But what about the collaborations? Going forward after an allegation of sexual misconduct

Today’s post is a follow-up to a recent post by Dr. Rebecca Rogers Ackermann, a Biological Anthropologist at the University of Cape Town. You can read the original post by Dr. Ackermann, detailing her personal experience with harassment in anthropology, here

Since the recent news story broke about sexual misconduct in my discipline, I have been in many conversations with colleagues and students about both this specific case and the issue of sexual misconduct and gender bias more generally.  In one extended email exchange with my colleagues – some of whom are collaborators with the recently accused – we were discussing the best way to move forward with collaborations with someone who has a demonstrated history of sexual misconduct. All agreed that they would not begin new collaborations with such a person.   But the question of what to do with current collaborations – ones where the work is in progress, or the research is completed but remains to be disseminated – raised a diversity of opinions. The primary concern raised by some was a need to keep the science separate from the behaviour, and resist the slippery slope that might result from mixing the two (e.g. do you take action for more minor transgressions or disagreements, or for other misdemeanours?). In this light, one possible route forward has been outlined in a recent blog post by Bernard Wood. Our conversation, and that blog post, resulted in me writing the email that I have copied below.  I have left it in its original form, only making minor edits for clarification and to protect people’s identities. I hope this helps to stimulate further discussion going forward (see also this post by anthropologist Katie Hinde).  This isn’t a settled matter, and we all need to keep talking about it.

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IT IS TIME: My personal journey from harassee to guardian

Today’s guest post is by Dr. Rebecca Rogers Ackermann, a biological anthropologist at the University of Cape Town. Dr. Ackermann’s story accompanies this article, out today in Science.

When I was 15, my high school history teacher asked me out on a date (I declined). In first year as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, I had a graduate student tutor invite me to a party at his flat, and when I (fortunately, and to the tutor’s surprise) showed up with a friend there was no one else there. When I was near graduation the Dean ‘joked’ about how he had assumed I was just there for an “MRS degree”. In second year graduate school at University of Arizona, I went to the office hours of a professor I was taking a course from. He asked me to close the door, then aggressively propositioned me. That same year, my supervisor at that institution grabbed my ass at a conference event. I moved to Washington University in St Louis for my PhD, where I was lucky to have really great, completely professional relationships with my advisors. Then I went into the field. For the very first time I had the pleasure of handling and studying hominin fossils. When photographing a famous one, the professor responsible for access starting photographing me from behind, and commenting on the “light streaming through my golden hair.” As I quickly gathered my things to leave, he blocked the doorway and gave me a juicy ‘goodbye’ kiss. Back in St Louis, a peer of mine told me that at a bar the previous night one of the evolutionary biology professors had engaged in a conversation with the other (male) graduate students about whether they would have sex with me if my husband were watching. Just a few years ago at a conference, a senior male colleague told me out of the blue that I was “too good looking for my own good.” This is just a sampling of the things that have happened to me in my post-pubescent life that might be construed as sexually inappropriate or sexual harassment. I am certain many people in my field can make a comparable list of their own.

Why didn’t I report any of these incidents? Or confront the deliverers? I have been thinking about this a lot these days in the wake of all of the revelations in science, and given that this question is frequently posed to me and others. Continue reading

Show me the money: Sexual misconduct after the headlines

Jason Lieb. Christian Ott. Geoff Marcy. Timothy Slater.

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. Continue reading


Today I’m hosting a guest blogger at Tenure She Wrote talking about Title IX office and the process by which complaints are handled. For reasons which will become clear, this is written by a contributor who will remain anonymous.


Gaslighting: How Universities Use Their Title IX Office to Crush Complaints.

by Anonymous

Sexual assaults, harassment, gender and racial biases occur with frightening regularity for women in academia. In spite of increasing awareness of these problems, there is very little about what the Title IX process looks like from a personal perspective.

Participating in a Title IX case is nothing short of soul crushing. Your university will not support you, you will be the subject of gossip and, perhaps most distressingly, you will be intimidated and retaliated against for your honesty. Retaliation is illegal under Title IX, but not only does it occur, it is cornerstone of the process by which academics are silenced and, I suspect, the reason I could find so few first hand accounts of participating in a case.

I offer this advice based on my experience. Continue reading

Do I trust my gut?

Earlier in the year, I had the opportunity to do some amazing fieldwork in a remote, logistically difficult field site. This opportunity was essentially dropped in my lap, by affiliation with the research center I work in. I was thrilled — this would open new doors, and potentially set up a life’s worth of work. Our outside contact sent some emails introducing himself, and said he was excited to have me on board. We started chatting about an in-person meeting at my campus, since there are a few of us who would be participating in this field expedition. The big obstacle would be getting funding, which the director of my center was confident I could do, because of my early-career status (with his guidance; he has a very successful funding rate). Everything looked perfect.

And then things started getting weird. Continue reading

#YesAllWomen: Violence against women on campus, and what we* can do about it

My route to work takes me along a line of sorority and fraternity houses. Usually, I don’t think much about them, but this week was different. This week, I saw the sorority houses as citadels. I found myself subconsciously assessing their ability to keep out an armed attacker.

As I passed the fraternity houses, I wondered about the young men inside. I’ve become acutely aware of the men on campus, just as I am every time there’s a new high-profile story about violence against women in the media. On the best of days, I’m constantly aware of my surroundings, almost as though I had an assault-prevention algorithm running in the back of my mind. This is because of my experiences, and I am not unusual in that way. On the worst of days, I find myself wondering if the men I see can be trusted, if they find my feminism quaint or offensive, if they have raped or would rape, knowingly or unknowingly, or how they would react if I were to tell them NO.

Elliot Roger had planned to kill more women at a UCSB sorority, but they didn’t open the door. In Nigeria, nearly 300 girls were kidnapped from school by an organization that doesn’t believe that women should be educated. These incidents, worlds apart in terms of circumstance, are intrinsically linked in my mind not only because they are contemporaneous, but because I am a university professor and these crimes were committed against students, on academic campuses. Violence against women on campuses aren’t new; these are just the latest in a long string of events that remind us that, for many women, getting an education is dangerous; even deadly. Continue reading

Harassment as a crossroads

As a woman in a STEM field I generally feel pretty lucky.  I was never told I couldn’t do well in math or science and I’ve never felt unsafe in an academic setting.  Sexism and harassment isn’t something I have thought that much about because I never thought of it as happening to me.  However, looking back on my life with a more jaded outlook I realize that one event that seemed relatively insignificant at the time has percolated through the years, subtly affecting many decisions throughout my life.

The summer between my sophomore and junior year in college started off great… I was off to a summer study program associated with my undergraduate university, considering it a trial run for a semester abroad I hoped to take the following winter.  It was the first time I’d been away from everyone I knew, and I was nervous but optimistic.  Continue reading