An anonymous survey launched in the wake of the #MeToo movement, inviting survivors of sexual harassment and assault to catalogue their experiences of abuse in academia, has collected more than 2,000 entries since November 30.
The Wall Street Journal reported on the list, which is similar to the “Shitty Media Men” list outing allegedly predatory journalists. The survey, called “Sexual Harassment in the Academy,” was created by former anthropology professor Karen Kelsky. Rather than explicitly naming abusers, as the Media Men list does, however, the survey focuses on specific incidents and institutions. It asks a series of questions about the nature of the abuse, when it occurred, what recourse was taken (if any), how the institution responded, and more.
“My hope is that this survey will allow victims to find a safe way to anonymously report their experience of sexual harassment,” Kelsky wrote on her website, which hosts the survey. “My goal is for the academy as a whole to begin to grasp the true scope and scale of this problem in academic settings. I hope it provides aggregate information in the form of personal stories of abuse and its career outcomes for victims (which, as a cultural anthropologist I consider the most potent form of data), paving the way for more frank conversations and more effective interventions.” The entries describe incidences of nonconsensual touching, groping, and rape.
One woman who posted on the list, Samantha Ainsley, dropped out of her MIT computer science PhD program after a leading professor in her field, Dr. James O’Brien, assaulted her during a night out with peers from a conference in Singapore. From the WSJ:
He put his hand on her back, she says, then: “He leaned in and put his hand on my thigh, up between my legs, up my skirt, and said, ‘I didn’t listen to a damn word you said because I was too busy imagining what was under your dress.’ ”
She says the professor later invited her to his hotel room. She declined. He demanded a good-night kiss, which she also declined, she says. When she told Dr. O’Brien the next day that she had felt uncomfortable, Ms. Ainsley says, he rolled his eyes and invited her to a conference in Barbados scheduled for later that winter.
O’Brien’s attorney Lyn Agre told the WSJ that he “emphatically denies” the allegations and that he “never tried to force himself on Ms. Ainsley in any way.
The survey, like the Media Men list, is another creative work-around for survivors who haven’t been able to seek justice or come forward in a culture that continues to silence them. Universities like Indiana, Georgia Tech, and Berkeley—which is named in more than dozen incidents—say they can’t pursue investigations without more details, including the accusers’ identities. Presumably, now that this document is public, perhaps accusers will have a better shot at being taken seriously when they do reach out to colleges.
The number of responses make it clear that sexual harassment is an ongoing, pervasive issue schools must address, otherwise victims (most of whom are women) will continue to suffer and leave academia. “I think plausible deniability has been eviscerated,” said Kelsky.