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Discussion hosted by the Department of Physics

  • University of Washington, Physics/Astronomy C520 Physics/Astronomy C520 (map)

According to the 2018 report on Sexual Harassment from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), Sexual Harassment is more prevalent in academia than in any other sector, save for the military. Indeed, gender harassment, defined as verbal and nonverbal behaviors that convey hostility, objectification, exclusion, or second-class status about members of one gender, was experienced by 58% of women in the academic sciences in the 3-year period studied. Gender harassment undermines women’s professional and educational success, degrades the physical and mental health of targets, and negatively affects bystanders, co-workers, and organization.

University administrations have spent decades trying to make the academy more welcoming for women and people from other marginalized groups. In spite of these efforts, the pace of change has been glacial. The NASEM report points to the focus on legal compliance as one factor inhibiting change. Much of the gender harassment that women experience and that damages them and their careers in science does not meet the legal criteria of illegal discrimination under current law. In addition, the NASEM report finds that targets of Sexual Harassment are unlikely to report harassment, so that strategies that rely on reporting do not reveal the true nature and scope of the problem. The NASEM report includes recommendations for academic institutions, policy makers, federal agencies, and professional societies. However, none of these institutions have real power to change the day-to-day culture. Strategies are needed to catalyze change at the grassroots level.

The presentation will provide an overview of the NASEM report and present strategies to prevent Sexual Harassment that can be implemented by students, faculty, and staff without direct administrative support. Improving academic culture from the bottom up is novel, in part due to the transitory nature of students and other trainees on campuses. Because academic administrators have traditionally set the priorities and determined the strategies used to change the course of their institutions, faculty and staff have not generally felt empowered to initiate and lead transformative programs. The NASEM report on Sexual Harassment discusses why faculty, students, and staff should step in, “Placing responsibility and control for Sexual Harassment planning and response at the highest administrative level guided by attorneys... would likely produce a different organizational culture and climate than one guided by a more transparent group of faculty, students, and service providers…” Strategies presented include:  identifying and addressing local problems; building community; reimagining mentoring; and supporting targets of harassment.