In an earlier post (“Avoid the Elites”) another person expressed their experience doing philosophy at a college that was not elite. While her experience is truly a breath of fresh air from the hundreds of experiences listed on this site, unfortunately it’s not guaranteed by attending a non-elite college. My own experience as a graduate student in a non-elite college was drastically different from hers and more in line with the other accounts on this site. (I wonder if this treatment differs based on education level- it’s easier for teaching schools to focus on developing female undergraduate students than it is for them to teach and encourage female graduate students. My own experience as an undergraduate student in philosophy at a different public university was certainly less hostile towards women.)
When I was a graduate student I found myself in two very disturbing situations. The first one occurred early in my graduate career. Our department hosted a conference and after the conference several graduate students decided to go out for dinner and drinks (this was a common occurrence). I joined them that evening because I wanted to get to know the other students in the department and there were other female graduate students who went out as well. After dinner and a drink I went outside to call a cab to bring me back to my apartment on the other side of town. A male graduate student in the department followed me and waited until I finished my call. Then he proceeded to grab me and forced a kiss confessing he wanted me. I pushed him away and told him off then waited inside the restaurant with the remaining graduate students for my cab to come. The male student pursued me and continued to badger me, reaching out and groping me whenever he passed by (and he made sure to pass by several times). The remaining graduate students were men and they didn’t say anything to him despite the fact they all observed the harasser wasn’t listening to my protests. Over the next several weeks the male student who harassed began sending sexual propositions via email and made several sexual remarks about me in the classroom before the professor arrived. I spoke to another female graduate student about the situation (as she had a problem with a male student before) in an attempt to get some advice on how to proceed. Our conversation was overheard by a friend of the male who harassed me and he reported parts of what was said to the dean of graduate affairs. He insisted that I was making the harasser’s time in the department difficult by creating rumors about him. A few days later I was approached by the faculty-student liaison and reprimanded for spreading rumors and making the department a hostile environment. This scolding occurred right near a group of philosophy graduate students. I tried to explain to the liaison the actual events which occurred that night but he said that wasn’t what he was told. He finally agreed to look into the matter and speak with the male harasser. I found out he never spoke with the male harasser.
My second experience occurred when I was working on my dissertation. I was assigned a junior faculty member as my dissertation advisor and mentor (because my topic was one he had recently wrote several articles on). In the early stages of writing my dissertation this male faculty member would meet with me once every month. About four months in, he stopped answering my emails and cancelled our previously scheduled meetings (usually on the day we were supposed to meet a few hours before the meeting). I wasn’t too worried at first because this male faculty member recently had some major changes in his personal life. It was only when I discovered that he become the advisor for three new male graduate students who were also starting their dissertation that I was concerned. Four months had already passed and I was nowhere near ready to write my prospectus. I continued to email my advisor and would occasionally get replies but they were vague and unhelpful. I looked at his responses (or lack thereof) charitably – obviously a result of his changing personal life. A month later, one of the male students he took on after me completed his dissertation prospectus and was well on his way towards writing his dissertation. In the month after that, another male student he was advising also completed their prospectus. I spoke with the second male student about how he found working with our advisor. He said nothing but praise and he even stated that our advisor would reply to his emails late in the evening and always wrote back to email within 24 hours. I continued to find strained communications with my advisor. I really didn’t understand how he could have time to work with two new students and get them to the point of completing their prospectus but he couldn’t even answer an email from me. I was at the top of my class and I had finished all of my degree requirements minus the dissertation. The other students still were completing the language requirement. I told my advisor in the beginning I wanted to finish my dissertation as quickly as possible considering my ABD status. Frustrated, I ended up changing my dissertation topic entirely so that I would have a renowned female philosopher at my university as my advisor. During my last year as a graduate student I discovered that the male junior faculty advisor I was initially assigned to had treated other female graduate students the same way he treated me. He ignored female graduate students when they participated in his class and he would not respond quickly (if he responded at all) to emails sent by female graduate students. He didn’t act this way with male students. I was very grateful and honored to have the senior female faculty member as my dissertation advisor despite the fact I had to drastically change my area of interest – so maybe it really was a blessing disguised as a curse.
Archive for the ‘sexual harassment’ Category
A highly abridged list of incidents:
I got excellent teaching evaluations from my students. But the Chair discounted the report citing the my “good looks” and NOT my “teaching” as the explanation for the high marks.
I was repeatedly denied a raise and told among other reasons that I didn’t need one because I didn’t have “a family” or “children” and that I just thought that I was “better than everyone else.”
I was initially denied an office and told that I shouldn’t have expected one because I “failed to negotiate for it” and I shouldn’t complain because I was “lucky to have a job” despite turning down several other offers. Then they tried to put my office in Women’s Studies.
I was repeatedly the subject of discussions about the fit of my clothing and general appearance. I was told that I need to “dress” like “an adult” “behave like an adult,” but probably cannot/will not until I have “real responsibilities” (i.e. children).
I arrived on campus and met with several undergraduates who report sexual harassment and discrimination by a certain professor in my department. I report the incident to the Chair with substantiating documentation and it is ignored. The offender is then given emeritus status so he can retain his office on campus to meet with students.
I was required to meet with faculty assistance center social worker and eventually ADA officer for special permissions to have my dog on campus (which was agreed to prior to accepting the position) while no male faculty member with a dog (of which there are several on our floor) was required to do so.
I go up for tenure and I am told by the Chair that my friends cannot write letters for me. When I explain that my area is very small and that my colleagues in the area of expertise are all friends, the Chair says “you know what I mean….” intimating that my relationship with these colleagues was sexual.
It is not only graduate students and younger professors in philosophy departments who are subject to harassment from male professors. Many of us who do not stay in academia end up on its periphery, as editors, journalists, independent scholars, activists, and in other roles.
It is decidedly not uncommon to be harassed, even stalked, at APA and other conferences. When one’s role is editor or journalist, for example, one is in the unenviable position of having to interact with the harasser at a press booth or in an interview room; one’s job requires it. This can lead to repeated uncomfortable incidents, and there is no recourse that I am aware of.
There is fellow academic at my school who I like and admire as a friend and colleague, but I struggle endlessly with mixed emotions knowing that he lives his personal life in a highly misogynistic way.
He has had relationships and secret affairs with students, and made passes at students; some were his own students too.
When confronted about his sexual harrassment and relatiosnhips with students, he will deny it and claim that he doesn’t know where these “rumours” are coming from. However, he knows perfectly well exactly what is being spoken about. And if he knows that you know too, then rather than denying his behaviour he will attempt to justify it, claiming there was consent and denying any power imbalance.
His behaviour has been addressed by our school and he is no longer permitted to engage in friendships or events with students anymore. But rather than reflecting on his behaviour, now he instead dates students in other schools! These students sadly have no idea that they are a notch on the bed in a long line of graduate students – and I often wonder how this would effect their “consent”.
He actively seeks relationships that involve a clear power imbalance: the women are his students, they are siginificantly younger than him, they are underage, he is paying for their sustanence, he is in a position to advance their career, and so on.
And he often lies about these relationships to people who are concerned about the power differential. When female friends attempt to educate him on this, rather than avoiding future relationships with a power imbalance or seeking to equalise power in current relationships, he simply denies that it can exist.
We befriended a female student who was visiting from another university. She came to work with him (and others) and was deeply embarrassed to find out that people had assumed the academic work was a ruse to cover an affair. Of course, people’s assumptions were justified based on his past behaviour.
How can we respect someone as an academic, and as a colleague, and expect them to respect us as women in academia and in philosophy, when the way they behave in their personal life is riddled with subtle misogyny and abuse of power? When will academia be a safe place for women?
I am Dean of Studies of English Majors [at a major European university]. Last December, 2 students (one woman and one man) came to inform me that they were having trouble with a colleague of mine. It soon turned out that all the 3rd-year students were actually being morally and sexually harassed by the said colleague, and that they had been for the last two years. Men were ignored, women were made to feel that they were objects of pressing desires from that individual and that their grades depended on their silence and willingness to be nice.
I assured them that they had my support and that of the University and informed them that they could act so as to put a stop to that abusive behaviour.
Well… the chair of the Department did not see the situation in the same way, all the more so as he did meet the colleague who complained that his reputation was “being sullied”.
The Dean of the Faculty, (a woman), refused to see the students.
However the harasser decided to put a stop (?) to his inappropriate behaviour.
I have sadly discovered that we were quite alone in that ugly situation. Some of my female colleagues did support us, as did some administrative staff. The authorities did not want to have “problems” and ducked their heads.
Some times, I am not proud or content to be working in higher education.
Creepy tutor mentioned knowing where I lived (?!) and suggested ‘meeting’ in the area. He received a polite though firm ‘no’ from me.
Couple of months later I submit my dissertation and discover he’ll be marking it. For all the ‘blind marking’ tosh, everyone knows everyone else’s titles and he’ll be able to identify mine. No worries I think – I’m sure he’s professional and I’ve already had two reviews from his colleagues telling me it deserves [a top mark]. When I get my transcript I discover he gave it [a low mark].
I am a man who saw several cases of sexual harassment during my time in academia. The worst one (other than the case where I was sexually harassed, which obviously wouldn’t fit here) involves a high profile visiting professor from Europe. He was a flashy, well dressed “continental” philosopher who exuded old school European charm.
On the last day of the grad seminar he was teaching he took us all out for wine at a nearby cafe – including the one undergraduate student who took the course. At the end of the night, she complained of not feeling well. He lured her into his apartment under the pretext of getting her some aspirin and as she was lying down dealing with her headache, he crawled next to her naked. She got up and quickly left.
The worst part is that when she brought up his behavior to another (male) professor, he explained that this was simply how it was done in Europe and she shouldn’t make a fuss about it.
By far, not the worst story I have to tell, but the one most easily made anonymous.
As an undergraduate, a professor called me into his office to tell me that he had heard there were “rumors” that he and I were romantically involved. For a variety of reasons, I found this so untenable that I burst out laughing. I don’t think he knew how to interpret the laughter, and I was so unnerved and mystified by the whole thing that all I could think to do was excuse myself from the office.
At my undergraduate institution, faculty sometimes ate dinner in the dorms. One night, shortly after the office incident, he did. After dinner, he found me in the ‘kitchenette’ after dinner, pinned me against the refrigerator with his body, leaned in and said “maybe we should just make those rumors true.” I was terrified, and have no idea what would have happened had someone not come in the room at just that moment (they left immediately).
I avoided him thereafter, in every way I could, and he in turn made it very clear–explicitly– that he would do what he could to keep me out of a top graduate program.
I got into a good enough program anyway. Years later. I’m now tenured. The recent story that has been all in the press starts discussion in various formats. I’m contacted –just as part of a general conversation– by not one, but two different women who, it turns out, were harassed by this same guy. I’d always heard rumors, but the truth is, until those two women told me, there was a small party of me that wondered if it was just me.
Word to the wise: it’s never just you.
I was referred to your interesting website recently and it revived unpleasant memories from my time as a graduate student in philosophy several years ago. I was in my second year of studies at a top philosophy department in the US. I took a course in X that was offered by a very prominent male philosopher who also happened to be quite active and outspoken in attempts to improve the position of women in philosophy. Once after class I mentioned to him that I was considering the possibility of writing a dissertation under his supervision, and he seemed supportive as I was among the best students in his course. One evening toward the end of the term we discussed possible topics for my thesis in his office. At one point during that conversation he stood up, looked at me in a strange way and said that he had an irresistible desire to touch my breasts. As he approached me I recoiled in disgust and rushed outside. When I later told some of my friends what happened they wondered why I was so shocked about the incident because they said this professor hitting on female students was common knowledge in the department. This was too much for me. It obviously meant that this behavior was tolerated and that none of my other teachers in that department felt any obligation to do anything about it. I left the program after a few weeks for good and never returned to philosophy studies again. I am telling you this story mainly because I would like your readers to know that sexual harassment is sometimes practiced even by those who nominally subscribe to feminism and who pose as advocates of women’s rights and equality.
After being notified of [...] scandal, I was disturbed at how similar this story was to one of my own experiences. This is a brief description of what it was like to be the boyfriend of a harassment victim.
A few years ago, my then-girlfriend took a couple philosophy classes at her university. Her 50-something instructor [...] sexually harassed her both in person and via email and Facebook. He would give books under the pretense of helping a young scholar, but his true intentions were revealed when he treated her to lunch and put his hand on her thigh. She declined any more lunch offers, but remained in terse contact with him via email. He eventually began questioning her about her relationship with myself and about how I was clearly a dumb jock out to oppress her. To the both of us, this was strange because I am a really bookish historian and while definitely not a genius, I am pretty far from an athletic he-man from an 80s movie. The only thing this instructor knew about me was that I had attended a Southern university and that I was his student’s boyfriend. What began as teasing turned into him openly denouncing me on Facebook as being unfit and a protofascist. He then emailed me directly in order to denounce me as some kind of caricature of a southern republican misogynist with a penchant for violence in some kind of desperate attempt( on his part) at being a white knight. Apparently this is foreplay in his world. At the time of this incident, I was not yet attending this university, so I didn’t think that I could file a complaint.
My girlfriend was highly intimidated and threatened by his behavior and mentioned it in passing to another faculty member. She was too afraid of repercussions and failed to pursue the matter further. The instructor is still teaching at this university and has a reputation for groping other students.
I no longer work at college level but when I did the professor of Philosophy quite explicitly told me that if I slept with him he would ensure I was looked after as far as my career went. I did not but I know others who did and he did keep his word, they received a lot of help establishing their careers. I am ambivalent about their behaviour since they were, as I was, mostly very capable anyway but I am somewhat cynical when they speak at conferences as representative feminists.
After my Phd was published, and the postgrad supervisor (a woman with whom I refused a relationship when we were both students, simply because I am straight, not gay) as well as my supervisor were ‘too busy’ to provide comments for the dust jacket I realised there was no point asking for the references necessary to enter the book for the relevant philosophy prize for publications in my area that year.
I wrote a letter to the university which awarded the prize tactfully mentioning the difficulty of finding overworked academics to write the necessary reviews and several names were suggested but they all were ‘too busy’ as well so I simply gave up. (The prize is no longer offered).
Finally, one examiner of the Phd which became the book, a professor at a prestigious US college, had offered to write a good review when it was published but was unable to be contacted either by the publishers or me when the time arrived. Nonetheless, when the university which had offered the prize for which I could not enter invited a well-known international scholar based at the same college as my examiner to give its annual ‘prestige’ public lecture the synopsis sounded suspiciously like my book. I wrote to him as well as the institution mentioning this and asking for a transcript of the lecture. Neither he nor the college replied but the international scholar’s first announcement at the lecture was that he had changed the topic and it would no longer correspond to the abstract that had been published.
So,sexual harrassment, attempted plagiarism of junior researchers and brushing it all under the carpet. If nothing else I no longer believe that well-known scholars are the best philosophers, merely the most ruthless and amoral.
The philosophy prof was foul-mouthed, twice my age and expected his female TAs to solve his social problems. It had worked with my predecessor and it worked with my successor, so he wondered what was wrong with me. After fending him off for a whole term I then discovered that my next job was to work for a prof about three times my age. His Lady-Godiva party invitation I posted to my mother, just to show that I wasn’t making it up. She aptly called him a “corset salesman”. I had had enough and left the university.
I just read the piece about the philosopher in Miami. It is an old, old story. I was a graduate student in philosophy at [University of X] from 1961-63, at which time I left the school, having been chased around the desk and propositioned by a now-long-deceased philosopher. I went home for a weekend to explain the situation to my father and obtain advice. He told me to go back and inform the philosopher that I would detail the situation to the President of the University. I did so. The philosopher’s response? He laughed. He pointed out that he was a valued faculty member whereas I was a lowly graduate student (though I did have a Du Pont Fellowship and was doing research for my dissertation). There seemed no solution but to quit. I loved philosophy, including analytic philosophy, including the arguments, including the times when I was on the losing (but plucky!) side. I also wanted to write, and maybe if I’d stuck with philosophy I wouldn’t have got around to writing. I often deal with philosophical questions or issues in my writing, and I love to write, so I’m not crying about what happened to me. But I am sad to learn that other women have been dealing with sexism and professors who prey on them, or try to. Such behavior is, or should be, archaic by now. I’m startled to learn that it isn’t.
This is in response to the call for stories of sexism being taken seriously. I’ve posted about this story here before so I won’t get into the details of the harassment. I will say that it was so extreme, I thought everybody must a) know about it, and so b) not care, given that it had been going on for so long. After a year and a half of kind of unbelievable harassment, which you’re fairly confident your colleagues are more or less indifferent to, you’re pretty despondent. But, about midway through my second year, my MA advisor, we’ll call him A, asked me to stay a minute after one of our meetings. A told me that another professor with whom I was close had relayed to him some concerns about my wellbeing, and did I want to talk to him? I was really surprised when he asked about it, to be honest. But I was close enough with A, and I knew that he definitely wasn’t close with my harasser, so I explained what had happened and how things were now. A was aghast when I gave him the details, and promptly thereafter things started to get fairly serious. I forwarded a swath of emails to A and to the dean, and over the next couple of weeks A accompanied me to a handful of meetings with the dean, in which we discussed my options. I was withdrawn from all of my classes with my harasser and he was basically given a university wide restraining order. In the aftermath I worried about what the Ws would look like on my transcripts (I was applying to PhD programs at the time) and about what my harasser might say to people about me. As for him, I don’t think the issue followed him around professionally in any way, or in any way affected his standing in the dept. I think the seriousness with which the matter was treated was a mater of protecting me from any more harm, and not directed at preventing this person from perpetrating these abuses again. It did come to my attention, in talks with A and the dean throughout this process, that my harasser was not a first time offender. So on the one hand, I think my department really let me down. On the other hand, I think A really stepped up and stood by me. I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.
Here’s the picture they paint of what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy: I’m sexually harassed by my professor in grad school. I somehow manage to get a job anyhow (probably as a “token” woman). I do twice as much service as my male colleagues. My students hold me to higher standards than my male colleagues. Somehow I manage to publish in good journals anyhow. But I am not invited to conferences (though some organizers might lie and say they invited me). My work is not cited, never anthologized, and not included on any syllabi.
It’s a wonder there are any of us left.