I fervently hope my lawsuit makes it safer for concerned faculty to step forward and speak out about campus sexual assault and harassment, and that this ruling helps to challenge the retaliation against faculty who join our students in working to ensure that college campuses are safer and more equitable learning environments. The brave young women and men who are organizing across this country deserve our admiration and support. They are my inspiration.
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?
Originally published in April 2014.
Harvard Has Not Won
I write to thank my many colleagues, current and former students, and friends for the support extended to me in many venues. Your solidarity lifts my spirits and inspires me. Today I also write to make certain the key issue is not lost in the midst of heated debates and, at times, distraction. This is and has always been about Harvard’s failure to implement adequate sexual assault prevention measures, and Harvard’s failure to respond effectively and compassionately in the aftermath of sexual assault and harassment on this campus [http://ourharvardcandobetter.wordpress.com/].
Yes, I was denied tenure in retaliation for my Title IX protected speech and conduct in support of survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Several of these brave young women were my students. Of course, parents send their daughters and sons to us to educate them. Teaching them has been a pleasure and a privilege for me. But there is also an implicit understanding that as educators we will do everything we can to keep these young people safe. Harvard does not honor that duty.
Over the past 36 hours, I have received numerous emails from Harvard students past and present. Some describe their own experiences of sexual assault, while others express their distress at seeing classmates ground down by the university’s callous indifference to the violence they have endured. Here are two brief excerpts from the emails:
“I just wanted to thank you. A friend of mine was treated horribly by the administration when she was raped, and after an exhausting battle of retelling and retelling she eventually was forced to “just let it go”. She says she feels doubly assaulted now.”
“This past year has been a very difficult one for me. Several friends identify closely with students who have faced sexual harassment, and one of my roommates has been experiencing severe depression. It has been extraordinarily trying to seek out help and realize it often does not exist. Thank you for standing up for the women of this college.”
These emails make clear that the experience of one anonymous young woman was not unique (http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2014/3/31/Harvard-sexual-assault/).
In my case, Harvard will hide behind the vague “standard of excellence” they allegedly apply during their secretive tenure process. That won’t work with me. I met and exceeded the standards applied to the professors previously tenured in the anthropology department. Harvard will also insist on procedural fidelity and rigor. That won’t work either. Earlier this month, President Drew Faust tenured a male colleague in the anthropology department without even convening an Ad Hoc committee. The tenure process at Harvard is arbitrary and, in my case, retaliatory. But I am an established academic. I will move on and Harvard will be just one entry on a lengthy CV. Harvard’s punitive treatment will not mark me for life.
But Harvard’s failure to protect and respond to campus sexual assault certainly marks the lives of the young women and men who have been sexually assaulted on this campus. Their stories and futures are what motivate me. In my written work I have argued that the narrative burden for sexual violence must not be placed solely on the shoulders of survivors, who frequently have the most to lose for speaking out. The responsibility to speak out and demand justice is one we all share. And each time one of us steps forward to demand that our campuses be made safer for students, and for the faculty who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them, we prove that courage is contagious.
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.
From The Hunting Ground. The video is powerful and disturbing, as is the song. Yes, I wish we saw a greater diversity of survivors (I think of one of my wonderful male students who was raped at Harvard—this happens to men, not just women). I think of who is made visible and invisible in the video, and the absence of professors as perpetrators (and the silence of most faculty who should be allies with students in creating safer and more equitable learning environments). That said, I was moved by the video and wanted to share it with you.