I woke up to a message from a colleague, asking for advice and expressing her outrage. She recently learned that a former student, who had studied for her Masters Degree under my colleague’s supervision, has been driven out of her PhD program due to a sexually harassing professor. What to do? I offered the standard package of advice, knowing this young woman will most likely go quietly for fear of retaliation and career-ending retribution if she reports this professor. All of which leads me to consider #TheMissingWomen. From the actresses who left the film industry due to Harvey Weinstein; the musicians/composers/singers run out and ruined by Russell Simmons; the hostesses/servers/sous-chefs who gritted their teeth and let their pot of rage simmer on low; the hotel maids who escaped groping guests; to the young women who leave academia to avoid sexually harassing professors whose power over them makes or breaks careers — how can we begin to measure the missing women who leave their careers of choice (or necessity) because they have been ground down, groped, sexually harassed and driven out? This is about sexual assault and harassment, to be sure. It is about the violation of bodily integrity and personal dignity, with equal certainty. It is also about the loss of employment, career aspirations, dreams and economic security. How can we begin to measure the economic fallout for #TheMissingWomen?
“While Kimberly Theidon, a professor of humanitarian studies at Tufts University, took her dogs for a walk on Wednesday morning, she thought about the numerous times guys have driven by and shouted “some disgusting version of ‘great tits.’”
“This morning I blinked back tears, realizing those guys are even more emboldened as a result of this election,” Theidon said. “Yet another generation of young women will grow up having been made to feel that their bodies are somehow public property, and they will also keep putting one foot in front of another and not say a word for fear the car will circle back around a second time.”
“We cannot be a great College unless we are a good community.” Indeed. It is time to investigate the professors who sexually harass students, who engage in quid pro quo sexual transactions for letters of recommendation, for writing prologues to forthcoming books, and for placing phone calls to members of search committees looking to hire a tenure track professor. I refuse to remain silent, and I encourage my colleagues to speak out. Even if you were silent in the past about the professorial misconduct you witnessed, you can still step forward now. It is not too late to do the right thing. Stand shoulder to shoulder with students, and take a stand to make certain this sort of behavior stops. Stand up. If there is something to be learned from this interminable and infernal presidential campaign, it is the strength of numbers. Each time a sexual assault or harassment survivor comes forward, she or he emboldens others to do the same. And let me be clear: the narrative burden for sexual violence must not rest upon the shoulders of survivors. We all have a responsibility to speak out and demand change.
We watched “Spotlight” last night and it is a powerful film which I highly recommend. It is based upon the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting of widespread clerical sexual abuse in our city. As I watched, the parallels to professorial sexual harassment were stunning: complicity of those in power (and colleagues in the know who said nothing); structurally vulnerable young people who feared speaking out; priests who preyed upon poorer students whose parents were delighted their children were being singled out for the attention; a church policy of moving priestly predators from one parish to another when their actions became so extreme as to draw attention (akin to moving professors from one center or department on campus to another when their harassing ways cannot be swept under the carpet, or encouraging them to take a paid leave or early retirement); and Cardinal Law who knew about all of it for years and did nothing (the deans and campus presidents who file away the harassment reports in ever-thickening-and-sickening-folders to gather dust while lives are wrenched apart and academic careers derailed). If all the students and untenured faculty who have been targeted for harassment joined forces with formerly complicit senior faculty who finally found their courage and their voices —- this could equal the power of the student-led Title IX Movement spreading from one side of this country to the other. For every person who watches “Spotlight” and is justifiably horrified by all of those who silently stood by, isn’t it time to stand up and speak out?
Thank you to my students and colleagues. It is time for faculty to step up and be our students’ best allies in making campuses safer and more equitable learning environments. And as long as students, faculty and staff are more frightened by the capacity of their universities to retaliate than they are of their assailants or harassers, then policy reforms are largely cosmetic, designed to placate donors and keep the Department of Education at bay.