I am here, despite it all

The elections have taken over everything. It’s been the dominant topic of conversation I overhear in the streets and on the bus; it’s what my colleagues and students talk about over breaks and occasionally in the classroom; and it’s all over my Twitter and Facebook feeds. People are rattled and they are truly afraid. Too many posts have been written about this at this point for me to even try to link to them all.

I want to use this post to offer a slightly different perspective. I am a foreign scholar, currently on a temporary contract and looking to find permanent employment in the United States. A few months ago I applied for a Green Card, and I’m still waiting for that process to run its course. This post is about what it’s like to decide to adopt a country that seems to have decided it may not want to adopt you back. I say this despite the fact that I know not a single person who’s expressed this thought to me, but clearly those people are out there. So while my American friends are talking about despairing and even leaving the country, I am working hard to become a member of their community. I’ve had several conversations with them about why I chose to come and stay here, and what my other options might be. Their desperation seems commensurate with their awareness of what things are like outside the United States,* so this post is my attempt to explain my own thinking on this topic.

In my home country, I am not a racial or religious minority. But I hold political views that are never represented in government and decision making, and I hold no hope that this will change any time soon. Some of my activist friends do amazing work protesting policies they disagree with and hateful decisions and actions taken in their names, but the work is incredibly time-consuming. For most, it’s taken over their lives and has become a second job. For me personally, there are no jobs in my field there, and it’s not clear that I could live there even if I wanted to. Most of my friends who have similar backgrounds and goals as me have left for other countries, although most hold out hope of being able to one day return.

I have lived in several European countries. Europe was a big paradox for me. I lived in countries where I felt incredibly comfortable, and where I was not, myself, a persecuted minority. Or, at least, the opinions were probably there, but it wasn’t acceptable to express them out loud and I never once felt singled out or hated. Yet I can’t ignore the fact that others are now persecuted minorities, that immigrants are disliked,** and most importantly, that these same countries have a track record of ruthlessly dispatching with their minorities, to put it mildly. Parts of my family were some of those minorities. It shaped how my parents were raised and how I grew up; it’s a central issue in my life that has shaped my personality and my belief system. Being comfortable in Europe scared me, because my ancestors who felt the same paid for it with their lives.

For close to a decade now, I have lived in the United States. This is where my home and family are. I have no illusions that it’s a perfect country. It’s not. If ever there was a doubt, the current political climate reminds us that there is much work left to do. But the United States was formed on values of freedom and liberty. It is one of the most diverse countries I know. It has federal, state, and local governments. Civil society plays a big role in our daily lives. There are many opportunities to contribute and make a difference. I want to believe that here, atrocities like those that happened elsewhere cannot happen.***

Here, I am a minority. You wouldn’t immediately know it from my accent or how I look, so I am one of the lucky ones. But I am not oblivious to the hateful speech around me. Yet even with its imperfections, I take America to be one of the most successful social experiments of the modern era. Things are difficult all over, but that’s not a reason to give up. I choose to fight to make my adopted country better, and in the process to make my own life better. I started with small gestures: a sign on my office door ensuring all that they are welcome here; chats with students to reaffirm the same and to make myself available as a source of information and support; donations to organizations such as PP and the ACLU; local demonstrations. I am hoping to find a local organization to volunteer with.

I hope that others will accept me and join me. I refuse to believe that this is something the US cannot recover from, even if it does get far worse before it gets better. It’s up to all of us not to give up. This is a golden opportunity to restart the fight at the grassroots level, to rethink how we reach out to others and how things got to be this way. Mostly, I hold onto a broader perspective, and I retain my optimism. Hard work and faith have gotten me this far, and I am counting on them–and on you–not to disappoint me going forward.

 

* and how things really are here in the States. Things haven’t actually changed that much – but some of those who could previously be oblivious now can’t do that anymore. Noticing the racist, misogynist, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, … sentiments can be horrifying if you never knew they existed, or you thought they were only held by a fringe minority. Those who despair the most appear to be not those who face these sentiments, but those privileged ones who weren’t aware of them before, and hence whose worlds were shaken up the most.

** as evidenced by recent election results in several of these countries.

*** and that I’ll fight with all my heart to stop any such attempts. And that I’ll know to get out in time if I lose the battle. Because I am optimistic, but not naive.

Professors- Don’t Panic, Organize

I have put off writing this post until the absolute last minute because I still don’t know how to talk about the election, and yet I can’t seem to talk about anything else. What does it mean for my queer marriage? What does it mean for my undocumented students? What does it mean for my community college where we live and die by Pell Grants? I have been selfish- thinking mainly of myself and making contingency plans from the banal (get personal documents in order) to the ridiculous (preserve all the vegetables so we can eat underground after a nuclear apocalypse). It is only in the past week that I have started to think collectively, and remembered that community, allies, and coalitions are the best place to start.

In academia, we are horrible at collective action. The structure of our disciplines creates silos, and our research can lend itself too readily to isolation and over-inflated egos. We start to believe we only need our impressive intellects to thrive in the world. As contingent faculty have taken on more labor to free the select few who have access to tenure, we have wrapped ourselves in the comforting lie of meritocracy. “It should be this way,” we tell ourselves, “the system is working.” At best we think, “I don’t have time to deal with these massive structural problems in my field.* I am trying to write my book.”

We have forgotten how to work together for systemic change. Humanists in particular write about social justice movements. We don’t often participate in them. In fact, the folks I have seen in the greatest state of panic are my tenured colleagues and mentors. I think it has been a long time since they confronted this level of vulnerability. I think of Slavoj Žižek delighted with himself as he publicly endorsed Donald Trump for his disruptive potential. It felt so familiar. The white, leftist professors I knew in my graduate program have made similar flippant remarks. Privilege is a powerful enabler of delusion.

This week I started doing small things. I began reinforcing my emotional support network, which overlaps with the network of activists and organizers in my local community. I took time to call my friends, near and far. I worked with a few other professors and the student equity program to organize an event for vulnerable students to come and talk about their reactions to the election. We created a poster campaign with messages of inclusion and acceptance to paper the hallways of our campus. These are tiny steps. The next ones will be crucial. I hope we can unlearn that academic privilege that asks us to be individuals with great minds, and relearn how communities strike back against injustice in all its forms.

*sexual harassment, racism in hiring and promotion practices, contingent labor, rising tuition and student debt…

 

 

How Age Can Pave the Road to Tenure

There are lots of articles about how older women feel invisible and how ageism affects women in the workplace.

My story is about how age and experience has helped me in my road to Full professor.

I entered graduate school more than a decade after I finished undergraduate school. I found a graduate program that was willing to take a chance on me, even though my undergraduate grades were only reasonable and I had not taken some of the standard courses or exams you might expect for my field. The program had a good number of women in it, and the department was actively recruiting women graduate students and faculty. They told me that they often prefer “older students” because they tend to be more focused and mature.

Once I arrived, I did see some of my graduate student friends struggling with the question of “why am I here?” and “did I just come to grad school because it was the next/obvious/easy step after undergrad?” I never really struggled with these issues.  I was very focused and worked as hard as I could to get out in a reasonable amount of time.  In the end, I finished my MS and PhD in about half the (tremendous amount of) time I had allotted myself.

Recently I have been promoted to full professor relatively few years. Why did things go so well, even though I entered graduate school not so well-prepared mathematically and with family responsibilities? It cannot be discounted that I am cis-gendered, heterosexual, Caucasian and don’t have to accommodate significant physical or mental challenges. In addition, here are a few ways that age probably counted in my favor

I chose my graduate program and advisor wisely. Advisors affect almost every aspect of a graduate student’s work life. They can tell you which professors teach well.   They can get you the space, supplies and equipment you need to get your work done. They can pay for you to go to conferences and introduce you to people. They can encourage you and put you up for awards and opportunities. They can help you find a thesis topic that is interesting, important and do-able. They can support your work-life balance and choices. They can help you reach your career objectives.

They decide when you are allowed to declare victory.

Or they can fail to do these things, which will likely impact your quality of life and path toward your PhD. My advisor helped me graduate relatively quickly, move on to my postdoc and find an awesome job.

My children were fairly independent. Even now my kids need me lots of ways, but it isn’t anything like having little ones.  In grad school, they were old enough that we could work/play in parallel at the kitchen table for long hours.  Later they could feed themselves and even the whole family. Eventually they could get where they needed to go on their own.

Even so, when I got out of grad school, my goal was for my youngest to say “Mommy!” only once and to expect an answer right away. While I was in grad school it took about 3 or 4 tries for the poor kid to get me out of my own head. I don’t think this Dad-centered time was a problem for them or for our relationship. In fact, I think it was great for them to see us both as totally competent primary parents. In my postdoc and job it was even easier because they were older (and eventually out of the house).

My partner picked up all the slack. This is huge. My husband took over everything home-related while I was in grad school. I probably did the laundry and some other things, but my husband gets credit for our family sticking together and functioning.   One reason he could do that was that I was no longer nursing. The way I remember it, one of my kids NEVER took a bottle.  This might be somewhat revisionist due to the fog of insomnia because I do remember expressing and freezing milk. Anyway, a single friend recently commented that being single isn’t that lonely, but sometimes it is just terribly impractical because there’s nobody around to pick up your slack. I continue to be grateful a decade later for all the support.   There was a LOT of slack. Not only that, he put up with my continual fear of failure, even though every metric indicated I was succeeding. That fear of failure was why it took me so long to go to grad school in the first place.

I applied for and obtained my dream job in my first year of postdoc. I didn’t really feel ready to take a job, but I took a chance and it panned out. I only applied for this one job, so it didn’t take a great deal of time. I deferred the position and stayed longer in my postdoc to get experience (and for family timing reasons). This allowed me to enter my tenure-track job with a few projects already headed in good directions and a few more in reserve.

I think that all of the experience (from before and during graduate school) helped me obtain the tenure-track position because I could bring unique perspectives and skills to the department. Choosing the right job (which largely meant choosing the right people to work with) was informed by my experiences in several other jobs.

I negotiated my position fairly well. When the negotiations went poorly I was not taking the advice in this post.

I listened to everyone’s advice, but took only some of it. I can think of a couple of times I didn’t listen to the right advice, but most of the time I got it right.   I picked projects that would be productive and interesting and put aside others that might not help me obtain tenure. I said no to requests and opportunities a few key times.

I made bridges across my institution. I think this was partly due to my extroverted personality and interest in interdisciplinary ventures, but also because I had administrative experience. I could see when department chairs and Deans were having a hard time and I often took (and still take) the time to thank them. I participated in many cross-campus initiatives, but not in the first year when the startup costs were high. I helped with other people’s outreach efforts so I could contribute without the huge taxing effort of organization.

I’m having fun every day.   Some days also have sad and mad, but I really can find some joy in my work every day.   I’m old enough to have lost or almost lost friends to illness and death in every decade. They never got to be as old as I am now, and I am clear about the fact that my days are numbered. We spend most of our waking hours at work (and some of our sleeping ones), so I figure I might as well find ways to make my heart sing.  I’m incredibly lucky that my job presents daily opportunities.

Eliminating grant deadlines is a feminist issue

“You’re such a productive academic mama! I didn’t do anything the first 4 months after my kid was born.”

Reading this recently in my inbox was unsettling. It was in reference to the fact that I was writing and replying to emails, with an infant at home.  What the sender didn’t, doesn’t, understand is that I don’t feel like I have much of a choice.  As an early career academic trying to figure out The Next Steps (AKA someone hire / fund me please!), there are a round of grant + fellowship deadlines this fall that won’t come up again for at least another year. And by then I won’t be eligible for at least one of them. In other words, external forces just don’t care what else I have going on. Their deadlines are not negotiable.

To some extent, I get it. I really do. I’ve ended up backing out of or turning down several things this fall that understandably are time-sensitive and involve large groups of other people- conferences, workshops. Deadlines and set time-frames help organize these groups and keep everyone on task. And these opportunities are important, but I just couldn’t make them work this fall.* One workshop required that I teach a module to peers on a pre-determined schedule, which I couldn’t commit to [with an infant nursing on demand who isn’t taking a bottle]. One conference was willing to let me present remotely/electronically, but said I had to commit to being available to answer questions live [again, I didn’t think that was a realistic option personally].

But I truly do not believe that this kind of inflexibility needs to be true for all academic opportunities. I feel especially strong about this when it comes to grant deadlines. 

There is already an ongoing movement to eliminate some grant deadlines in exchange for rolling deadlines. The latest NSF program to eliminate deadlines is in plant genomics, but NSF started their tinkering with this initiative years ago in the geosciences.

So far, NSF considers their elimination of grant deadlines wildly successful. Why? Because it greatly reduced the number of applications. Which makes funding rates look higher.  They’re chalking it up to reducing the number of mediocre or hastily created applications.  Others think it’s eliminating the procrastinators from the applicant pile. But, of course, there’s no way of knowing (yet?**) whether the quality of applications is better, or whether there are just fewer of them.

I agree with eliminating grant deadlines. But for a very different set of reasons.

Eliminating grant deadlines is a feminist issue. Why? Because when Life Happens, as it often does outside of work, women are left picking up the pieces. And this affects whether women can meet those deadlines – or at least whether they can meet those deadlines while maintaining their sleep and health.

Why do I think this? What do I mean by Life Happens? Kids get sick. Elders get sick. [Check out this entire page of stats on women and caregiving] Women are overwhelming taking care of the loved ones in their lives. Women are STILL doing more housework at home. Women are doing more service and admin work in the office. Women STILL get paid less, so they have fewer resources to outsource caregiving or food prep or take their of their physical and mental health.  Women are also more likely to be dealing with a mental illness, including depression, than men — so self-care and mental health-care are much needed.

Unfortunately, I don’t think grant deadlines necessarily keep women from applying to grants. [But don’t get even me started on how women are less likely to receive a major grant. Or that they are likely to get less funding than their male colleagues when they do get funding. Issues for another post.]  I think many a multi-tasking academic women perseveres and gets their grants in, while doing One Million Other Things, sacrificing all the way.  Even if they are sick. Even if their kids are sick. Even if they are taking on more tasks and roles in the academy than their male peers.

So with funding rates lower and lower, I don’t think NSF should be celebrating making a change that reduces applicants for their grants — especially without yet knowing who is being discouraged from applying with the change.  But I actually think that eliminating grant deadlines could actually help women be better represented in the grant pool – and hopefully give them the flexibility to develop stronger applications.

What do you think?

 

 

*doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be possible, depending on the person or the opportunity. Lots of folks take their infants to conferences or workshops. I took an infant to a conference once. But not this time.

** if we looked at the grant scores for pre- and post- deadline elimination, this could be possible. I’ll look forward to hearing whether program officers are going to do that and release the info publicly.

Getting out of a(nother) hole

When you’re in a hole, it’s so hard to see your way out of it. What’s worse, for a while there, I didn’t even know how deep the hole was. I was getting by, and on paper you would even think everything was going great. But in reality, for about two years now, things haven’t been good at all. Mental Illness Awareness Week was two weeks ago, and it is time for me to reflect on my journey out of a pretty dark place and to stand in the light.

The last two years of my life have been objectively pretty shitty. My spouse cheated on me not long after we moved to a new city for me to start my postdoc*, and the relationship eventually fell apart; a close family member had some serious health problems and I was too far away to help**; a TT job offer got rescinded because of toxic*** backroom politics of the kind that I don’t think I’ll feel safe talking about even when I’m old and tenured; and inner-departmental politics were unhealthy and I was caught between students who were desperately asking for help and an abusive faculty member who was too powerful for me to take on.

Unsurprisingly, this has generated a lot of anxiety. Eventually, a friend dragged me to the crisis center at the university’s mental health clinic, and I got diagnosed with panic attacks. I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise. I was alone in a new city, away from my good friends and family, unhappy with my work life, and not doing much better in my personal life. I developed a dislike for the city I was in, and also didn’t enjoy the weather. I tried seeing two different therapists over the course of about a year and a half, but I can’t say that it was doing very much for me. There were just so many things going wrong that I couldn’t control, and of course the uncertainty of also being on the job market at the same time was not helping at all. My insurance wouldn’t cover more than roughly a 45-minute session every other week, but things were moving far too fast and there were just too many of them happening at the same time for it to be effective.

At various points I thought that I was doing better. Professionally, papers kept coming out, collaborations were ongoing, I was presenting at all the important conferences, and I was getting praised and noticed by major players in my field. I was doing my best to keep business as usual. On the personal life front, I decided to take a break from dating to focus on myself, and was doing my best to go out and meet new friends who wouldn’t know about all the messes in my past. I started exercising, and I was also eventually able to take some time off to travel home and be with my family.

But there were also relapses. Really, I think the best way to describe it is that I was fragile. Any little thing could break me. Getting stuck in traffic and being so late for a talk I was supposed to give in a reading group that it had to be rescheduled. Breaking my phone and having to get it replaced. Getting an abstract rejected from a conference that wasn’t even all that important. Things that are perhaps unpleasant, but on a normal day I would shrug right off. But these (and other) bumps in the road would send me spiraling down for days, to the point of considering suicide and even googling ways of doing it. I wasn’t at the point of actions, but the thoughts were there.

I kept this from my family. They were far away and spending time in the hospital with a sick relative. They clearly knew something was wrong, but I doubt the knew the extent. Most of my friends are also colleagues, and the fear of rumors kept me from talking to them (there was already enough gossip about my job offer and relationship going around as it was). Besides, this wasn’t really something I wanted to talk about on the phone with someone who was far away. I had one close friend who I trusted with this information, who helped me talk through the irrational thoughts I was having.

I knew I needed to make a serious change.

And as luck would have it, I was able to land a new job and move away. I resolved to take the change of location and the opportunity to start over with new colleagues as my chance to change the narrative. I still had to wait several months for my new insurance to kick in, but as soon as I could, I found a doctor I got along with, and I told her the whole story. Following her advice, I decided to start taking an SSRI. I was wary at first — I don’t even like taking meds when I have a headache. But I did my research and decided it was worth a shot. I use glasses to correct my vision and I don’t think that’s in any way “messing with reality” or “not really me”, so why not do the same for my mental health?

The change was immediate and remarkable. I had some side-effects that completely went away within a couple of weeks, but I immediately started sleeping longer and better. I have been more upbeat and, I suspect, louder. Initially this was strange and I felt like I needed to hold back when I felt like I was being too outgoing. But it’s funny how fast it’s become natural. Several of my friends who I saw when I went to visit my PhD institution told me that I seem very happy. And even some colleagues who see me no more than one or twice a year remarked at a recent conference on how glad they were that I seem to be in a better place in life. Which I was mortified by, to be honest, because who knows what kind of godawful vibes I was sending before if people who are passing acquaintances noticed.

It’s only been about two months since this change started. I am still adjusting to the new me. What I now think is the ‘real’ me. I am now finding it hard not to hold back when I want to laugh and be loud, as ridiculous as it sounds. I am listening to music again, and its just occurred to me that I haven’t been doing that for almost two years. I just bought myself some colorful socks. I wear less black. I wasn’t even aware that I was making those choices, but I just seem to want different things now. There are still setbacks, and I have no illusions that everything in my life is fixed. But I really do believe that I can handle things now. I am slowly making my way back out of the hole.

Some of the things that have helped me most were finding a trusted friend to share this with, so it’s not a secret I am keeping from everyone (though I am very selective in who I share it with!), exercising, time-tracking, and actively scheduling time off for social activities, grooming time, and sleep. I am trying to get better at saying ‘no’  to things, and when I’ve done so, I’ve found that everyone around me has been supportive and understanding.

I am not advocating for or against deciding to take medication. But I am advocating in no uncertain terms for taking care of your mental health. Needing to seek help is nothing to be ashamed of. Seeing a therapist is nothing to be ashamed of. And needing medication, if together with your doctor you decide that that is the right course of action for you, is nothing to be ashamed of. Getting the help you need is something to be proud of, and you are not alone. So many of us are sharing the hole with you, and if you just reach out, we will hold your hand and help you through.

* but long enough after we moved for them to have met all my new colleagues, so people kept asking about them long after we had split up.
** they are doing better now, thankfully.
*** in fact, from all that I’ve been able to gather, some people’s actions were actually illegal. Certainly they were unethical.

Have you been in a hole lately? Share your experiences being in the hole and your advice on how to climb out of it.

In Negotiations, The Pen Can be Mightier than the Mouth

A long time ago I heard that women are not so good at negotiating. You can’t blame this all on women, since part of the problem is how our attempts to negotiate are received.

Recently I was told that young women are “getting *$%^ed” because they are told that the staring salaries at various companies are fixed, which they interpret as “no need to negotiate.” This is far from the truth, because there are moving costs, bonuses, and other possible perks that can be negotiated. If you look at the data and compare what male and female students are getting when they graduate it is not equitable. We need to do a better job mentoring our students how to negotiate.

My own experience has led me to conclude that when I negotiate with my pen (through email) I can be far more successful than when I negotiate with my mouth (by talking either in person or on the phone/telecon). Here’s what I have learned in my own negotiations:

  1. If the promise isn’t in writing it does not exist. Department chairs, Deans and other administrators change (sometimes unexpectedly) and the next person is only obligated to honor things that are in writing (and signed). When you are hired, make sure your needs regarding space, travel, equipment, supplies, student funding, etc. are met as much as possible.  It should be in writing how that is going to happen and who is going to pay. Not just that the institution will take care of it, but what funding source at the institution will pick up the bill.
  2. Negotiate with your pen (keyboard), not your mouth. Unfortunately, when women negotiate with their mouths, people generally respond based on how they look, the tone of their voice and how things went with the last woman who negotiated. When you make your request politely but firmly in writing, you are just stating your needs. The person reading the request can “hear” it in their own inner reading voice. They can respond to the content and take the time to consider what should be a yes and what must be a no.
  3. The strongest position is one you can walk away from. That’s why having more than one job offer is an advantage. This goes for consulting gigs too. Recently I negotiated a consulting job where I asked for an amount. I was offered about ¼ of the amount. I provided evidence that if I took another job I would be paid ½ again as much as the original amount I asked. I wrote politely that I would prefer to work for them, but only if they could meet my salary and other requests. They met the requests.
  4. Concisely explain what you will do with the resources you require. If an institution is providing something (money, space, small class enrollment), they deserve to know what the institution will receive in return.   This can be phrased as a benefit to the institution, not a defense of your request (even if the request for information seems like a challenge to your request). In my consulting contract negotiation, after the salary was settled, the other party asked for several new things (I’m assuming to get what they thought was their money’s worth). I made a tiny compromise, but basically (in writing) said that what they were requesting would not work and provided the educational reasons. They met my request. Everything went well and I have been asked to perform a second job, but doing much more for the same money. I have made it clear that I will be happy to continue the work, but only under the same conditions as the first job. I also joked (with my mouth) that each time they ask for more, I’ll double my salary request. I can do this because of condition #3 (see above).  We’ll see how it goes…
  5. Be friendly, professional and positive as well as cool and tough. Negotiations are a test of both parties. How will you and the institution behave when things are tough and awkward? Discussions about money often make people act in unusual ways. You can show that you are cool, tough, positive and professional under pressure. Then the institution (and individuals) can expect you to be that way on the job.   Your institution deserves that kind of behavior, especially if you are provided the resources you need to do your job well.
  6. Be reasonable in your expectations. Before the negotiation begins, do your homework (with your mouth). As much as possible, find out from several people what has been done in the past, and what might be possible at that point in time. If you ask for something far outside the normal realm, it can be difficult for administrators to honor your request. If you really need something unusual, then possibly ask (with your mouth since you might not want this in writing) if it would be possible to trade it for something else that others normally receive. Once you have done your homework, you are ready to begin real negotiations.

 

Academics and Deplorables

As an academic blogger, I hoped to never write the words Donald Trump, but I need to talk about sexual harassment, sexual assault, and the ubiquitous threat that men like Trump and his apologists pose to women’s wellbeing in the workplace and the world. Since the video exploded all over my Twitter feed on Friday evening, I have been troubled by how familiar Trump’s words are to me, and to the many talented women whose work I read on the internet. Kelly Oxford solicited stories of women’s first assaults. The resulting thread is agonizing in its chronicle of casual violence against women and girls.

 

screenshot-2016-10-12-15-33-06

Anne Helen Petersen pushed back against the tendency of many men to challenged Trump’s definition of “locker room talk” with their own stories of male only spaces where women are respected. As a subtle version of #NotAllMen, this line of argument allows men to ignore their unwillingness to acknowledge or intervene against misogyny.

screenshot-2016-10-12-15-37-49

And Jessica Valenti wrote perhaps the most poignant statement of all in her column in The Guardian. She says the video is “painful to watch not just because Zucker doesn’t know what was said about her, but because this is what women are afraid of. That the men we know, the men we work with – or even love – say horrible things about us. That despite assurances that they respect us and consider us equals, men are secretly winking behind our back. That we are not really people to them, but things.”

In short, Trump’s gleeful, self-aggrandizing admission of sexual assault is not shocking to me. It is all too familiar. Off the top of my head, I can think of a dozen professional and educational contexts from my childhood to the present where men have said or done horrifically inappropriate things to me. But I want to revisit one instance from my Middle School pre-Algebra class. Avoid that boys will be boys impulse, y’all. Men of all ages move through the world with power and privilege and need to be held accountable for their actions.

I was in seventh grade and taking pre-Algebra. I was relatively new to my school as an army brat who moved every two years or so, but I was starting to make some friends in the class. We had taken a quiz and the teacher was handing it back with a grade. I got a 98% and sheepishly placed the quiz on my desk while my nosy classmates looked over my shoulder. Two boys near me began laughing and asked me if I had given the teacher a blow job to get that grade. This became a running joke for the rest of school year with a growing cadre of participants. In this way, my good math grades became shameful to me. In retrospect, I realize this is the year when I decided I was not good at math, a myth that I kept with me until very recently when I began learning about stereotype threat around STEM for girls. I’m an English professor now, and I teach about stereotype threat in my writing class. We watch Debbie Sterling’s excellent TED Talk about her invention Goldiblox, an engineering tool for girls. It was not until I watched this video that I realized: actually, I am good at math. I finished 2 semesters of College Calculus my senior year of high school. How can I carry around this belief that I can’t succeed in that subject area? I wonder how many women have been sexually harassed out of STEM fields by mediocre men.

I love writing for a blog with a large readership of women scientists, because I get a better sense of what women are up against in male-dominated academic fields. In some ways, I am privileged as a Humanist, but even in a field where the gender balance is more equal, my women colleagues and friends face ubiquitous sexual harassment at their colleges and universities. One of my acquaintances quit her tenure-track job due to sexual harassment. Another had to change dissertation advisors when her chair began relentlessly propositioning her. My point is, Trump’s treatment of women in general, or of Arianne Zucker at her workplace in the video, is not unique to the deplorables. Sexual harassment and assault determine the fields where women pursue their talents, determine our career outcomes, determine our mental and physical health. I hope this election makes academics rethink our comfortable superiority in relation to the mass of Trump supporters and look more deeply at how we got here, and what we are going to do about it.