I’m writing this post because I recently read a shocking article about one of my old bosses. For the sake of anonymity I’m not going to link the article but I had a lot of thoughts about it that I needed to get out.
The article brings up how a colleague in the department brought up sexual harassment allegations to the university and the university failed to punish or frankly do anything about the professor who these allegations were made against. When I saw the article and clicked it, my heart dropped. I knew every single person who was named in the article. I interacted with them in one way or another in my two years working there. I had passed by them in the hallways. I had sat in meeting with them. I sent them e-mails. I had no idea they were subjected to this kind of behavior and I had no idea what they had suffered through. I have been reflecting a lot the past 24 hours about my time there and the experiences I had, that were not enough to talk to anyone outside of my friends about but were enough to make an impact that I remember these memories to this day.
During my last few years of college I worked as a research assistant to a PI collecting data, reading papers, and learning how to analyze data. I was offered a lab manager position for her new lab that she was starting but due to funding it would have to be part time and I would split my time with another lab. I interviewed with my other boss just so he could get a sense of what I was like. I remember coming in and one of the first things he asked me is if I’m from California due to my uptalk. We interviewed. It was fine and I started my position. I was really excited to have this role and to have my first real job out of college. Some of the earlier days were filled with stresses of moving into our new lab space, recruiting subjects, and dealing with the RSRB/IRB. I had been a part of some of the lab parties at my bosses house. I would stop by for the meal, bring a dish, talk to whoever was there, and leave relatively early to go see my other friends. I never thought anything of these get togethers. I thought all labs were this close and all PIs invited their grad students over for potlucks or go out to the bar close by. It wasn’t until I read the EEOC that I saw that he used this as a social power tactic to invite who he wanted to his house. While things may have changed since the early days of him being in the lab, I thought everyone who worked in the lab was usually invited and I never questioned who was or was not there.
There was one time I was leaving to go on vacation I had sent out an e-mail saying that I was going to be gone that week to go on a vacation and I got an e-mail back with my boss asking me if I was going to be partying the whole time, with which I responded no I’m going on vacation with my sister. It was an odd e-mail but not odd enough to say anything to anyone. I just mentioned it to some of my friends about how weird it was and that was it.
I had a lunch conversation one time with my main boss and another lab manager about catcalling. The lab manager and I were very adamant about the view that cat calling is a form of harassment and is a way to assert power, dominance, and fear into the subject he is calling after. A week or more later I had a meeting after hours at work with my male boss. I forget what it was about but what I do remember is as I was about to leave he made a comment to me, “When you were going to enter the room I was at first going to say ‘Hey baby, what’s up?'” and I was thrown off. Why would you greet me like that? What is the purpose of you saying that? Then he went on to explain that my other boss has mentioned the conversation to him and how strongly I felt that this was harassing behavior. He then proceeded to say how in other cultures it is okay to say these things and that it’s actually part of the way that you court a person. I retaliated with it’s a power dynamic and instills fear and especially if the person doesn’t want to be called after, it is not okay culturally or not. He then proceeded to argue his point in a way that I felt inferior and felt that because he was making a more logical argument than me that I had to agree.
I had heard from one grad student that he would openly say that sometimes he has to remember that I’m smart due to the way that I talk. He openly mocked my uptalk/ upstate accent and said that it was winning out (Because linguistically the uptalk accent is moving across the country). I get incredibly self conscious about the way I sound and the way I speak. I get upset that even though I have a dual bachelors degree, a masters degree from a pristine University, that when people see me or hear me they dismiss everything about me and do not think I’m smart or capable, just because of the way I talk. I see how that is also a power move on his part to instill that idea into multiple grad students heads to then discount what I say or what I do. I know I’m not the perfect person or employee but my worth and intelligence should not be based on the way I speak.
I thought a lot the past 24 hours about silence. What is means to be silent and how all of the sexual harassment had been going on for 10 years and I had no idea that our department was going through this. How the colleague had suffered through being hit on, manipulated into living with him because he knew her economic situation, and the invasion of privacy that he felt compelled to take away from her. How many other people are quietly suffering but can’t do anything because the person is in power? How many other people are staying silent and don’t know who to turn to. I’ve had conversations with multiple of my friends who have been raped, sexually harassed, and belittled for the way they look or talk. Everyone blames it on themselves. Even when they try to report it they are not believed. Even when they talk to their other friends about it, some will claim “that wasn’t rape.” When I told about my rape to a friend he was glad I didn’t say anything to anyone about the guy that did it to me because I would be putting his life and career at risk. But my silence has probably harmed other people.
In my current position I’ve had incident where I met a customer and when he was incredibly drunk he would not leave me alone. I thankfully told another co-worker and he kept himself between us and I knew when to walk away but even later on in that week I had heard how that same person was also incredibly drunk and was touching this girl inappropriately and she felt bad that she didn’t want to leave. Thankfully two of my co-workers recognized that there was a situation and got her out of it. But she could have been a victim, I could have been a victim. But there’s not enough proof in order to say anything or report anything.
The problem I have with the University is that it prides itself on being supportive and inclusive of it’s students. But when it comes time to defend the students, it fails. It takes into question their allegations. I’m still trying to comprehend what the University gains by defending this professor when multiple renowned professors will be leaving due to this. What does he have that is worth protecting? Why is he worth protecting but not us?