Oh my, this from 9 years ago just popped up on Facebook. Memories indeed. It was June 2013 and I had recently been denied tenure, in a decision that shocked me, seemingly all of my colleagues in the anthropology department, and many of the external letter writers who reached out to express their dismay. I recall Kay Warren telling me to go ahead with my lecture in London, and to make certain I wore some sparkling accessories. I took her advice on both recommendations.
And now, 2022 and I am again just back from London, under very different circumstances. A six year lawsuit allowed me to learn what happened, who was involved, and what their motivations were. I am still not allowed to name names— power works in the registers of speech and silences — but the first professor about whom I received harassment complaints was subsequently sanctioned on a different harassment charge and has since passed away. The professor, then department chair, to whom I suggested that first student take her complaint has since been investigated, stripped of his emeritus status and is no longer allowed on campus. Yet another professor, then serving in a powerful position under the university president, was subsequently investigated and stripped of his emeritus status — and that case resulted in an unprecedented apology to the first female professor he had harassed decades ago. Some have congratulated me for 1) landing on my feet and 2) the assumed sense of vindication.
Let’s take those in order:
- “Landing on one’s feet.” Those words were a hornet’s sting, however unintentional that may have been. For all of us who have paid a price for speaking out about sexual harassment and gender discrimination, there is no landing on one’s feet in an Olympic perfect 10 scenario. No firm plant on a springboard mat. The knockdown and picking oneself back up happens repeatedly: when a colleague lets one know that their dean asked, “will she cause trouble?”; when a grant application falls through and one recognizes the shared institutional affiliation of several jury members; sometimes the knock down is seeing certain ad hoc committee members at a conference, oblivious (indifferent ?) to having done the bidding of sexual harassers and the vast network of complicity that protects them; perhaps it is yet another person reaching out with a need to tell one all about the sexual harassment they endured on their campus. One becomes the keeper of the tales.
- The assumed sense of vindication. The repertoire of justice is vast and vindication can be a soothing balm. It is not, however, the same as having one’s day in court, being allowed to name names, having the secret contents of depositions aired publicly, and having the perpetrators bear the shame they had planned to heap upon their accuser. Vindication does not settle the accounts when those accounts remain silenced.
But nine years does make for some differences, and anything less than gratitude would be unseemly. For me, it has meant a tenured endowed chair: although I was told through the proverbial grapevine that speaking out would “bury my career,” I remain firmly above ground. Very thankful on that point. Wonderful colleagues continue to make my academic world a joyful and productive one. My research remains a passion project, and no amount of writing and publishing can ever do justice to the generosity I have experienced in Latin America. Always gobsmacked on that front. Students — past, present and future — make professorial life one I am so glad I pursued. And there is love. Kathleen Stauffer was an unforeseen gift and London never looked better to me than when walking by her side.
To think this reflection was prompted by a random Facebook pop-up! I decided to post it. Perhaps these words will resonate for others who found their pathway suddenly swerved because they opened an office door late one afternoon and a distressed student walked in.