While I was at the ISA, I heard about an effort by the McGill undergrad student society to compel the university to do something about the problem of sexual harassment (Yes, the media are approaching me again since I have been blogging about this for two years). I was pointed to these reports of the SSMU making public a letter that was sent to the head of the university: "The letter says complaints resurface “year after year” about professors in the departments of history, philosophy, political science, psychology and world Islamic and Middle East Studies."
The university insists that they take this stuff seriously, but they can't provide specifics about complaints or processes. I think they could provide one stat that would be meaningful: how many professors have been fired for sexual harassment? If the answer is not zero, then folks might be more willing to buy the assertion that they are doing something. If the answer is zero, well, that is an answer.
I did tweet that McGill is stuck in a catch-22: that they can't punish without complaints, but why should anyone complain if no one is punished. The problem that journalists have in covering this is that no survivor is willing to go on the record, and that makes complete sense. The MeToo movement in Hollywood and now elsewhere broke through this when multiple survivors came out simultaneously. The women who did come out against Weinstein, for instance, knew they were not alone and that they might be believed BUT they still faced much abuse online and elsewhere.
So, I am pretty thrilled that this student group is focused on this incredibly important issue and providing the collective action that is hard for individuals to organize. SSMU is putting significant pressure on McGill. This is a good thing--how does McGill respond to this pressure? I don't know. I have kept saying that whatever assertions McGill says about taking this stuff seriously will only believed if they do something very visible, rather than covering things with a cloak of confidentiality. I have invoked Machiavelli by suggesting that McGill should figuratively take one of the harassers to a public square and, well, draw and quarter them. In the modern day, firing a harasser would be the visible demonstration that something has changed.
My guess is that this will happen, but not to the guy I know of. I have heard enough about the stuff at Islamic studies that I would bet one of the offenders there being the demonstration of McGill's seriousness. But maybe not since the catch-22 might get in the way.