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Discussion of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine joint report on Sexual Harassment in Academia

Sharona E Gordon (University of Washington)
Wednesday, October 17, 2018 - 3:30pm
PAT C520

A 20 minute presentation of the report contents will be followed by a 40 minute moderated discussion among the attendees. The goals include making people aware of the report, the scope of the problem, and specific issues that make sexual harassment in academic sciences different from in other settings as well as empowering attendees with tools to initiate positive and lasting changes in their local environments. All interested students, staff and faculty are invited to attend.

Cohost: Ann Nelson, Physics

According to the 2018 report on Sexual Harassment from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), Sexual Harassment is more prevalent in academia than in any other sector, save for the military. Indeed, gender harassment, defined as verbal and nonverbal behaviors that convey hostility, objectification, exclusion, or second-class status about members of one gender, was experienced by 58% of women in the academic sciences in the 3-year period studied. Gender harassment undermines women’s professional and educational success, degrades the physical and mental health of targets, and negatively affects bystanders, co-workers, and organization.
University administrations have spent decades trying to make the academy more welcoming for women and people from other marginalized groups. In spite of these efforts, the pace of change has been glacial. The NASEM report points to the focus on legal compliance as one factor inhibiting change. Much of the gender harassment that women experience and that damages them and their careers in science does not meet the legal criteria of illegal discrimination under current law. In addition, the NASEM report finds that targets of Sexual Harassment are unlikely to report harassment, so that strategies that rely on reporting do not reveal the true nature and scope of the problem. The NASEM report includes recommendations for academic institutions, policy makers, federal agencies, and professional societies. However, none of these institutions have real power to change the day-to-day culture. Strategies are needed to catalyze change at the grassroots level.
The presentation will provide an overview of the NASEM report and present strategies to prevent Sexual Harassment that can be implemented by students, faculty, and staff without direct administrative support. Improving academic culture from the bottom up is novel, in part due to the transitory nature of students and other trainees on campuses. Because academic administrators have traditionally set the priorities and determined the strategies used to change the course of their institutions, faculty and staff have not generally felt empowered to initiate and lead transformative programs. The NASEM report on Sexual Harassment discusses why faculty, students, and staff should step in, “Placing responsibility and control for Sexual Harassment planning and response at the highest administrative level guided by attorneys... would likely produce a different organizational culture and climate than one guided by a more transparent group of faculty, students, and service providers…” Strategies presented include:  identifying and addressing local problems; building community; reimagining mentoring; and supporting targets of harassment.

About Sharona E. Gordon: A professor of Physiology & Biophysics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Dr. Gordon has a deep understanding of the environment and challenges in academic science. She has significant local and international leadership experience, experience developing mentoring programs for early-career scientists, and scholarship on women in science and scientific integrity. She has chaired the Board of Scientific Councilors of the National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute of the NIH; serves as Editor-in-Chief of Journal of General Physiology, chaired the program for the Biophysical Society Meeting, an international scientific conference with over 10,000 attendees; and founded Below the Waterline, a grassroots organization working to implement the recommendations of the NASEM report on Sexual Harassment. She has also founded programs for early career scientists including the Postdoctoral Scholar Reviewer Program and Junior Faculty Networking Cohort, programs which serve international populations, and Hit the Ground Running, a professional development program for postdoctoral scholars at the University of Washington. In addition to running a well-funded, productive basic science lab studying inflammatory pain, she has recently embarked on social science research to better understand formation of scientific identity in early-career scientists. This research has already resulted in a publication that was highlighted in the journal Science. Dr. Gordon has written extensively on the culture of academic science, women in science, and the relationship between science publishing and community activism.

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