Unexamined are the challenging issues related to why other women (and men) who witness abuse do not speak up, even when they have the power to do so—such as seniority over their offending colleagues. For that matter, why do senior administrators and executives ignore reported instances of sexual harassment?
Many years ago, as a new law professor at a former institution, barely three months into my new tenure-track position, I observed a male colleague forcefully grab a female student’s arm and lick her at a law school fundraiser. The center stage of this was a pie-throwing contest. My colleague invited himself to lick the residue of cream clinging to the student’s arm by twisting it behind her back, and placing his mouth on her as she walked by.
I was mortified and by the expression on the student’s face—she was too. She looked outraged at first, and after realizing it was a professor, helplessness stretched across her face. My former colleague’s behavior was inappropriate and repulsive, stunning for its brazenness and lack of professionalism.
By Monday morning, I reported the licking incident to my dean—who happened to be a woman. I expected that the dean would make an inquiry and investigate. I came forward not just for the one student, but also because I cared about institutional culture, including my law school and its environment. The bottom line, students deserve to participate in the life of the school without the threat of being groped by their professors. I too wanted to work in a healthy environment where students were safe from drunken advances of their professors.
By coming forward, I had not anticipated the enormous public backlash, the ultimate firing of the dean, the harassment that I would encounter, and the institution’s paralysis. Then again, I also did not anticipate that by standing up, new leadership would eventually come to the law school, the harassing colleague would ultimately isolate himself, and the law school would be compelled to examine its culture. . . .Continue reading