Street harassment disproportionately impacts women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and young people. Although the degree to which Shoshana gets harassed is shocking — the reality is that the harassment that people of color and LGBTQ individuals face is oftentimes more severe and more likely to escalate into violence. These forms of harassment are not just sexist — but also racist and homophobic in nature.
10 hours, more than 100 cat-calls October 29, 2014
Guest Post: Philosophers’ Ethical Non-Monogamy Alliance on Hanna October 21, 2014
A guest post:
We are members of The Philosophers’ Ethical Non-Monogamy Alliance who are dismayed to read Robert Hanna’s article “Sexual McCarthyism, Polyamory, and the First Amendment”.
Polyamory is the practice or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. It is a form of consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy. Polyamory is not a sexual orientation towards some gender or genders, or a gender identity.
We are philosophers. Several of us are polyamorous. Others of us identify as ethically non-monogamous in other ways.
We strongly condemn sexual harassment in all its forms.
We consider it obvious, but we now clarify explicitly for the avoidance of any possible doubt, that polyamory is in no way equivalent to, or an excuse for, the sexual harassment of students or colleagues. Polyamory is neither constituted by nor an excuse for pursuing multiple relationships – whether ‘marriage-like’ or not – without concern for whether the objects of pursuit are comfortable with being thus pursued.
We find it both conceptually confused and highly offensive to associate polyamory with sexual harassment in the manner exemplified in Hanna’s article.
Rebecca Kukla, Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins, Kenny Easwaran, Jeff Sebo, Duane Long, Jr., Ada Jaarsma, Ryan Carmody, Rachael Briggs, and Enzo Rossi, on behalf of the Philosophers’ Ethical Non-Monogamy Alliance.
(The PENMA is a group of philosophers interested in exploring political, personal, disciplinary, and theoretical issues surrounding ethical non-monogamy.)
Those who read Robert Hanna’s response to being named in the recent CHE article regarding the situation at CU-Boulder, may have also read his paper that he links to in that response, Sexual McCarthyism, Polyamory, and the First Amendment (if you don’t understand the relationship between those concepts named in the title, you’re not alone–neither did I). Here is an illuminating snippet:
In professional academics, we are now, sadly, in an era of sexual McCarthyism. . . Notice how the phrase “sexual harassment” sounds a lot like “sexual assault” and non-rationally evokes the same moral disgust as the latter phrase, even though the phrases actually mean very different things. But the non-rational emotional association with the ugly phrase “sexual assault” is no doubt precisely why the sexual McCarthyites chose the equally ugly phrase “sexual harassment,” and not, e.g., “romantic relationship troubles.” Indeed, sexual McCarthyites like to talk about “victims” of “sexual harassment precisely because in fact there are no such people as “victims” of romantic relationship troubles–there are just people in all their multifarious peculiarity, having the all-too-familiar romantic relationship troubles with each other — but they want to evoke, non-rationally, the impression that there are such victims.
To be clear, sexual harassment is a thing, and it is not the same thing as ‘romantic relationship troubles.’ For one, ‘romantic relationship troubles’ presupposes the existence of a romantic relationship, and sexual harassment often happens outside the context of any relationship (cf. street harassment), let alone a romantic one. For two, just as an example, sending colleagues unwanted emails soliciting sexual interactions would be sexually harassing, but not an instance of romantic relationship troubles even if you have romantic feelings towards them. Why? Because if your colleagues do not want to be in a romantic or sexual relationship with you, regardless of your desires, there is no sense in which this a problem with your romantic relationship to them–namely, because you do not have one.
As an interesting matter of history, ‘sexual harassment’ was not coined in order to elicit moral disgust regarding behaviors which have no victim. Quite the contrary. Susan Brownmiller recounts how the term actually came to be in In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution (reader’s of Miranda Fricker’s Epistemic Injustice will be familiar with this already, as she quotes this passage in her book):
One afternoon a former university employee sought out Lin Farley to ask for her help. Carmita Wood, age forty-four, born and raised in the apple orchard region of Lake Cayuga, and the sole support of two of her children, had worked for eight years in Cornell’s department of nuclear physics, advancing from lab assistant to a desk job handling administrative chores. Wood did not know why she had been singled out, or indeed if she had been singled out, but a distinguished professor seemed unable to keep his hands off her.
As Wood told the story, the eminent man would jiggle his crotch when he stood near her desk and looked at his mail, or he’d deliberately brush against her breasts while reaching for some papers. One night as the lab workers were leaving their annual Christmas party, he cornered her in the elevatorand planted some unwanted kisses on her mouth. After the Christmas party incident, Carmita Wood went out of her way to use the stairs in the lab building in order to avoid a repeat encounter, but the stress of the furtive molestations and her efforts to keep the scientist at a distance while maintaining cordial relations with his wife, whom she liked, brought on a host of physical symptoms. Wood developed chronic back and neck pains. Her right thumb tingled and grew numb. She requested a transfer to another department, and when it didn’t come through, she quit. She walked out the door and went to Florida for some rest and recuperation. Upon her return she applied for unemployment insurance. When the claims investigator asked why she had left her job after eight years, Wood was at a loss to describe the hateful episodes. She was ashamed and embarrassed. Under prodding—the blank on the form needed to be filled in—she answered that her reasons had been personal. Her claim for unemployment benefits was denied.
‘Lin’s students had been talking in her seminar about the unwanted sexual advances they’d encountered on their summer jobs,’ Sauvigne relates. ‘And then Carmita Wood comes in and tells Lin her story. We realized that to a person, every one of us—the women on staff, Carmita, the students—had had an experience like this at some point, you know? And none of us had ever told anyone before. It was one of those click, aha! moments, a profound revelation.’
The women had their issue. Meyer located two feminist lawyers in Syracuse, Susan Horn and Maurie Heins, to take on Carmita Wood’s unemployment insurance appeal. ‘And then…,’ Sauvigne reports, ‘we decided that we also had to hold a speak-out in order to break the silence about this.’
The ‘this’ they were going to break the silence about had no name. ‘Eight of us were sitting in an office of Human Affairs,’ Sauvigne remembers, ‘brainstorming about what we were going to write on the posters for our speak-out. We were referring to it as ‘‘sexual intimidation,’’ ‘‘sexual coercion,’’ ‘‘sexual exploitation on the job.’’ None of those names seemed quite right. We wanted something that embraced a whole range of subtle and unsubtle persistent behaviors. Somebody came up with ‘‘harassment.’’ Sexual harassment! Instantly we agreed. That’s what it was.’
More news on CU Boulder October 20, 2014
It is not a secret that colleges and universities have been plagued by cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Too often, students find themselves victimized by members of their own communities, and we as faculty who are committed to fostering a safe and supportive learning and working environment must find constructive ways to respond.
Why there are these problems, and why they seem to occur with frequency in the academic world, are deep, important questions that I hope we will continue to have conversations about. But what I want to do here is to suggest two concrete proposals for moving forward.
Being sexually assaulted or harassed is a traumatizing and isolating experience, and students who suffer at the hands of members of their own communities often face a further traumatizing choice: be quiet and continue to share classrooms, colloquia, and departmental parties with those who have victimized them, or come forward and face a myriad of possible consequences, ranging from having their private lives subjected to public scrutiny to outright rejection by their peers.
Despite the risks, some students do report the crimes to officials at their institutions, and some do so precisely because they believe that it is the morally right thing to do. Reporting such incidents is a courageous step in protecting oneself and others from being harmed. There is, however, one possible consequence of coming forward that is particularly pernicious: this very act of seeking justice and fostering safety might itself result in further harm to victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment, by rendering them vulnerable to lawsuits brought against them by the people who have already victimized them.
Faculty members are employees of colleges and universities and, so long as they are acting within the scope of their employment, they are indemnified by their employers—that is, their employers will cover legal expenses and damages that may arise in the course of their fulfilling their professional obligations. However, students, both undergraduate and graduate, are not employees and may not automatically enjoy this protection. While some institutions readily agree to defend and indemnify students who face legal action against them, absent such indemnification, a student may face significant legal expenses in defending against a lawsuit filed by someone who typically has greater financial resources. This very possibility can have a chilling impact on our communities, for it provides an extremely effective means of silencing victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Here is where my first proposal comes in: should a student report to you that she has been victimized by one of your students or colleagues, fight aggressively on her behalf for the college or university to indemnify her.* You are in a far more powerful position than she is in, and you have far more resources to appeal to in negotiating and advocating on her behalf. Tell your institution how it is in its own interest in the long run to cultivate an environment in which students can seek justice and safety for themselves and others without the added risk of financial ruin. You can assure them that indemnifying students in this way is not without precedent.
In addition to the issue of indemnification, it is also important to recognize that lawsuits often force the defendant into silence. This silence, and the social isolation that comes with it, can be emotionally devastating. My second proposal, then, is that we, as members of the academic community, reach out to victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment, to let them know that they do not stand alone and that their position in our profession is secure. If you believe a victim, tell her that you do. If you feel that she suffered an appalling violation, convey this to her. If you know of a professional opportunity for which she is well-suited, invite her. Send her an e-mail, post a collective letter of public support, include her in academic discussions and gatherings. In caring for those who have already taken the courageous step of standing up for justice, we will not only make it easier for future victims to find their voices, we will also foster a community in which our most vulnerable members can flourish.
* Although I use the feminine pronoun here, these issues apply to all victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Please note: Comments are being pre-moderated. We will be exceptionally strict about which comments we let through. In particular, we will not allow any comments revealing specifics about cases or individuals, or speculating about motivations. We will also not allow anything which could serve to support a culture of victim-blaming. We will also err on the side of caution, so I’d expect that some perfectly well-intentioned comments won’t be let through. Please don’t be offended by this– we are fallible humans with day jobs, and we’re doing the best we can. Finally, we won’t be allowing any discussion of our commenting policies. We’re just one blog: if you don’t like our commenting policies, I’m sure you can find a place more congenial to you elsewhere.
Another CU-Boulder investigation August 26, 2014
Louise Antony (Guest Post) on Hilde Lindemann’s comments August 20, 2014
Louise Antony writes:
In light of the discussion on Brian Leiter’s blog, I want to say something in support of Hilde Lindemann’s comments in the recent Chronicle of Higher Education article on the East Carolina U/Colin McGinn incident. Many commenters are incensed that Prof. Lindemann seemed to endorse the use of “unofficial information” (as Daily Nous put it) in decisions such as the ECU Phil. Department’s vote to offer a distinguished visiting position to Colin McGinn. I’m baffled by this. Is there anyone out there in Bloggo-land who wants to say that scholarly achievement is the only consideration that should count in deciding whether or not to offer someone a position? (Anyone who says that it is the only thing that counts is simply wrong.) Every department I’ve ever been affiliated with has always – and quite rightly — taken into account both the candidate’s likely collegiality and his or her potential as a teacher and mentor. So now the question is: what kind of evidence can one use in assessing a candidate’s collegiality and potential as a teacher and mentor? Postings on a public blog can provide evidence. Disciplinary actions taken by a candidate’s previous employer can also provide evidence. What about the appropriate standard? Bearing in mind that a hiring meeting is not a criminal trial, that there is no “presumption of innocence” to be overcome, and that an individual’s being brought up for consideration does not engender any presumptive right to the position, it’s clear that the appropriate standard is the one typically used in normal hiring deliberations: what, given the evidence, is it reasonable to believe about how this colleague will behave toward his or her colleagues and students? An official finding that a person has engaged in sexual harassment is certainly very strong evidence that that person is untrustworthy – but it’s not the only evidence that can support that conclusion.
I understand that there’s tremendous concern about false accusation and innuendo – at least when the case at hand involves men and sex. So yes, the evidence needs to be looked at carefully in any particular instance. But are hiring committees supposed to ignore the evidence that exists? Are they supposed to disregard the fact of disciplinary actions taken by a previous employer? Are they supposed to ignore what the candidate has to say about the matter on a public blog? A decision not to offer a position to someone because there’s good reason to think the person is a danger to students is not a violation of anyone’s rights. A decision to go ahead and appoint such a person despite the evidence is reprehensible.
McGinn hiring blocked August 18, 2014
Administrators at East Carolina University have turned down the philosophy department’s request to award a one-year endowed professorship to Colin McGinn—a prominent philosopher who resigned from the University of Miami in December following allegations of sexual harassment by a female graduate student.
For the Chronicle story, go here.
For words of wisdom from Eric Schliesser, go here.
For a discussion about use of unofficial information in hiring go to the Daily Nous.
Eric Schliesser on the Boulder situation August 8, 2014
As usual, Eric has many thoughtful things to say. Here are just a couple of them.
It is encouraging that after the settlement, the victim has decided to stay in the profession and at Boulder; this suggests to me that there is reason that the majority of our peers at Boulder are, in fact, already (quoting Curtis) “making progress.” Our colleagues at Boulder deserve our respect and support in doing so. It’s not impossible that in doing so they are, in fact, showing the way forward to the rest of us…
As I claimed a few month’s ago, victims’s lawsuits “and the harsh light of publicity are the best means to destroy the culture of silence in the profession and to give everybody incentives to do the right thing (protect victims and to ensure that success goods are not abused). It’s a sad fact that the victims and relative powerless are the ones that are now the best hope for reform and wisdom. But that’s how the situation looks to me now.” The size of the settlement $825,000 at Boulder is of the right order of magnitude to generate the right incentives.