Recap: Reporting Structures and Dealing With Harassers.

During this Diversity Journal Club, we discussed the Geoff Marcy harassment case as well as existing structures for reporting and how to deal with harassers. The conversation brought up a lot of good points that likely aren’t discussed enough. The entire discussion can be found on Twitter by searching for the #DiversityJC hashtag and looking for October 26.

One of the things I wrote in the post for the discussion was that the ultimate solution is changing the culture so that people like Marcy are reported early and their behavior isn’t tolerated. Currently, when such behavior does occur, any survivor of it faces a difficult choice. Reporting has consequences as does not reporting; it doesn’t seem as if either option is really a good one. This doesn’t include additional disruptions to departments, universities, and others dealing with a harasser and supporting the survivor. We want STEM workers concentrating on their work. Harassment and other aspects of our culture make that harder for too many in science.

The fact that reporting is hard (often not obvious who to turn to) and that harassment is too often covered up or consequences inconsequential and often take time to implement creates an environment hostile to reporting.

One aspect of the problem is something Emily pulled out of my initial post.

And even though harassment is not part of a mentoring relationship, the culture of academia does have a problem in training mentors as well as truly valuing it. As a recent editorial in Science states, the power dynamics in academia can permit harassment to continue. Part of the cultural change needed is to talk to men about speaking up, learning about reporting structures, and listening to those that are targets of harassment.

Jacquelyn Gill And Doctor PMS had some recommendations for supporting those that are targets of harassment:

There are apparently some programs that do well, like this one Emily cited:

And this for harassment policy resources:

Something several people brought up was the idea that some institutions designate everyone as “mandatory reporters”, where if they hear about harassment, they are obligated to report it to someone else, presumably someone that will investigate the claim. Even though such a policy might be in place, little training seems to have gone along with it for exactly how to support a victim of sexual harassment/assault and just who to report to. It also might make reporting less likely, ironically, as it means someone that might be trusted can no longer be if they’re supposed to report it to someone else.

And not reporting at all may result in the harasser continuing to target others in the future, but many early career researchers feel that they cannot take the risk to their own careers in today’s culture.

As to whether the Marcy story coming to light and him resigning is a sign of progress in changing the culture. The DiversityJC did not really think so:

At the same time, Marcy did keep his job 20 years ago and has been a serial harasser ever since until just this last month due to reporters and social media as well as the astronomy community. The culture may not be where it needs to be, but having a professor resign did not happen even a few years ago (or another example, a blog editor at Scientific American). And that does strike me as progress. Although far from parity and equal representation/inclusivity, STEM is more diverse now than ever. This isn’t a “good job, we can relax now”, but there are some signs of progress. Assessing what might be working is a good thing to do now and again. Now, I may not know what I’m talking about here, as I am one that lives life on the lowest difficulty setting as Wil Wheaton says, but having paid attention to discussions the last few years, things do seem to be slowly moving in the right direction.

Underscoring that we have a ways to go oh harassment/assaul, Jennifer Hoffman noted that those that reported Marcy only did so because they were in permanent positions or had left the field of astronomy:

I hope serial harassers like Marcy are rare. And I hope that men learn or speak to one another about specifically what constitutes harassment and why it’s a problem (in any context, though we’re mostly concerned with the STEM workplace here).

This story isn’t over. And hopefully we see the UC system really change how they deal with cases like Marcy’s:

And enable real consequences (i.e. dismissal) for harassment, not just what amounted to double secret probation.

Unfortunately, changing the culture around harassment isn’t like flipping a light switch. It will take work, reform, and I hope we’re moving in that direction.

Ian Street

Emily Klein


Note: The DiversityJC will be on hiatus for the rest of 2015. We’ll be back in 2016. In the meantime, you can visit old topic posts, re-caps, and use the #DiversityJC hashtag and tag one of us if you run across a diversity-related topic  (@IHSreet, @Doctor_PMS, and @DrEmilySKlein on Twitter). Enjoy your holidays and see the DiversityJC community in January! 


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