A Crowdsourced Survey of Sexual Harassment in the Academy

Sexual harassment is rampant in the academy as it is in every other industry.  The entrenched hierarchies of the academic world, the small size of most scholarly fields, the male dominance of virtually every field other than women’s studies, the culture of collegiality (read, evasiveness and pretense) that predominates, and junior scholars’ desperate dependency on good references for career advancement, make for conditions in which sexual abuse (and indeed abuse of all kinds) can flourish with impunity.

This piece by K.A. Amienne, Abusers and Enablers in the Academy, lays out the dynamic of enabling that prevails:

My department chair had all the security that race, class, gender, and tenure at a top-10 university can bestow. And still he was too afraid to do his job properly. I was a woman, a student, crushed under debt, without institutional support, and minus parents or any other safety net back in the working-class world from which I’d come. How was I supposed to confront this professor on my own when people who could have — and should have — would not?

So I did what a lot of women do. After earning my Ph.D., I walked away from a life in which I’d invested time, money, and work. I spent the next several years blaming myself, replaying the scenes, repeating the words of those in power. I had mixed feelings of relief and resentment as I met others who told different versions of “Yes, everyone knows he’s like this.”

Because it is so difficult for many victims in the academy to speak out about cases of sexual harassment and sexual abuse, I have decided to create an anonymous, opensourced survey, similar to the one I created years back on Ph.D. debt (see the Ph.D. Debt Survey here).  My hope is that this survey will allow victims to find a safe way to anonymously report their experience of sexual harassment. My goal is for the academy as a whole to begin to grasp the true scope and scale of this problem in academic settings.  I hope it provides aggregate information in the form of personal stories of abuse and its career outcomes for victims (which, as a cultural anthropologist I consider the most potent form of data), paving the way for more frank conversations and more effective interventions.

Women are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual harassment, and until this issue is addressed head on, women will continue to be hounded out of academia, as they are from every other career from comedy to politics. I hope that gathering stories will allow women in particular to know they are not alone, and create conditions for women to thrive in their chosen careers.

The Survey Form is below.  Your answers will automatically be entered (totally anonymously, with no way to track your identity) into a linked spreadsheet, which you may view by clicking through to it.  Please feel free to share this with your networks.


Here is the spreadsheet of responses, where you can follow each individual entry through all of its elements: SPREADSHEET.

It is brutal but urgent reading.  Thank you to all who have participated.

About Karen

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions–University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I’ve created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don’t.


A Crowdsourced Survey of Sexual Harassment in the Academy — 19 Comments

  1. This is a really great idea, to collect data on sexual harassment in academia. However, if you want to say something about how common it is, don’t you need to give people a chance to say they have not experienced harassment? Otherwise you can’t say whether the people you have data from represent a tiny minority or the vast majority. Although, I guess you’ll have trouble making inferences about that anyway because you’re not collecting anything like a random sample. Well, either way, collecting people’s stories is important for letting people know they’re not alone, and showing that at least some people have been negatively affected. Important work.

  2. Ive had a pretty clear go of things (my experiences with this stuff in ed are indirect – aka not me – and primarily in h.s. or undergrad; or explicit in my 20s career in media) but I’m really happy to see this data collected because I know my higher ed immunity was rare.
    Just want to give you a bravo and shout out!

  3. I worked for 35 years in academic administration at the University of California, Berkeley. UC Berkeley has its faults, but in all my years there I never once experienced sexual harassment, from faculty or from administrative personnel.

  4. Though I was not in academia when I was assaulted, I know the isolation and pain of being a survivor of sexual assault. Make no mistake: its effects are terrible, and recovery takes years to decades. It still causes me pain today, 24 years after the fact. Thank you Dr. Karen – for the idea, for the execution, and for your compassion. Thank you survivors for your courage. I hope your brave words and that humble spreadsheet signals an end to the silence, and an end to the terrible status quo that many of you live with. It makes me cry with rage and sorrow to think that this is still happening.

  5. Have you seen the ongoing SAFE study carried out by a team of women anthropologists? I was surprised that you hadn’t mentioned them in your justification of the survey given your background in anthropology.

    Below are the links and I hope you can check out their work. The study is making a signficant impact on the field’s handling of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault and does an excellent job at both identifying structural gaps in reporting mechanisms and putting the scale and stories of abuses of power in the field on the map since it began.



  6. Hi Karen,
    I am glad to see someone trying to bring to light the many issues of the academia. The reality is that universities across North America have become morally bankrupt. I suggest that you expand your survey to harassment, bullying, discrimination and all the evils perpetuated by professors (sometimes students) and condoned by the administration. I have seen many graduate students abandoned their dreams of completing a master’s or PhD, just because of the injustices perpetuated in the academia. Universities are bubbles and we have allowed them for too long to be self regulated.

  7. Hi, thank you for creating this resource! Just wanted to leave a note to say that entries after 12/7 are not expanding rows and cannot be read. I think there may be some hidden coding in entry 1913, which may have been pasted from an app with style conflicts. (MSWord is very bad about that.) 1969 also looks like it may have pasted formatting.

  8. I have been developing a list of cases that are confirmed in some way – either through a resignation, a firing, a settlement, or similar. I think this allowance for people to articulate their harassment is useful, as well. See also this recent published work by colleagues: Cantalupo, Nancy Chi, and William C. Kidder. “A Systematic Look at a Serial Problem: Sexual Harassment of Students by University Faculty.”, Utah Law Review (2017).

    Sexual misconduct in academia: https://geocognitionresearchlaboratory.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/not-a-fluke-that-case-of-sexual-harassment-is-not-an-isolated-incident/

  9. Thank you for doing this. I’ve done a search for my field through the document and it’s giving me some very valuable information about where I will not go for a PhD, since certain institutions keep coming up again and again.

  10. Thank you for this. While I have not experienced anything like this in grad school, I appreciate that is it critically important to make this sort of information available.

    I notice that there are many blank rows in the spreadsheet (2-5, 10, 33, etc.). If those rows carry no information, and you could delete them, the row count would more accurately reflect the number of entries.

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