Worst Moment: I haven’t been sexually harassed or assaulted. I’m writing out of guilt for not doing more to stop a situation before it happened to someone else.
The harasser was a graduate student in the same lab as me (I’m also a graduate student). He was a jerk for a long time before his behavior rose to the level of harassment. For example, he routinely sent long rambling emails criticizing junior female colleagues. He sent an email to the entire department after mandatory sexual harassment training saying it was “interesting” but maybe there were cultural differences that meant we should actually be ok with some of the behaviors the training called “harassment.”
English wasn’t his first language so in these situations most of us gave him the benefit of the doubt, hoping we were misinterpreting what he was trying to say. One email included lyrics from a song which weren’t threatening, but the song was about someone going to school with a gun and shooting himself. A number of people reported it to HR. The email came late at night and I was glad I had to be away from campus the next day.
This grad student published a lot and was close to our PI. The one time another grad student and I tried to talk to our PI about his behavior, our PI defended him by saying he’d had a difficult life. I never reported him to HR (and after a presentation by our school’s Title IX officer focused on “win-win solutions,” I’m unlikely to bother with that route). He’d been furious at me for not asking how he was in an email once, so what would he do if he found out I’d made real trouble? I didn’t actually fear he’d be physically violent, but I was confident our PI would side with him in any dispute between us. I also thought maybe I was just being too sensitive (since then I’ve talked with other graduate students in our department; it wasn’t just me).
The sexual harassment happened when he was supervising a younger researcher. I found out months after the fact that he expressed romantic interest in her that she did not reciprocate. In response, he reminded her our PI would believe whatever he said about the quality of her work in the lab (she was doing excellent work; the implication was that he would lie and say she wasn’t). It was a clear case of quid-pro-quo: go out with me or their will be professional consequences.
Fortunately our PI believed her when she told him about the threat. Unfortunately our PI kept the harasser in the lab until he graduated the next academic year. He‘s now doing a postdoc in Europe.
I haven’t reported this because our PI already knows about it, and I think the only person who might be harmed would be the woman who was harassed, who’s still pursuing a career in this field. I’m mad at myself. I wonder whether facing consequences for his less severe behaviors would have taught him to treat his trainee appropriately.
I Have Given Up On: Universities caring about anything other than their public image and the alumni dollars it brings.
I’m Afraid: People in power will never really change things.
This Has Cost Me: I’m ok. I do wonder what the young women in my department could have accomplished, in our research and our personal lives, with the time and energy we’ve been using to help each other deal with assholes.
Something You Should Know: I naturally have a lot of compassion for other people and tend to give them the benefit of the doubt, even if we don’t get along. In hindsight, I think this is a huge reason why I didn’t report or do more to stop our lab’s harasser. I really bought into his claims that *he* was the real victim in these situations.
Is There a Bright Side: Things are changing. Our department actually got rid of a sexual harasser last year. (Different person than the one described above. The person who left was support staff, not an academic researcher, and sadly I think that’s the only reason he’s gone.) Newer faculty members are much aware of these issues and receptive to what we have to say, and nearly all the grad students in our department are great people who are truly supportive of each other. I’m hopeful about the next generation of leaders.
My Fight Song: Truth Hurts by Lizzo
Secret Weapon: My patience and my anger.