Four well-respected scientists, recently outed as having had repeated sexual misconduct violations, often at multiple institutions. Four names that have come out in just a short time, and one wonders who’s next. Because we all know there will be another name. And another name. And another name.
And what about the names we don’t know? The missing stairs? Calling attention to these cases often comes at an incredible personal cost to the women filing reports. That cost — to personal health and safety, to careers, to well-being and livelihoods — is rarely if ever balanced by the repercussions for the person committed the misconduct in the first place. Can we blame women for not coming forward when coming forward is personally risky and has a low likelihood of making a difference?
I’d like to think that this is changing. That the Liebs, Otts, Marcys, and Slaters are sending a message. That the NSF’s recent statement of non-tolerance for harassment will scare universities into doing what Title IX apparently failed to do — prevent sexual misconduct.
I’m a mandatory reporter at my institution. That announcement came without any training or guidance. Having sat through the University’s lengthy sexual harassment webinar, I still don’t have a clear understanding of who to report to if something happens. I have heard horror stories of Title IX coordinators routinely discouraging reporters, and it’s generally understood that Title IX is, in practice, designed more to protect universities than it is to prevent or prosecute sexual misconduct.
The system, cobbled together as it is, feels broken to me at every level. Reporting is often unclear, and the people you report to have a conflict of interest in protecting the university of litigation. Once you do report, you jeopardize your career, and risk being branded a trouble-maker. If you’re a student, jumping ship midway through the trans-oceanic voyage can be tantamount to career suicide. And it’s not like you jump to land on solid ground; that water is full of sharks, frenzying at the first scent of blood in the water.
Because when people do report, we’re terrible to them. We accuse them of being selfish, of having an agenda, of being vindictive, of making it up for attention, or playing a gender card. We call them sluts, whores, bitches, cunts. We harass them, stalk them, bully them, blame them for our team’s bad season or for losing a beloved professor. If you’re a student, there’s a strong likelihood you’ll end up in the same class as your rapist. If you’re a grad student, you may end up blackballed. If you’re a professor, your colleagues and upper administration may retaliate or freeze you out. Who knows what happens to the staff.
And then, over and over again, we see so little justice. Offenders get their wrists slapped. They get suspended. They may, in rare cases, get fired, but even a national social media backlash is not enough to offset three NIH grants, apparently.
So, what do we do? Making reporting easier isn’t enough if you’re reporting to a lawyer at the university (which my Title IX coordinator is) who is more invested in preventing you from suing than giving you support. How can we have any hope that repeat offenders are going to respond to any sanctions at this point?
There’s also a broader issue here, which is one of focus: Why are our policies retroactive? Why aren’t we talking to men about harassment and assault? I’m not talking about the cheesy training videos that people fast-forward or play Solitaire through. I’m talking about conversations, among men, about sexual misconduct? Why aren’t university and society leadership taking a more proactive stance, and coming out publicly and unequivocally against sexual misconduct? Why aren’t men holding each other accountable for this behavior? Why are hiring committees knowingly hiring serial predators? Why aren’t men evaluating their behavior and seeking help if they need it?
Because here’s the thing: I sat down to write a post with some answers. Terry over at Small Pond Science has a lot of questions, too — I stumbled on his post as I was writing mine. And I thought, “Okay, yeah, let’s brainstorm. Let’s figure this thing out. Let’s crowd-source some solutions.”
Except: it’s not my job.
It’s not my job as a junior female academic to figure out how to fix this. I’ve got tenure to earn, and a career to protect. I’ve got papers to write and students to mentor and classes to teach and research to do, and a body to take care of that’s always getting neglected. It’s not my job to make my workplace safer for my students and me, when I didn’t make it unsafe in the first place. It’s not my job to change someone else’s bad behavior, to stop their bad choices, to clean up their messes, or to be proactive about preventing behavior I can’t control.
I want to see department chairs, society presidents, editors-in-chief, deans, and university chancellors deal with this. Write essays, come up with task forces, hire outside consultants, and put all that administrative bloat to good use for a change. Stop talking about diversity like it’s some nebulous ideal, and not a life-and-death issue. Get a damn plan, and implement it. Don’t stop at words. Don’t wait for NSF or NIH to take your toys away. Don’t wait for Buzzfeed or Slate or the New York Times or a social media brigade to embarrass you.
Because we’re naming names, now. If you’re a predator or harboring a harasser, we’re going to find out. That is the reality of the world we live in, where social justice is in the news every day, and this story is not going anywhere any time soon. If you’re in a position of academic leadership, you should be concerned. Because every university– almost every department — has a Lieb, an Ott, a Marcy, or a Slater.
What are you going to do about it?