Thursday, May 30, 2013

False Fears and Harsh Realities

For some reason, folks seem to fear being falsely accused of sexual harassment, that careers are destroyed when kindness is misinterpreted.  Sure, I keep my office door open, especially when a student wants it closed to discuss a plagiarized paper.  But the reality I have seen through my nearly twenty years (!) in the business is that the problem is not the false accusations but the relative impunity that the predators have.

Those who harass students, as far as I have observed, either do not get punished at all or are so lightly punished that it appears that they get off scot free.  Indeed, at one stop along my travels, I was told "they let us screw the students" as it were a perk.  And at that place, a predator was given special treatment by the blind senior faculty, creating such a poisoned environment that one had a hard time cracking down on academic offenses.

So, when I see folks worrying about false accusations (poli sci rumor sites), I am flummoxed--how can the ranks of the falsely accused be so large that neither my friends nor I have met any of these folks?*
* Sure, it can happen, but not with great frequency. 

This mythology is not only disturbing but destructive.  That women (it always seems to be about women who make false accusations according to the fearful) are excluded from meals or drinks because they might "get the wrong idea" is harmful to their careers.  They don't get to participate in as much networking because of the fear of fearful men who worry about false accusations (I do fear that some folks use this fear to justify excluding women).  There is a relatively easy solution--if one is that worried, invite more than one student to join you for lunch or for a beer at a conference. 

I really have never worried about my grad students accusing me of anything.  I treat them with respect, and they thus respect me.  Working with undergrads can be a bit more complicated so I would drink with larger groups of them at the end of a term.  Again, no problems--respect breeds respect.  Fear, on the other hand, leads to anger and all that the little green guy asserted.

1 comment:

Cesi said...

Great post, Steve. Good timing too because I just wrote a thank you note to my two committee co-chairs a couple weeks ago for being uber-supportive and never treating me differently because I'm a woman. This was all prompted by my experience during the Philippine elections this year when the head of the organization we were working with told us that "women are weak-minded and feeble," so even though it was MY project and I was in charge, he only wanted to deal with my male colleagues. Anyway, I should've put you and Mark on that thank you email too (although there was a bit of dissertation update in the email too and I wouldn't want to bore more people than I have to, haha). The only downside to the fact that I've been incredibly lucky having you guys as mentors is the fact that I go around expecting to be treated the way you guys treat me, so I'm often unpleasantly surprised when these kinds of things happen. :)