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 ‘assault’ Category
Recent events and the on-going dialogue about our discipline have been very difficult for me.
While in graduate school, a colleague attempted to rape me using physical force. He was an advanced, highly-regarded student in our department. He also (so I thought) happened to be, until that point, a close friend.
To this day, I have only told two people. At the time, I consulted my two closest feminist philosopher friends and asked for advice. We went through every conceivable option and all agreed that I shouldn’t take any action. Because I had “escaped”, I had no “evidence” other than my word against his. He had a wife with a baby on the way, and became very outgoing while consuming alcohol. Very few people would believe me and even the few potential advocates would not be able to act in any official capacity. (This is why I don’t think coming forward would protect other women.)
I’m now working in a TT position (which several male philosophers told me I got because I’m a woman.) I honestly think nothing would come of me breaking the silence other than my professional reputation undergoing a public bashing.
When in grad school, I was physically assaulted and raped by a philosopher, call him X. I have never told a single person in philosophy about this. I am confident even now that if I had, it would have ended the possibility of me having a career in philosophy. Not even because X was important or had a good reputation, but because he was a member of a tight-knit group of people in my department who at the time collectively essentially had complete power over what would happen with my career.
Many years later, he was accused of attempted sexual assault by another philosophy graduate student. Many of the faculty rallied around him, loudly claiming that his accuser was crazy, trying to dig up dirt about her past, threatening legal action against her, and so on.
All of those people immediately and without any hint of hesitation took X’s word about what happened the night in question, and immediately discounted his accuser’s story. But there is something else that is incredibly disturbing about the situation. And that was that X’s story, which I heard many times, was pretty damning. Even if his story was true and his accuser’s was false, any outsider could have seen that he had acted in a completely awful way. But I have never heard a single one of his defenders say this.
Nearly every day I kick myself for not speaking up at the time. I would have had a horrible few months, and then I nearly certainly would have ended up leaving philosophy. But, first, maybe, just maybe, X would have suffered some consequences for his actions (though I doubt it), and maybe, even if he didn’t, it would set a precedent such that he might have suffered some consequences in the later case (which he didn’t). And second, I no longer understand why I wanted to stay in philosophy so badly, when it has never gotten any better for me with respect to these kinds of issues. At the time I think I thought I was being strong and proving a point. In fact I think that I was just scared. If I could turn back the clock I would speak up. But not because I think there would have been some fairy tale ending. This is not a call for people to speak up when things happen to them like this. But I do want people to know that at least one person wishes that she had made the choice to stick up for herself even at the expense of the possibility of a future in philosophy.
This autumn I have had the privilege of teaching an introductory ethics class, one of my favorites at the undergraduate level. A student recently revealed to me (in a very blase manner, no less) that she had attended a fraternity party on campus with several friends, male and female, and that they were all drugged with a muscle relaxer in vodka drinks. Luckily, they realized what had happened to them, and quickly returned home, so nothing worse than merely attempted rape effectively occurred. However, this is not an isolated incident. The student also informed me that it is common knowledge among the Greeks on campus that this particular fraternity is well-known for drugging their party attendees.
The student didn’t want to really push the issue, she was mostly just telling me about her weekend and this ‘weird’ thing that happened to her, and we both had other classes to go to; the discussion couldn’t have taken more than five minutes, maybe ten. But I couldn’t just let it go. Immediately after I was through teaching for the day, I went first to the Philosophy Department to ask them who I should contact. The DGS, secretary, and my advisor all recommended I go to the campus police first as my legal obligation. Being familiar with the tendency of universities to cover up and avoid bad press, I was skeptical of this approach, but didn’t want to make any false steps in terms of my legal obligations.
The campus police told me that unless I was the legal guardian of the student and the student was underage, they could not even file a report, much less open an investigation on the fraternity, without the student there. They directed me to the campus interpersonal violence prevention offices, who helped me fill out the appropriate form to include this incident in the criminal statistics for the university, and called the office of the Dean of student affairs. Their conclusion was similar: without the participation of the affected student(s), they were not required to investigate the situation.
Finally I called the local police. The only new thing they could add to repeating that the student would have to file was that the actual parents of the student could file the complaint. I now have to contact the student again and ask her to come forward and file a complaint. I have very little hope that she will, based on how flippant she seemed about her narrow escape.
So basically what we have here is a case of a fraternity drugging and presumably raping people on a regular basis, but without a victim coming forward nobody is legally required to do anything so nobody will do anything. The fact that this happened to an introductory-level Philosophy student is only incidentally connected to this blog, but the problem is so immediate I had to share it with someone outside of my social circle. What’s it like to be a woman in Philosophy? You have to respond to these kinds of problems somehow, on a regular basis. I feel like a lot of male philosophers can just pretend this isn’t going on, because they are less likely to have students confide things like this in them, even in passing. You have a legal obligation to do a lot of things which ultimately seem to amount to nothing at all. You have to confront despair.
It took me a long time to get up the courage to recount this and submit this.
When I was a first-year graduate student, five or so years ago, I went to a large party hosted at a house where a few male graduate students lived together. Toward the end of the evening, I went to get my coat in one of the bedrooms in the house. As I was reaching to get my coat off the floor, one of these grad students came up behind me and grabbed my breasts. In shock, I didn’t move, I didn’t breathe. This person proceeded to grope me for a couple more seconds before I turned around and pushed him away and bolted out of the room.
Since then, I’ve spent years trying to make sense of the incident. For many years I internalized it as something I had no right to resent. (And I’m a feminist who knows better!) Only now that I’m older and am no longer intimidated by older graduate students can I see that what happened was *not ok*, and that it *hurt me*.
Since then, he’s landed a world-class tenure track position.
Dear APA, thanks for the memories…
Thanks to those who set up this blog, who edit the stories, and who contribute their stories. Although some stories are horrifying, the positive ones are heartening.
As a graduate student in the last decade, I attended the Eastern APA meeting before I went on the job market. At one of the group meetings, I ran into a senior colleague from another university. He said, “why don’t we get lunch and talk about your work.” Over lunch he told me he was divorced with adult children. I immediately pointed out that all his children were older than I was, and stated that my boyfriend and I were in the process of moving in together. Steering the conversation back to philosophical topics, I made it absolutely clear that this was a strictly professional lunch and gave him no reason to think otherwise. On the way back to the APA, he said he was going to his hotel room to show me a book on women philosophers which he thought might interest me. I accompanied him to the room, where he proceeded to wrestle me onto the bed saying “don’t worry, it’s okay, this is okay.” Thanks to my martial arts training, I fought him off and fled the room.
I reported this attempted sexual assault to the organizer of the group of which this professor and I were both members. She said she could do nothing as the group had no authority over its members. I reported it to my advisor, who retorted, “Why didn’t you call the police? Now it’s too late to do anything.” The only person who was willing to take any action was Leslie Francis, the APA Ombudsman. She sent the professor a letter warning him that a complaint had been made to the APA. Unfortunately, this did not deter him from attending my talk at the APA the following year. Although I was dismayed to see him, I managed to give the talk and even answered his questions afterward. These are the kinds of hidden obstacles that some women face on the job market.
I want to publicly thank Leslie Francis for her work as APA Ombudsman. It meant a lot to me that she was willing to help.