In October 2016, in the midst of the Macchiarini scandal, one of us (Andreas) wrote a post of its effects on the reputation of the Nobel Prize and especially the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Sadly, we are now seeing these events repeat themselves. But this time it is the Nobel Prize in Literature which has been marred by scandal. Recently, the Swedish Academy announced that it would be postponing the awarding of this prize until next year due to the Academy being in a state of crisis following allegations of sexual misconduct, and revealed a group of “intellectuals” out of touch with time. This was one in a string of events that came to surface in the wake of the #MeToo moment that affected Sweden in a big way. Here, several women from different professions and backgrounds (politics, music, acting, to name a few) launched campaigns sharing their experiences of sexual assault and power imbalance in the workplace. Their stories came as a surprise to some people, since Sweden sometimes is referred to as “the home of gender equality” and where the present government have an outspoken “feminist foreign policy”.
Where campaigns for gender equality in the past have failed, #MeToo has been a watershed moment for discussions of workplace sexual misconduct and gender imbalance, with many countries forced to reckon with this habitual discrimination. The World Health Organization estimates that about one third (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual violence at the hands of their intimate partner or sexual violence at the hands of someone else, and this is just what they were able to measure.
Scientists, when will we shout #TimesUp?
The evidence indicates that science has not had its #MeToo moment yet, as we witness very few scientist-harassers losing their jobs or facing minimal, if any, consequences. At the same time, allegations of egregious sexual harassment and even assault of women scientists, gender nonconforming scientists, and scientists of color, continue to emerge. Nature has run several stories on sexual harassment in the sciences that are worth reading. In many of these cases, it is students and early career researchers that are in an especially vulnerable position due to power imbalance and a lack of scientific reputation.
In order to encourage reporting of sexual harassment, we argue that ECRs must be confident that blowing the whistle means being taken seriously, that a true investigation into the allegations will be conducted, and also that there will be consequences for harassers.
As ECR Editors, we wanted to share the processes for addressing sexual misconduct at our institutions. We hope that our readers will reflect on their own experiences in the field and locate available resources at their own institutions. If you feel that your institution or organization is doing an inadequate job addressing workplace harassment, remember that you have a voice. Please feel free to use our stories if needed to bolster your claims and remember to reach out to your scientific community for support.
My university has initiated, Tellus, a three-year research-based project with the aim to reinforce preventive work against sexual harassment. The project is intended to contribute to a safe study and work environment for all students and staff at the University. Therefore, one of the main aspects of the project is to listen to employees and to students at all levels, both undergraduate and doctoral students. The name of the project, Tellus, refers specifically to this. It is too early to say if this will have any effect on the work environment for ECRs or when it comes to sexual harassment, but it is one necessary step to take post #MeToo in order to take all those who have come forward seriously.
At Weill Cornell, sexual misconduct, student safety, and student mental health is taken very seriously. Despite fortunately never needing to report something myself, I am aware of the resources available to me should an issue arise; Weill Cornell has it all clearly outlined on our website. There have also been countless surveys and trainings that I’ve been required to participate in over my years as a student, with the purpose of teaching me about the resources available and about what is acceptable behavior and what to keep an eye out for as inappropriate behavior. Most recently, students were required to take the “Not Anymore” online course. I hope that the need never arises, but I feel confident that if it did, Cornell would respond appropriately.
I work at PLOS now, but after I graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder aka CU Boulder (this was years before #MeToo), the university experienced a public scandal involving the sexual harassment of graduate students. The scathing report and resulting news articles indicate that the department created a culture permissive of such behavior. After this report was released, the alleged perpetrators and some of their colleagues claimed that the university’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment (now the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance) was leading a “witch hunt” against the department. In 2015, about a year after the report was released, the University provided mandated, in-person bystander intervention trainings for all incoming students and at fraternities and sororities, and also conducted a survey of undergraduate and graduate students on their experiences of sexual harassment, among other action items. The CU Independent, CU’s student news website, criticized the survey and purported action items as a bandage solution to a deeper and persistent sexual harassment problem.
For undergraduate students and early career researchers at CU Boulder who have had their health and safety violated, there are numerous resources available. Start here at Don’t Ignore It, a hub devoted to victim support services. If you elect to use a direct line of contact to a campus support center, here are some of the key resources:
- Directory of safety and health numbers here.
- The Office of Victim’s Assistance is a critical resource for individuals on CU’s campus who have been violated or experienced a traumatic event. Even if you don’t identify was a victim, sexual harassment qualifies, and the OVA will provide support and services.
- The Gender and Sexuality center supports the LGBTQIA community at CU, offering trainings and workshops. I’ve personally worked alongside the Gender and Sexuality Center during my time at CU and can vouch for their genuine commitment to supporting students.
- The Women’s Resource Center offers a space for confidential reporting online and trainings on sexism. This is a great space for women-identifying individuals to find community and support on-campus.
Feel like nothing is happening? Want to share your story publicly? The CU Independent is a student-led, student-run, newspaper (except, online) that will help you share your story, responsibly. Disclosure: When I was an undergraduate student, I worked as a reporter/editor at the CUI.
Scientists and ECRs, we are experiencing a moment of cultural change where victims of sexual harassment are uniting and speaking out. We are confident that by continuing to speak up, science will soon have its own #MeToo moment, but it will be up to us to apply the pressure needed to create positive change for a safer, more just, scientific community.
Featured Image is used under a CC0 Creative Commons CC license.
About sexual harassment at universities. Faculty of Medicine, Lund University.
Alexandra Witze (February 8, 2016). How should science funders deal with sexual harassers?Nature.
Amy Maxmen (April 30, 2018). Harassment and discrimination allegations roil a top US biomedical institute.Nature.
Andreas Vilhelmsson (October 18, 2016). The home of the Nobel: who will blow the whistle on academia?PLOS ECR Community.
Carl Elliot (April 5, 2018). Knifed with a Smile.The New York Review of Books.
Christina Anderson (April 12, 2018). In Nobel Scandal, a Man Is Accused of Sexual Misconduct. A Woman Takes the Fall.The New York Times.
CUIndependent.com. Student media for the University of Colorado.
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Ellen Barry (December 17, 2017). Sweden’s Proponent of ‘Feminist Foreign Policy,’ Shaped by Abuse. The New York Times.
Erika Marín-Spiotta (May 9, 2018). Harassment should count as scientific misconduct. Nature.
Hanna Hoikkala, Veronica Ek, and Niklas Magnusson (December 20, 2017). Sweden Says #MeToo. Bloomberg.
Jenny Nordberg (December 15, 2017). Yes, It Happens in Sweden, #Too.The New York Times.
John Henley and Alison Flood (May 4, 2018). Nobel prize in literature 2018 cancelled after sexual assault scandal. The Guardian.
Kathryn Clancy (May, 2018). Have the Sciences Had a #MeToo Moment? Not So Much. National Geographic.
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The #MeToo Moment. The New York Times.
The Nobel Prize in Literature. Nobelprize.org
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Nobelprize.org.
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Wes Morriston (December 12, 2014). Reckless CU administration leaves philosophy department shell-shocked. Daily Camera.
Women’s Resource Center. University of Colorado Boulder.
Women’s Resource Center. Wait Your Turn: Recognizing and Interrupting Sexism. University of Colorado Boulder.