculty for promotion, for raises, and for a permanent position in the department. The support of senior faculty is critical every year and at every juncture.

    No one discusses powerlessness. No junior professor would ever want to admit that she is subservient to a male, but this is exactly where I found myself between the years of 2000 to 2006. In 2001, the most senior faculty in the art department began to body bump me in the hallways. He was 6’1 and I am 4”11”. He eventually got me into his office where he told me repeadedly that he couldn’t take his eyes off of me, and stated that if I didn’t sleep with him, I wouldn’t get tenure. I knew that this was not acceptable behavior and let him know that I wasn’t interested. I also knew that this was a clear case of sexual harassment. So, I reported the incident to my chairperson and to the Dean of the school. The Dean advised me to let him know that I was not interested and to do this in front of other people so that there would be an audience. She reminded me that harassers are known to bully when no one else is around in order to ensure that there are no witnesses.

    On the following day, in front of two other faculty members, I told him that I wasn’t interested in him and that he was to leave me alone. I asked him if he understood and he replied yes. On the following day, as I was leading my class into a computer lab, one of the faculty who had been present the day before (also a male senior faculty) assaulted me. He threw me up against the door and shoved something hard into my back. I fell. I took a moment to get my breath. Shaking, I walked to the art office and reported this to my Chair. I was being physically attacked, intimidated, bullied, and harassed. I thought that, surely, something would be done to these two people, that some action would be taken. I had been harassed and assaulted. The law had been broken twice. I was in a state of shock.

    The institution launched a “so-called” full-scale investigation where all of the faculty in the department were questioned. I was told to keep quiet about it until it had been completed. Several faculty reported to me that this was not the first time these two had been in trouble. My own attorney interviewed every faculty member and found the same information and also found that these two senior faculty were best friends. But the institutions findings reported that nothing had happened. In fact, they began to launch an investigation into my background. I was hounded, harassed, and totally ignored. Everyday, my student display cases had garbage stuffed in them. No one would sit next to me in faculty meetings and I was not invited to departmental gatherings. I became a pariah. Then, the faculty tried to end my contract. However, both professors continued to sit on tenure and promotion committees and to fully participate in the running of the department.

    I experienced deep humiliation and embarrassment and I became deeply depressed. The non response from the university and the denial of all that took place coupled with their insistence that I keep quiet could not have been clearer. They were not going to take any action against these two professors. I can’t help but think of Penn State, the Catholic Church, and other instances where institutions coverup the actions of bullies. By doing nothing, the university condoned the illegal and unacceptable behavior. This incident would follow me to my next teaching job where I was blackballed by Towson University.
    Non-tenured professional women in academia don’t want to talk about these things. They live in fear that they will be next. Like dutiful daughters, they fall into lockstep with their powerful abusive ‘fathers’. They don’t dare question or complain. They are entirely dependent on these men for their future and their economic stability. How can one NOT talk about this power imbalance that forces us into subservience or the loss of employment?

    So, now I ask, how do we combat institutionalized brutality against women? We talk about equality in the workplace, but how do we deal with inequality and violence against women when it happens? What advice do we give our younger female professors when such instances arise? Speak up and forfeit your careers or stay silent and compromised? I still have no answers.

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