After hearing from numerous survivors about their terrible experiences with our campus adjudication process, I spoke out about this at a town hall forum. Since that time, the Dean of Students told his staff to stop working with me on on-going projects, including a research project on student life and a speakers series. I have effectively been shut out of my campus when it comes to programming, and this has harmed my research agenda. It has also made me lose faith in an institution I used to love.
My university denied me tenure after I advocated to rape survivors on my campus. I got a reputation as a faculty member that students could go to, and the university punished me for it. Even though I knew the risks, I believed that people were better than they are. Do not trust your institution and do not speak out before tenure if you want to keep your job.
I was on a task force to study sexual assault on our campus. When I spoke up at a town hall meeting about issues with the campus policy, I was called into the Dean's office and told that I needed to be more careful about criticizing the institution. I received an email a week later than I was no longer on the task force, and two students I work with have been mysteriously fired from their campus jobs. I think they are being retaliated against because they are active around sexual assault issues on campus, and because they work with me.
I have worked for the better part of a decade to improve my university's handling of sexual assault cases. During this time, one administrator after another told me they would take the complaints of survivors seriously, but they did not. Instead of making the campus a safer space for survivors, administrators edited the sexual misconduct policy to be less clear and more legalistic, making it virtually impossible for students to use. They also use outdated investigation methods and include laypeople on adjudication boards. I was vocal about this at a town hall meeting last year, and since that time, over 20 survivors came forward to report their sexual assault and rape experiences and the administration's subsequent mishandling of their cases. I have also heard from many alums who experienced the same problem. Fellow faculty members are generally supportive of my efforts, but I wish more were directly involved so I didn't feel alone in this struggle. It has taken a toll on my research agenda and the administration is targeting me in subtle ways, but this work is too important for me to pass on it when survivors look to me for help.
I believe that being in expert in our individual subject does not necessarily give us the confidence to deal with assault in general. After I began my PhD, I was fortunate enough to begin teaching undergrads for an year. One afternoon a group of boys were laughing while I was setting up the powerpoint. When I directed my attention towards the group and asked what was going on, the main student, the popular guy showed me a completely naked photograph of a woman on some newspaper... As you can imagine, they were all busy laughing, I panicked and in a serious voice asked him to pay attention and be quiet.
I was 24, they were roughly my age. I had taken teachers trainings, but I had never been told what to do when your student, a male almost your own age, flashes a newspaper sized image of a naked woman in the middle of the classroom.
After that incident, for days I was in a weird state of mind. I blamed myself for being too lenient and not knowing what to do. I felt embarrassed teaching their class again and felt the same thing was happening over and over again. I was so terrified I did not even speak with my head because I did not wanted to look like I was inefficient (already not many people were happy to see a 24 year old in the staff lounge).
After a while, I began to research into the universities policies on misconduct and dealing with difficult students. Sadly, the topic of sexual assault is mentioned only superficially. There is no department that deals particularly with assault and no policies that clearly state the punishment for assault. Neither is there any help or support for faculty members if they face something like that in a classroom.
This is the reason I began to dig deeper into campus assaults and now on a journey to raise awareness and reform our campus. I can only wish that universities become the temple of knowledge that they are supposed to be.
I have been trying to get my university to implement a more compassionate policy for survivors on campus. The school does not treat survivors well, and we do almost nothing to prevent rape from happening. I have written an editorial for the student newspaper supporting survivors, worked on the new campus climate survey, served on a sexual assault policy committee, and worked with students to organize protests, a candlelight vigil, and a Take Back the Night event. I was virtually silent on this pressing issue until a few years ago when I became a full professor. More of us who hold this power should use it!
Faculty Activism in the News
Faculty Retaliation in the News