• Sometimes things don’t go from bad to worse…

    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:

    1. “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.  

  • What if they had listened?

    I first went to former dean Stephen Kosslyn and Senior Vice Provost for Diversity, Judith Singer, in 2010.  I provided a detailed account of the systemic gender discrimination in the department. I continued to speak out after students came to me with complaints of sexual harassment in 2012-2013. Judge Leo Sorokin ruled in Harvard’s favor, overlooking the abundance of evidence my legal team produced —– all of which remains sealed at Harvard’s request. How many lives were damaged and careers derailed because the Harvard administration did not stop this rampant behavior?  Harvard continues to treat this as a “PR problem,” and seems to be primarily worried about tarnishing the brand.  This is not a PR problem: this is about a climate in which sexual harassment was normalized; a climate in which the perpetrators were protected by the cowards and the complicit; a climate in which the fear of retaliation made even the decent people duck their heads and shut their mouths.  #TheMissingWomen


  • Bullying in Academia

  • Loving the Gratitude, and imagining a counter-factual

    My spirits are lifted by reading the expressions of gratitude for those professors who mentored us, encouraged us, and saw in us future colleagues with whom they would work. Isn’t it a wonderful balm to reflect on their decency midst the horrendous events at Harvard? To praise their names out loud and let them know the difference they made and make is so necessary.

    Now to imagine the inverse. Let’s suppose, for those of us who identify as female, that the male professor who singled us out, praised our work, encouraged us, had ulterior motives. How devastating would that have been?

    One of my academic heroes is Arturo Escobar, the brilliant and kind man so many of us admire. Oh his classes at UCSC were an intellectual feast! His mind, his breadth of insights, his humor and his mentoring: it was heady stuff to be in his classes. I suppose he could have parlayed our admiration into something unsavory: He did not. Not. Did I say not? Not.

    I remember one office hour session with Arturo. Important backdrop: I worked my way (waiting tables) through college from Cabrillo Community College to my BA at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and on to my MPH and PhD at the University of California at Berkeley. I was not raised to believe I would pursue graduate studies: my mother always hoped I would marry well.

    I had taken a couple of courses with Arturo Escobar, and my mind was on fire. All neurons on high alert! Also huge shout out to Sonia Alvarez, whom I admire to the moon —but the topic here is female student/male faculty mentorship. Back to the narrative thread.

    So I met with Arturo during office hours, and at one point wondered out loud how I could possibly be happy being a secretary after the ideas I had been exposed to in his classes. He smiled before telling me that, of course, I would go to graduate school. He probably does not remember that conversation–it would be one among hundreds during which he mentored and encouraged his students. But I remember: it was the first time in my life that someone had mentioned graduate school to me. It shifted the horizon of my expectations, which in turned changed the trajectory of my life.

    I did go on to graduate school and Arturo wrote a letter of recommendation for me. I have no doubt that his stature in the field influenced the admission committee in my favor. Thank you, Arturo, for your brilliance, inspiration and sheer goodness.

    And now for a counter-factual moment. What if all the support he gave me had been nothing more than grooming me, nothing more that raising my hopes to satisfy his belief — as too many professors seem to believe—that sexual access to students was part of his compensation package? Had that been the case I know it would have ended my studies. I, a waitress working her way through college, would have lost all faith in myself. I was already the “odd one out,” a bit older than my classmates and prone to doubting myself. Had the professor I admired so much been a sexual predator, I would have left academia. After all, as a waitress I was exposed to enough harassment each time I went on my shift.

    To those female students who had a serial harasser in your way: you needed an Arturo Escobar, you did not have one. And my heart truly breaks for you. It is so wrong. #TheMissingWomen

  • Taking Time, Taking Care

    This past week has been “triggering” for many, exhausting for many more. I appreciate all who have reached out, and also know that working on the topics of sexual harassment and assault can wear us down. I believe the term is “weathering.” Call it a tempest, please. I have been inundated with messages, and want to reach out to each of you and support you. I also know I cannot. Boundaries and limits. While those of us who work on these issues — campus-based and beyond— struggle to respond, there are many more professors who are writing peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and monographs: they are probably white, cisgendered, middle classed, able-bodied males, and someone else is caring for their children or elders. Someone else cooks their meals and cleans their homes. For the rest of us: take time, take care. It may be a fleeting moment: a flash of sunshine; a canine familiar licking our ear; a loved one giving us a hug; a former student reaching out to let us know we made a difference. There are many ways to measure our days and our contributions. A resource below.

  • Say Their Names

    Say their names. The perpetrators. The cowards. The complicit. And these women whose names we should embrace and shout out loud. Give them support. Harvard will bring all its money and power to bear to grind them down.

  • Let Them Not Say, by Jane Hirshfield


  • Boston Globe update on Harvard


  • Latest news from the Harvard Anthropology Department




  • More on Gary Urton. Can the MacArthur Foundation rescind an award?