I am a junior member of a Philosophy department. Recently at a faculty meeting we were discussing the application of a philosopher to teach at our program for a short term. The applicant crashed a party I threw a while ago, arrived somewhat drunk, and hit on me incessantly even as I tried to maintain a professional distance (and I wear a wedding ring.) I explained this, including how uncomfortable I felt. A senior male professor said, ‘I don’t understand…is this positive or negative?” That was followed by heartfelt chuckles from some of my other colleagues. Somehow I found it in me to respond to that and say that it was negative, and that I did not appreciate the remark at all, since I had already stated it had been uncomfortable. To this the response of the senior member was, “I see.” After which, a senior female member of the department went on to tell me that not everyone, e.g. not her, would find it wrong to flirt with a married woman.
A few years ago I [presented] my research at a conference. My talk was chaired by a semi-well known… male professor who is known to be condescending towards female academics. I had traveled a long way to attend this conference and present my research and was really looking forward to receiving questions on my paper. The chair not only cut my talk in half on the excuse that we were running late, giving me less than 15 min to present my paper, but did not allow me to answer any of the questions that the very few people were allowed to ask. Instead, every time I started answering the questions he interrupted me and insisted talking over me and claiming I did not understand the main view I was criticizing. I tried to explain to him why he had misunderstood my argument, but he spoke over me and did not allow me to address any of the criticisms, he just spoke over me until he told me my time was up. I was really disappointed to have lost the opportunity to discuss the questions, especially given that some established philosophers came to see my talk, so I approached them in the coffee break and attempted to discuss their questions. This did not last long; the chair came to join the discussion by standing between me and the professor who had asked the question. The chair turned his back at me and started talking to the professor referring to me as ‘she’ and saying how all I said was wrong. I was right there; able to hear him undermining me and absolutely excluded from the discussion. Having worked with the most established proponent of the view I discussed and published several papers on the topic, I did not feel threatened by the groundless accusations. I felt disappointed that he completely wasted my time and the resources of my institution that funded my trip by depriving me of the opportunity to discuss my research with academics who were actually interested in what I had to say.
I’m a graduate student in philosophy. I’ve given quite a lot of thought in the past about how my experiences as a woman in philosophy may ultimately impact my career, my work, my ability to learn—but the effects are more far-reaching than that. Recently, I went to a sporting event at my university because the visiting team is from my home state, and it’s one I grew up watching. Being at the game was an extremely odd experience. It made salient to me something that has been latent for a while: I want to love my university. I want to feel like I am part of this community. I want to be proud of where I go to school. I want to feel the urge to cheer my school on.
On the whole I’m quite proud of my undergraduate institution. Not because it’s perfect (it’s certainly not), and not because it’s an Ivy League sort of school (again, it’s not)—but because in my experience when problems arose, the university community banded together to solve them. People disagreed, sometimes sharply and painfully, but they engaged together in civil discourse. Differing ideas were taken seriously. A very strong sense of the importance of service to the community (both the university community and the surrounding city) was always present. There was a wide-spread perception that discrimination was not to be tolerated.
Every institution has its problems to be sure, but the good and the bad come in different degrees, and the balance in my experiences here is such that we are very quickly approaching the point at which it will never be possible for me to feel proud of having been a member of my current university community. It’s an odd, unpleasant, and surprisingly painful feeling.
I don’t want to go into too many details because I suspect the people I’m referencing read this blog. I’m a female graduate student currently, and my department is attempting to address a number of problems associated with climate. It’s just so frustrating to have faculty ask me for advice on what to do, at the expense of my own comfort in the department, and then not listen to what I say. It’s even more frustrating when they then turn around and ask me to do extra work to help them, because I’m “important” and “knowledgeable.” If I’m so knowledgeable, shouldn’t they believe me when I tell them about problems with climate? It’s disappointing to be here, especially since I know that it’s likely nothing will ever happen to make this department more welcoming to future female (and other minority) students.
I recently returned from a conference at which I encountered the most contentious member of my dissertation committee. This fellow delayed my defense by 1) not reading my dissertation until the day before my originally scheduled defense date and 2) threatening to fail me if my defense date was not pushed back. My original defense date was cancelled the night before I was supposed to defend. This caused me to be a graduate student for an additional summer term. Because he was in Europe for the summer, he did not get around to reading the chapters of my dissertation relevant to his interests until late summer. This caused me to be a graduate student for an additional fall term. He did not actually read my revisions or my other chapters until late in the fall term, at which point I finally mustered the courage to say to him, enough is enough. I was allowed to defend late in the fall term, but lost a job as a result.
I count the interaction at this last conference as a win. Yes, he did approach me in a thinly veiled contentious manner, but I managed to avoid any private interaction for the most part. It is unfortunate that I have to do this, but one of my other committee members recommended this approach to him, complete avoidance in the profession, after my defense. I will not be able to avoid him completely, but I can certainly avoid any private interaction with him.