Comments on: From the mailbag: How to slip the noose of a T.A. assignment? History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Sat, 20 Sep 2014 07:56:15 +0000 hourly 1 By: Leslie M-B Tue, 15 Jun 2010 15:20:27 +0000 Ugh. What a terrible situation to be in.

My current university has a dedicated sexual harassment office that both educates folks about campus policy and handles complaints. The person I know in that department takes these things very seriously; it’s nice to have a feminist in an office that works with HR.

My personal preference is always to make a formal complaint. That said, if you’re uncomfortable with doing so, going to the department chair with documentation of harassment and asking for a change in TA assignment might work, even if you decide not to file a formal complaint. The threat of a formal complaint might be sufficient to grease the wheels enough to switch your TA assignment.

By: Emma Mon, 14 Jun 2010 00:39:09 +0000 Sorry, another comment: the fact that HR exists to protect the company doesn’t mean you shouldn’t report to them. It means you should think defensively when reporting to them. Like a defensive driver, you have to anticipate the poor actions of others and act proactively in defense of it.

Which means things like: know the policies regarding how and to whom to make a complaint, no informal or off the record complaints, no verbal complaints, take the name and title of everybody you talk to, make notes of all conversations, follow up all meetings, conversations, etc. in writing, notice if anybody else at meetings is taking notes or recording, and ask for written findings of all investigations taken as a result of your complaints.

Remember that the minute you bring a complaint to your employer — ANY complaint to ANY employer — you are in an adversarial position to them. That does not necessarily mean hostile or angry, just on opposite sides of the fence. Sometimes your interests will mesh – it may be in your interests and the employer’s interests to stop the harassment or it may be in both your interests to give you a resolution that doesn’t rock the harasser’s boat. Then the employer will be more on your side.

By reporting, you change the adversarial relationship from one between you and your harasser to one between you and your employer and your employer and the harasser. You may choose to do that or not, but IMO it’s probably better to do that than keep the relationship between you and the harasser as is.

By: Emma Mon, 14 Jun 2010 00:28:30 +0000 I agree with those above who have said that the EEO/HR people at your uni work for your uni, not for you, and that their primary goal is always to indemnify the uni rather than help you.

I agree with this. But reporting to the PROPER authorities — those designated in the faculty handbood, uni policies, etc. — is also the only way to hold the employer/university responsible.

OTOH, consider this: more employers are finding that the best way to avoid liability is to stop the harassment — because that’s how the law is set up. YMMV by institution, of course.

By: Emma Mon, 14 Jun 2010 00:20:45 +0000 What are the chances the harasser had input into you being made his TA?

You have to decide what you want to do: a) get out of this TA assignment with the least wavemaking or b) remedy the harassment. Once you decide that, your course of action will be clear, I think.

But be forewarned: trying to do things behind the scenes, off the record, informally, etc. sets one up for retaliation with no recourse — even if you end up being moved off the TA assignment.

By: Historiann Sun, 13 Jun 2010 13:06:54 +0000 In dealing with workplace bullies, isolation and containment is better than nothing. It may be that the professor in question here gets away with his behavior because his colleagues want him to get away with it. If that’s the case, there’s little if anything one grad student (or even a collection of grad students) can do. But, if there are supportive faculty looking for an opportunity for a smackdown, then it could work. Only the people in that department can say–I found it very discouraging that Grad Student reported that hir advisor and other faculty were supportive of the professor, not of hir.

As History Maven said above, there is “[m]ore than one power structure at work here, alas.” Indeed.

By: wbodle Sun, 13 Jun 2010 04:21:40 +0000 Much too late to this thread do assimilate the entire sense of the group. but I agree with much of the above advice, esp. Meander. et. al. But just getting out of this situation in a way that leaves somebody else falling *into* it, as the designated substitute, is also problematic. I agree that Grad Student can’t simply immolate hir career just to try to do the right thing. But some step has to be taken to stop the designated predator from merely continiuing on with the same course of behavior, merely seeking out whatever weakest member of the herd the system is willing to throw in his path. No good specific advice to offer here, alas.

By: Trudy Sun, 13 Jun 2010 03:37:51 +0000 The reason that this professor is notorious is because, probably, no grad students have ever dared file a complaint against him and he has noted that he can get away with his crappy behavior. I SO feel for this student. However, I would recommend exactly what Historiann recommends. Moreover, if the need to file a complaint or even a lawsuit should arise, grad student might be surprised that others previously in her same situation with this professor might want to join the lawsuit. Nothing like hurting P.R. and pocket for administrations to do what they need to do in order to take care of people in their organization who prey on others, and make it right for the rest of the employees.

By: Historiann Sun, 13 Jun 2010 02:39:30 +0000 Thanks for all of the exellent further suggestions. Maimie is right–scheduling conflicts more than anything drive assignments in many departments. This technique doesn’t confront the problem, but it solves Grad Student’s immediate desire to get out of harm’s way.

The comments here have been very varied–from Tenured Radical’s suggestion that Grad Student has a role to play in achieving justice for future students in reporting and pursuing a case, to other suggestions that Grad Student just give up and/or take it and get over it, because there’s nothing to be done. While the latter suggestions seem too despondant and too eager to capitulate to me, the former suggestion is also one I’m hesitant to make as well. In the end, everyone has to make hir own choice, and it’s really not fair to expect the victim to go ahead and put hir career on the line and do all of the work of reporting a dude who’s unlikely to face serious sanction. I spent four years once in a bad work environment because I was absolutely sure that if my colleagues could just see how hard-working and well-intended I was, they’d treat me decently.

Well, it didn’t work, because we’re not responsible for other people’s behavior. Grad Student’s decision to confront or not confront Professor Jerkoff will have remarkably little if any bearing on whether or not he offends again. Tenured Radical is right to raise the possibility of pursuing the case, and she’s absolutely correct that “being confrontational . . . is empowering too.” That’s why I say that everyone has to make up hir own mind. I hate sounding like I’m urging people to give up, but in these cases frequently self-preservation is job #1.

By: historyprof Sun, 13 Jun 2010 01:35:39 +0000 If there is a Women’s Studies dept. on your campus, or a feminist staff/faculty orgganization, you might give a call there and ask what they know about the AA office or the ombudsperson, if your institution has one. You could imply you are calling on behalf of an undergraduate. Faculty at my institution know very well how the wind blows in these offices, and it often changes entirely depending on who’s in the position.

But I also endorse the advice of checking the online faculty manuals. At some institutions, sexual harrasment is a mandatory reporting issue.

By: Mamie Sun, 13 Jun 2010 00:10:54 +0000 In my department, TA assignments are made based on schedules: the TAs’, and the professors’. If a TA is in class hirself during a professor’s survey course, that TA won’t be assigned to that professor.

So, one quiet strategy might be to create a scheduling conflict. If you can’t take a strategically timed class, can you incur another unavoidable, conflicting obligation? That would eliminate the need to explain the true situation, since it sounds like that might not be in your interest.

A strategic conflict might allow you to leverage reassignment while avoiding unwanted attention.

That said, I join the chorus: document, document, document. And when you are safely graduated and out of harm’s way, be prepared to step up and support an effort to take this jerk down. No ethical considerations require you to martyr yourself to his sense of privilege, but privileged jerks will prevail if no one steps up. (Of course, only you can judge when you are out of harm’s way.)