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.

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 Sexual Harassment in the Academy survey (similar to the one I created years back on Ph.D. debt – see the Ph.D. Debt Survey here).

You can share your own story using the Survey Submission Form below.

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.

Share your own story using the Survey Submission Form just below.

PLEASE BE AWARE: Your answers will automatically be entered (totally anonymously, with no way to track your identity) into a PUBLIC SPREADSHEET, VISIBLE TO ALL, which you may view by clicking through to it.  Please do not share any information you don’t wish to be immediately visible to the public.

To share your own story of sexual harasssment in the academy, CLICK HERE FOR THE SEXUAL HARASSMENT SURVEY SUBMISSION FORM; this will enter your story into the public spreadsheet

And here again is link to the SPREADSHEET OF RESPONSES (as of late December with 1900+ entries), where you can follow each individual entry through all of its elements: SPREADSHEET.

The stories on the spreadsheet make for brutal but urgent reading.  Thank you to all who have participated. And thank you to those who have followed up by email to name their harassers and the administrators who protected them. I have a long list. I promise to keep this entirely confidential, but will use the names to potentially connect victims of the same perpetrator. You may email me at gettenure@gmail.com to add your story.

The sum total of these almost 2000 entries allows everyone to see that sexual predation is endemic to the power hierarchies of the academy in ways that almost perfectly parallel Hollywood: powerful older men are gatekeepers to vulnerable younger women, use their power for sexual predation, and are then protected by other senior men and women invested more in preserving the power structure than in defending victims. Women of color are doubly vulnerable and doubly bullied when they see redress.

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.”

Sharing your story, even anonymously, can be transformative for victims. You can see that you’re not alone, that you did nothing wrong, that the structure sets you up for victimization and systematically prevents consequences for the perpetrator. I believe this document removes plausible deniability from academic institutions about the pervasiveness and severity of sexual harassment, and I hope that it can promote greater peace, clarity, and resolve among its many victims, no matter what they choose to do moving forward. Solidarity.

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About Karen Kelsky

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 — 59 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.

  11. Thank you sincerely for your efforts to maintain this database. When you have a chance, could you please take a look at Dec 12 and 13’s entries which seem truncated (I think soon after the 1600 mark)? Thanks!

  12. Hi. Wow. And thank you.

    I wonder if the entry under time stamp 15.23.41 is appropriate? It names 4 faculty members in person, and the incidents are more a long list of interpersonal grievances, many of which sound painful but are not related to sexual assault so much as a general lack of mentorship, and ableism. I don’t know what your policy is on naming in the spreadsheet, but just wanted to let you know that there are 4 names in this entry, and the issues are not assault but general “academia is the worst” sorts of complaints. Thanks!

  13. Pingback: Ten Insights Regarding Sexual Harassment and Diversity in the Academy | The New West

    • If so, that’s in error. I went through and deleted blank lines and troll entries it’s possible a slip of the cursor led to a mistake. Could you possibly re-enter? I’m sorry for this inconvenience but would value your story.

  14. In reading these experiences, it is interesting to note the prevalence of the harassment coming from History Departments. As a young, prospective Ph.D. in History, I am feeling cautious of the efforts I will have to make when encountering/working with the aged faculty.

  15. Hi Dr. Kelsky,

    This list is great and I truly appreciate you providing a place for folks to share these stories. In an effort to be as trans inclusive as possible (as we know this also happens often to folks of all marginalized genders) would it be possible to change the language in the “What Was the Gender of the Harasser?” from male to man and female to woman? I know, as a trans person, I greatly appreciate the separation of gender terms (man/woman/non-binary) from sex assignment (male/female) – especially when sharing information like this.

  16. Pingback: Academia has its own version of the ‘s****y men’ listwith over 2,000 entries | Daily Buzz Click

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  19. In 1969 as a 17 year old beginning Music student at University of Queensland I was targeted for grooming and sexual abuse in the organ loft of St John’s Cathedral. I began complaining in 1997, to the university, the police, and the church where the organ loft was situated. Four complaints to the police have been rejected. In 2014, my lawyer was successful in organizing a mediation with the church and I received a modest settlement. But the late Professor Freda Briggs warned me I would have more trouble with the University of Queensland, and this has proven to be the case. It is now a year since, in the glare of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (I was a child of 17 at the time of the abuse), the University finally agreed to investigate. But they are dragging their heels. In 2002 an article appeared in the media following comments former Archbishop Hollingworth made in relation to my case. The article was seen by the son of a 12 year old victim of the same man, who died after disclosing her abuse to her son. His vocation as a priest, marriage, and health, have been destroyed by the Church because he made a respectful approach to tell his mother’s story. In addition, he is the nephew of the former Chancellor of the University, with whom he is furious for the cover up of his mother’s case. His mother’s abuse occurred in the 1950s. My abuser was appointed a Lecturer in Organ in the 60s. Despite my constant complaints, and the severity of the abuse, I am not hopeful of a resolution. My story is on the website SNAPAustralia. My abuser has been decorated by the Queen with an OBE, the Archbishop of Canterbury with the title Cantuar, and has an honorary doctorate in Music conferred by the University of Queensland. I have nothing and do not fear a defamation suit. My abuser is named on the SNAPAustralia website in ‘Sylvia’s Story’. I will not rest until he is brought to justice, although the abuse occurred so long ago. It has ruined my life, made it impossible for me to have the career in music that I practised so many hours to achieve, and led to an unwise and turbulent marriage. I can’t understand why he is still being protected. I have several documents supporting my story and would be happy to share them.

    • I am so very sorry. I saw your story show up on the spreadsheet and left a note there as well. Please email me at gettenure@gmail.com to share more. Despite all the scars, you are a survivor, and I salute you. Solidarity, Karen

  20. I have felt absolutely powerless to deal with my emotional state after what happened to me. Thank you for this. If nothing else, I feel better now that I’ve been able to share my story beyond the four walls of my house and my therapist’s office.

  21. Pingback: #MeToo: There's a List Circulating of Sexual Abusers on College Campuses – NEWSFUZZ

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  26. Thank you for this valuable work! An issue that seems to be getting lost in this discussion of *sexual* harassment/discrimination is *gender* harassment/discrimination. We think of it happening to transgender people, but what about those who are merely unconventional in their gendered expressions? As a woman with a conventionally feminine appearance who is often perceived to have masculine personality traits, I have faced persistent harassment, mostly by senior female academics (usually self-described feminists) who insist that I conform to their (and students’) expectations of how a young woman should teach (i.e., soft, “nurturing,” and maternal) and what she should research (women’s issues). Their discrimination towards me has affected my career advancement and my health. I would love a survey on this, because I believe the responses would show a much larger problem than most people realize.

  27. Pingback: Medical trainees want benefit of doubt when reporting harassment | CMAJ News

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  32. Is it possible that we could get a list of what the columns ought to be? I want to add my own story but hadn’t heard of the project until after Avital Ronell, and now it looks as if the most recent over-wrote the categories themselves.

  33. Pingback: ActiveHistory.ca repost – Teaching Sexual Violence in History – ActiveHistory.ca

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  35. I would love to participate in a survey about harassment and bullying in the academy. It was rampant at my school. I, along with several other employees, not only experienced this, but the administration and several faculty were complicit. Many were bullies themselves and we’re known as the “faculty powerhouses.” Higher Education has dissolved into an immoral and repugnant morass where abuse of power is rampant. Students are saddled with crippling debt. I had a crisis of conscience over the debt students are incurring and I worked at a public institution. Plus, education isn’t what it used to be. With declining enrollments, institutions have lowered their standards. I’ve worked with people from Ivy League institutions and I am not impressed. The Board of Trustees are often clueless about what is really happening and the way the structure is set up there is no way for the victims to tell the board their story. If you do, you end up being the “problem” or “the disgruntled employee,” in perfect cult speak. You would also risk retaliation. Heck, you wouldn’t risk it, you would be retaliated against. For public institutions, taxpayers are footing the bill for the protection and perpetration of these abusers. For private institutions students have higher debt and the amount of protection afforded these elite scholars is sickening indeed. Just read the databases and the accounts of so many perpetrators getting out on paid leave or nothing happens and administration never knows what to do as they hide behind tenure and academic freedom. Tenure is the ultimate protection for these perps. Yet the victims pay the highest price in student loan debt, unrealized dreams and trauma. Female faculty and POC also suffer greatly in the system. I saw and experienced it firsthand. It’s time for a reckoning in higher education. Get rid of tenure. Instead write up contracts that ensure academic freedom and rewrite the rules of Tenure. It’s really easy. No, instead admin and faculty in their “shared governance” will create committees, councils, and taskforces, will talk it death, never agree on anything and it will be discussed in perpetuity. It’s what they do, because as long as you’re talking about it, you’re doing something! Thank you for creating this and sharing it with the world. It’s time that the public knew about the sordid underbelly of higher education.

  36. Pingback: “Sexual Harassment in the Academy” Survey References UCSD Faculty | The Triton

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