• More on reporting

    I was shocked to see this list by the Globe and Mail. I try to remind myself that it probably was not meant to be exhaustive because certainly there is not only one case of sexual harassment/assault in academia that made the headlines (one thinks of Colin McGinn and other cases, some closer to home). My response to that list was: of course! Universities are experts at covering up such cases. Anyone heard of “passing the trash”? That is when a university or college decides to help a faculty member move institution by covering up their past inappropriate behaviour so that the problem ceases to be theirs.

    Are universities particularly problematic spaces with regards to handling harassment? Are they experts at covering up? This piece claims that they are. Policies and processes are quite convoluted. Beyond that, there is also the fact that the treatment of complaints is very different than public court cases. Investigations are conducted by people who may or may not have the proper training (despite all their good will and time investment which can be huge) and outcomes are kept under the veil of confidentiality. For a victim of harassment or assault that is investigated by university processes, there is no closure to be expected since whichever consequences the guilty party may have to face (if any) will be kept confidential. If one brought a case to court, by contrast, one would know what the sentence is. Therefore, to add insult to injury, victims may see their complaint validated by a report that acknowledges that harassment took place but they have no way to know what the consequences were for the guilty party. They may continue to see that person enjoy all the rights and privileges of their position in their employment while they will carry the stigma of having suffered the harassment and perhaps the stigma associated with having complained.

    Feminist Killjoy has a great entry on what further injury victims of harassment and assault suffer through complaining about their ordeals. One can be blamed by others (fellow students, co-workers, supervisors) for reporting inappropriate behaviour. The advice sometimes received: don’t stir the pot, keep your head down, get through this and move on. The blame complainants have to take can take subtle or less subtle form, from micro-agressions that seek to undermine the individual personally and/or professionally to complete ostracism. They can be blamed or met with disbelief by officers to whom they report (“Are you sure you are not making a big deal out of nothing? Think of that person’s reputation which you are likely to tarnish with your complaint! Etc.”) Often times, and most dismaying, such blaming can come from peers who are also being harassed. In such cases, the person who braved the system and possible negative consequences of reporting and did file a complaint is further hurt by the lack of support offered by the people they were also seeking to protect.

    This indicates that there is a lot of work needed in terms of reflecting not only on policies and procedures for reporting but, more fundamentally, reflecting on ways to establish a culture of protecting people who complain (it is never easy), ensuring they are heard, supported, and believed, and that the whole community works toward valorizing reporting and toward establishing a culture in which reporting won’t be needed after all.

    Categories: Blog

  • Further reflections on reporting inappropriate behaviour.

    There has been a lot of discussion about the importance of calling out inappropriate behaviour recently. This is in the wake of reports of sexual harassment and abuse from powerful men taking advantage of their positions. I posted before about Feminist Philosophers’ entry that extends this discussion to the academic milieu. I want to push this here.
    In universities, there are very different kinds of protections enjoyed by individuals and many intricate power relations. While unionized and tenured faculty members enjoy the most protection, many employed or studying at Brock may have very little protection. A person experiencing harassment and/or bullying, of a sexual nature or not, may feel completely disempowered to report the behaviour for fear of retaliation. One may be afraid to lose one’s position or to be further harassed, perhaps in more subtle ways. It is a real and understandable fear, especially if the employer is not particularly well known for its efficiency at dealing with such complaints or lacks strong policies. What is the situation here at Brock? Do we feel that we can safely report and that complaints will be dealt with respectfully, swiftly, and fairly? Do we feel protected by existing policies for reporting inappropriate behaviour? I invite you to share with me by email without naming specifics so that we can get some insight into the situation here.

    Categories: Blog

  • “Everyone f**ing knew!”

    In this entry, Feminist Philosopher reflects on a recent blog post by a Hollywood screen writer on the Weinstein affair and how people act shocked when they actually knew what was going on. Feminist Philosopher looks at philosophy departments and circles and questions how we react to inappropriate behaviour. These kind of situations are in every milieu, as evidenced by denunciations in the music industry and in the publishing industry (recently in Quebec). They certainly exist in academia and in every field. Universities, however, have very peculiar ways to deal with denunciations and the author calls for a review of that. See the post here.

    Feminist Philosophers is a great blog that tackles all kinds of topics. I invite you to browse their topics.

    Categories: Blog

  • The “two-body problem”

    Back in 2010 I published a column on spousal hiring and how it is an equity issue. Years later, I still agree with myself (imagine that!) and think that universities still have a long way to go to address what has been called the “two-body problem.” It is not unusual for a job candidate to be in a relationship with another academic. What do universities do to be welcoming and pro-active in ensuring that both the candidate and their spouse get a job matching their competences? Still very little it seems. In fact, according to a study conducted by Lauren A. Rivera, there is still much bias against candidates with spouses, and especially against women candidates who have an academic spouse. The study shows that hiring committees are still biased against women candidates who are perceived as imposing a “two-body problem.” Would it not be a gain for everyone though if, instead of perceiving this as a problem, we thought of it as a gain? It can be a gain for the institution, ensuring the retention of the job candidate and adding their spouse, as much as it can be a gain for the whole community in cases where the job candidate’s spouse is not an academic but the institution ensures they find a meaningful job in the community. This is definitely a set of questions to think about.

    Categories: Blog

  • on #MeToo

    It has been a tough couple of weeks for survivors of rape and other victims of sexual violence and abuse of all kinds. The #MeToo hashtag has allowed many to come forward with their own experience of abuse. Many others have chosen, for very legitimate and personal reasons, not to come forward with their own experiences. Those are troubled times and what we have been learning — or rather have seen confirmed — is that almost every woman has had to deal with such experiences.

    Is there a responsibility for women holding positions of power and authority to come out as victims if they had to deal with any kind of sexual abuse? That is an interesting question and certainly not an easy one to answer. Vianne Timmons, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Regina took that step here.

    Categories: Blog

  • Child care for Student-Parents

    As the trend of women surpassing men in numbers of students enrolled in higher education programs, there is a rising need to provide high quality child care to student-parents. This link provides tools and a discussion. Child care is rather limited at Brock. There should be more discussions about how to make it available to our student body.

    Categories: Blog

  • Of Queen Bees, Mentors, and Mentees

    Here is an interesting article on how to avoid the queen bee phenomenon which also offers good tips on the mentor-mentee relationship.

    Categories: Blog

  • Reflections from a woman leader

    University Affairs has published interesting excerpts from the memoirs of UPEI’s first female president. Read about it here.

    Categories: Blog

  • All gender or women only residence?

    While Ryerson University is innovating with new all-gender housing, the University of Waterloo is going in another direction with its women only residence. Ryerson’s initiative is being applauded by many who militate for gender inclusivity and Waterloo is being criticized by some. But both universities are going at this with the same goal: Ryerson is aiming to offer a welcoming a safe space to their non-binary students and Waterloo is aiming to offer a welcoming and safe space to their engineering female students. For both, it is about offering an environment in which students can thrive.

    However, the University of Waterloo’s new program to help support incoming female students in engineering does not draw unanimous support as some fear it may reinforce the isolation and ostracization some female students may face in male-dominated classrooms and projects. But the support students can gain through the program to face such behaviour along with covert and overt sexism seems invaluable. The gender gap has traditionally been really bad in STEM. The proposed program is intended to offer a support network for females entering those male dominated fields. It will be interesting to see how these students fare compared to others who do not have access to such programs. Likewise, the Ryerson initiative will be interesting to monitor to see if its intended effect unfolds.

    Categories: Blog

  • Policy for lactating students, faculty, and staff?

    Brock does not have a standalone policy covering the needs of students, faculty, and staff who wish to continue breastfeeding beyond their return to their studies or work. A study by Bostick et al. provides interesting reflections, albeit from an American context. Something to mull over for us?

    Categories: Blog