When I hear a story of harassment, what do I do?

Recently I was at the periphery of a conversation in which women, in a completely different field than mine, were talking about an experience one had during an interview, during which inappropriate comments were made. While completely sympathetic, another woman said: “You were lucky you weren’t at University X, where it would have been much worse.”  That conversation and recent events in the online science community got me thinking about how often these quiet confidences are exchanged.

While I have only heard a few stories of sexual harassment or assault in my field, I’m not naïve enough to think that I’m in the one profession in the entire world that is entirely populated by people who behave appropriately at all times. So it seems like only a matter of time before I hear a story, or stories, that hit close to home professionally…before I hear a story where I have to ask myself “What do I do now? Now that I have this knowledge that I can’t unknow about the unacceptable behavior of someone in my field, what do I do?”

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Don’t be that dude: Handy tips for the male academic

There is a plethora of research on the causes of hostile environments for women in academia, and on why we have an underrepresentation of women in many fields. There are support groups for women, societies entirely devoted to women academics (broadly and field-specific), workshops for women in academia, and countless articles and blogs devoted to the topic.

These initiatives are important, but here’s the thing: gender equality has to be a collaborative venture. If men make up the majority of many departments, editorial boards, search committees, labs and conferences, then men have to be allies in the broader cause of equality, simply because they have more boots on the ground. And, as much as I wish it weren’t so, guys often tend to listen more readily to their fellow guys when it comes to issues like sexism. I’ve also found that there are a lot of guys out there that are supportive, but don’t realize that many of their everyday actions (big and small) perpetuate inequality. So, guys, this post is for you.* Continue reading

Teaching Naked, Part 2

In my previous post, I recounted how a student interviewed me for the school paper regarding my decision to confront my class about being sexual harassed by one of my students on a mid-semester evaluation.  To give a little context for this post, my article was featured on the front page along with an article about a male faculty member (from the same college, and thus, the same dean) who was suing the university over sexual orientation discrimination and wrongful termination.  Neither my mentor nor the dean in this anecdote had authority over me; my bosses were in the provost office.

After the article was published, the dean of my college was clearly not happy I chose to share my experience publicly.  Continue reading

Teaching Naked, Part 1

I had my students fill out mid-semester evaluations last fall.  No big deal, just answer these four questions: 1) What am I doing to help you learn? 2) What could I be doing better to help you learn? 3) What are you doing to help yourself learn? and 4) What could you be doing better to help yourself learn?  I had them turn the evaluations in anonymously to allow more genuine feedback.mid-semester evaluations

Later that afternoon, I started going through the responses. It was encouraging to see that, in general, responses to the first two questions indicated I was getting better, which was gratifying given the amount of time and energy I spent re-developing the class. For the most part, students were surprisingly honest when responding to questions 3 and 4, showing they understood their responsibility in their progress, or lack thereof. Somewhere towards the end of the ~160 evaluations, I came across one that answered question #2 with: “Teach naked.”  Continue reading