Sexual harassment, and puzzlement over what to do

Posted: May 22, 2011 by Jender in sexual harassment

I’m a male grad student at a top institution. We have very few women philosophers in our department and few women students.

Recently I heard that a male professor I work with has harassed several of the women in the department. I had heard this allegation directly from an alleged victim a few years ago and confronted him about it. He denied it in such a way that I chalked it up to a misunderstanding. Now I have heard of several other stories (one directly, a few by a second party). It seems these incidents are in the past and that he may have corrected his behavior (unsurprisingly, alcohol was involved in most, if not all of them). I feel horrible that I did not believe the original report.

I’m frustrated about what I can do. These stories are hearsay and I can’t report him. He is also outwardly feminist and professional, even supportive of the women in the department (probably genuinely so, at least in academic contexts without alcohol). I don’t know that confronting him will do anything but make the women in question feel under pressure, if he goes back to them. I would like to encourage the women to take action about this, as well as the general environment in the department. However, I believe that when men try to take up feminist reforms instead of the women in the department, it’s generally a bad idea.

I do not want to blackball this individual, but I feel as if, had we a system in place for managing this kind of behavior, he could be disciplined, held accountable, and then regain good standing. Instead, a cloud of suspicion follows him, for those ‘in the know’, and women in the department are in the position of having yet another professor they must maintain active defenses around.

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