My Name is Jen

greyscale photography of woman wearing long sleeved top

Jen was harassed by a fellow postdoc and a coworker. She was told her complaints would be handled “discreetly”. Her harasser was promoted to work directly with the Dean. Jen declined to provide a photo. Photo by Kat Jayne on

My Worst Moment: I was harassed on two separate occasions during my postdoc. The first time, another postdoc had been hitting on me for a while when one day outside of campus he took it to touching and kissing me. I walked out. After repeatedly declining his subsequent advances he started spreading rumors of a sexual nature about me around the institution. This included not only fellow postdocs and grad students but also Faculty members, including at least two that I directly worked with – at least that I know of. Because we were both postdocs at the time, I reported this to the postdoc office only to be told that despite having direct witnesses, since « nothing had happened » they couldn’t do anything. I later learned of at least two other persons who were harassed by the same person. As of today, this person is still employed at this institution.

The second time, I was emotionally harassed directly in my own lab by a coworker. This person threatened me repeatedly and was very smart about it, I never had any witnesses. I reported this behavior on three separate occurrences to three different university administrators with the intent to file a formal complaint with HR. All three all told me that given that the person was very close to the Dean, it was in my best interest to not escalate this and the last one told me that they would handle it « discreetly ». I was naive enough to believe them. The person ended up being removed from our shared workplace but only to be promoted to indeed work directly for the Dean. The person still works there and I am told still questions people about me now that I’ve left this institution for over a year.

I Have Given Up On: Hope to see things improve at this institution in the foreseeable future.

I’m Afraid: I’m still afraid of the second harasser to this date. I fear an encounter and I would never willingly be alone in the same room. I am working on letting my fears go but it’s taking time.

This Has Cost Me: Perhaps some work opportunities at my previous institution because of the rumors although this is impossible to quantify. Hopes of pursuing an academic career at this institution who protects harassers. A number of therapy sessions to overcome my PTSD linked to the second harasser. Many unnecessary steps making long détours just to avoid meeting these people in the workplace.

Something You Should Know About Me: I joined my institution title IX committee after those events. I thought it’d be empowering. It turned out to be utterly demoralizing. I watched a friend go through a complaint procedure and being pushed out of grad school while her harasser who was her own PI was left in peace. I realized title IX is here to protect the institution and not the victims. The piece of advice I wish I had been given is to not bother with the internal procedures and just file an actual complaint.

Is There a Bright Side: I left this institution and now have a new job I love in a safe, supportive environment.

Secret Weapon: When I unfortunately encountered my harassers on campus, I did my best unbothered face to not give them any satisfaction, even though my heart rate would shoot up.