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.