tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
[personal profile] tim
Part 1 | Part 2

Part 3

"there is some shit I will not eat."

-- E.E. Cummings

So let me summarize: one student in my research group harassed another student in our group; the harasser was rewarded for his behavior, and the victim suffered. I think that's unfair.

I said as much to the three faculty members in the group. The responses I got ranged from silence to hostility. In particular, Andrew Tolmach -- who is both my advisor and Thomas's advisor -- told me that he didn't know the details of what Thomas had done, and he didn't want to know. He also rejected an idea I had proposed -- of one of the faculty members in the group making a public statement that someone had done something really bad to our group, and explaining what would be done about it -- because he said that making it about Thomas in particular would be a "witch hunt". (I'm not sure whether he realized the irony of invoking a historical event consisting largely of the persecution of women -- some say largely queer women, at that -- to argue against holding a man accountable for persecuting someone for being queer and feminine.) Later, he told me that he didn't think sexual harassment was an academic issue, and therefore nothing that Thomas had done was any of his business. I explained that I disagreed, that I thought that when one student intimidates another student out of being able to do their job, that is an academic issue. He also said that he didn't think there was anything special about sexual harassment as opposed to harassment in general, and he didn't think that the genders of the people involved made any difference in its severity.

Legally, the precedent seems pretty clear to me: all workers in an organization who are in a supervisory position -- such as a professor who advises graduate students, supervising them more closely than, for example, many managers at a software company would supervise their employees -- are responsible for pro-actively preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, and for being aware of any ongoing issues that make the working environment a hostile one. Ethically, I don't see how it's possible for sexual harassment of a colleague to not be an academic integrity violation. In a lab science field, it would be an academic integrity violation to take out your competition by sabotaging their experiments. In any field, it should be an academic integrity violation to take out your competition by letting them know they don't belong and eroding their dignity. If I were a supervisor, and I had a student (or employee) who did this, to me that would feel like a betrayal and a violation on the same level as plagiarizing or falsifying experiments.

I guess, though, if you occupy a social stratum where sexual harassment doesn't -- and can't -- affect you, it's easy enough to pretend that it doesn't affect anybody, and that if it does, they're just being too sensitive. Sexual harassment, directed at a woman by somebody who has male, heterosexual, and cissexual privilege, is fundamentally different from a woman harassing a man, in the same way that hitting someone with a baseball bat is different from hitting them with a pillow. The reason is that in the first case, it's not just one person saying something that one other person finds gross or disgusting or crass -- it's somebody leveraging all of the power of a sexist, heterosexist and cissexist society, all of the tacit knowledge and shared assumptions that mean that with just a few words, if you've got male privilege, then you can put a person in your own socioeconomic stratum in their place with just a few simple words (as long as they don't have male privilege). Sometimes it's words like "bitch" and "cunt", but you can use more polite words to get the same effect. What's important, more than the specific words, is that you invoke the image as woman as being for sex, as not being good for anything but to provide sexual pleasure to a heterosexual man. Since part of all of our cultural inheritance is that the idea that anyone who is capable of providing such pleasure is just a whore, and only a whore, and incapable of being a competent worker or anything other than whoredom, men with cis- and hetero- privilege who want to use their power barely need to do more than just point at that cultural inheritance. A woman could say all the same words to a man, but it wouldn't have the same hurtful effect, because we simply don't have the infrastructure in our minds for such words to become a speech act. It would just seem laughable. (If you ever present yourself femininely, you can try this the next time some guy in a car asks you what you're doing tonight.)

I decided, though, that since Andrew had told me that it wasn't his job to ensure that his students didn't sexually harass their colleagues (or to express disapproval when they did), I had to make it my job to protect myself from being sexually harassed if I returned to the department. Let me remind you of how this affects me:

  • Knowing that it's tolerated in my department for a student to harass a GSM member, and that this will be met with neither personal consequences to the aggressor nor an institutional response, makes me feel like I'm not welcome, because it seems to show pretty clearly that my contributions aren't valued as much as those of privileged students.
  • Even if I'm never harassed myself, I'm not comfortable in a place where I will have to witness women or genderqueer people being harassed and where I'll be shamed or silenced if I try to talk about it with authority figures.
  • Seeing someone hurt my friend, and getting a response that basically says my friend isn't valued either, hurts.
This doesn't just hurt my feelings -- it makes it impossible for me to do my job. To do my job, I need to be able to trust that the people I work with will hear me if I have a complaint about how somebody else is treating me. I need to know that they won't automatically side with somebody because they can empathize with them better (being more socially similar) or because that person has higher status. Without being able to trust in those things, I can't feel safe. Every situation could be a new trauma just around the corner. I can't take risks. I'm less likely to go out and socialize with other students, because I don't want to be harassed, and I don't want to it escalate it into something that will also affect life in the office. That deprives me of the informal connections that are necessary to succeed in academia. It also makes me feel more lonely and isolated.

So, I told Andrew that I would be willing to return in the fall if three conditions were met: (1) that I would do all my work off-campus, except for attending meetings where faculty members were present; (2) that I wouldn't have to speak to Thomas, including interacting with him about project work; and (3) that it would be acceptable for me to do one internship per year (this was unrelated to the first two conditions, but relates to the skyrocketing cost of PSU student health insurance. For fear of making this really tl;dr, I'll omit the reason why I had to stipulate that). He rejected all three conditions, stating that regarding item (2), he expected all group members to be "collaborative and respectful" towards one another.

I asked whether he thought that making an unwelcome sexual advance towards a colleague was "collaborative and respectful" behavior in his opinion, and he refused to answer.

If I take these comments at face value, that means he's asking me to work under conditions that make it impossible for me to work. I can't smile at an abuser and pretend that everything is okay. That would take all the energy I have. I can't write a dissertation while hating myself and feeling like a hypocrite every day. And I can't get up every day to do hard intellectual work while knowing that going to work could make me a target for a bully, and if I became one, all that the faculty members would be concerned about was ensuring that the bully got an education. Doing my best not to appear angry would be a betrayal to myself and to the people I care about.

But I really can't take these comments at face value. I can't see how he can tell me with a straight face that it would be disrespectful to not be polite to a sexual harasser in the corridors, when nothing more than a (privately administered) slap on the wrist was ever done to let everyone in the department know that this is not a place where bullying people in minority groups is okay. How is that respectful to me or to Alice? It seems that there is a double standard.

Andrew can refuse to answer the question of whether hitting on somebody at work is "collaborative and respectful" because he doesn't know the details of what happened and can't judge whether it was respectful or not. But he chose not to find out the details, in order to spare himself from having to take a stand one way or the other. There's something unpleasantly circular about that. I thought Andrew was a good advisor because he always stressed the importance of intellectual honesty -- how, in research, you always have to be brutally honest and admit when you don't know something or when you've made a mistake. For me, those principles extend beyond the pages of a conference paper and into professional and personal relationships. I guess for him, they don't. And I'm disappointed.

If I go back to PSU, I'll have to look for a new advisor, and I'm not sure who that would be, so I don't know whether I'll ever go back. I also don't yet know what my future plans are, as my internship at Mozilla ends on September 9, this coming Friday. I've filed a complaint with the Diversity office at PSU, and I'm in touch with some folks at the civil rights group Basic Rights Oregon to find out about recourse. I have to say, though, that even if I "won" a case -- whatever that would mean -- it's hard to imagine voluntarily returning to a toxic environment, and it's hard to imagine how that environment could be cleaned up when there isn't a single person with any power to clean it up who wants to. That is, not a single person who has done anything to do so, as opposed to saying they want to.

My goals in writing this and making it public don't include effecting any concrete change. When understanding a situation would compel a person to action, and it's easier not to act, then it's in their interest to not understand. So, I don't really have a rational reason to have written any of this, except that I think if I don't put it in writing, I will lose what remaining ability I have to get out of bed in the morning, concentrate on my job, not channel my rage into snarky comments on Reddit, and otherwise be a functional member of society. When people try to silence me, it's an excellent way to get me to tell everybody everything.

Finally, I want there to be a public record of why I left grad school. It's well-documented that faculty members usually take credit for their successful students' accomplishments while blaming non-completing students for their own difficulties. I left because I didn't have the energy to fight bullying from students and poisonous apathy from faculty members. I wanted to go to a place where I can do my job and be productive, and if where someone decides to intimidate me because I'm fat or because I love men or because I was coercively assigned female at birth, I can have confidence that my supervisors will be completely behind me.

I've wondered whether the faculty think they are being "neutral". And if so, I wonder whether they understand that in the presence of a bully, neutrality means siding with bullies; not taking sides means that someone who is abusing their power will continue to do so unchecked. Perhaps they imagine it's their job to side with a student who may have been "falsely accused" of some wrong. But there's a conflict here between giving the benefit of the doubt to someone who's been accused of something, and believing people who are systematically disbelieved. When you choose to do the former, you're identifying yourself as part of a social pattern that disbelieves women, trans people, queer people, and other people in minority groups (because after all, women are emotional, trans people are deceptive, queer people are abnormal, and God help you if you're all of the above). That's not exactly fair.

If you're still thinking that harassment between supposed equals isn't harassment, consider how with a conversation that took less than five minutes, Thomas managed to derail two people's lives for six months or more. What should have been a small action got a lot bigger due to the complicity of those who had the power to condemn it, and chose instead to deny or make excuses. In the past six months I've learned that when people say they want to help and be supportive, there's generally an unsaid postscript of "but only when it's easy for me and when I don't have to take a stand".

Of course, some of the work was done for him already by the life experiences that Alice and I have both had as queer trans people living in a profoundly repressive, cisnormative, heteronormative society. But that's exactly what power is -- having that entire society behind you. If I could have reclaimed the time I've spent thinking about this situation, and talking with others about it, I might have a completed dissertation proposal by now. Just today, I spent about 4 to 5 hours -- while on vacation -- drafting this post. I could have gotten some solid work done on the research paper I'm working on. But that's how it is, eh? When you have the privilege of not having to care, it frees up a lot of time to have fun thinking about interesting problems and being successful.

And that's why analyzing power dynamics isn't useless theory. For some people, it might seem that way, because you don't need to think about power when you have it. But this is my life. I need to document what's happened because I can't think clearly about anything unless I write about it, and I need to think clearly about it so I don't blame myself. If I blame myself for not being able to graduate, I'll have lost my sense of defiance. Sometimes I think that's all I've got.

"Even if you're a woman who wasn't abused, you're fucking angry because people treat you like shit all of the time, even if it's those tiny little things that don't matter immediately. Those little acts of violence just build and build and you have to choose to either internalize it and hate yourself or get MAD and do something about it. So you do get mad -- you get more angry than you've ever felt before, because you've never had the chance to even say how you feel and have those feelings acknowledged as worthy and awesome. You get angry because anything else, any compromise or giving up or hiding or pushing things deep down and ignoring them -- it's total self annihilation. You have to get angry, or else the thought of living in such a world becomes unbearable."

-- Chungyen Chang


Knowing that I'm leaving and Alice has chosen to stay and fight shouldn't diminish the seriousness of either of our struggles. I decided that for me, the reward of getting a Ph.D wasn't worth the pain of having to do other people's emotional work and to fight every day to be seen as a person too. I was willing to endure almost anything to gain entry into the privileged fellowship of those who can show they deserve autonomy and freedom on the job, not to mention working in a field I love -- but the price, for me, was too high. Alice loves their work enough that it was worth it for them to stay, to endure, to exercise more strength and deal with more awfulness than most people in our profession can probably imagine. And for them, that's the right thing. Alice's colleagues might say, right now, that Alice "seems fine". If they do say that, it's because of the incredible amount of extra work Alice has done, is doing, and will do, to "seem fine" after having to deal with what no one should have to deal with.

The thing is, though, that both of us had to choose: choose between staying and dealing with conditions that have a disparate impact on minority group members like us -- conditions that mean we have to work that much harder to get the same (or lesser) reward -- or leaving and losing out on one more opportunity. Privileged people don't have to make choices like these. Choice isn't always good: not when either choice you make will be criticized. Stay, and you're criticized for participating in an oppressive system. Leave, and you're criticized for letting the bullies win. You can't win. I hope that no one reading this will conclude that I gave in by leaving or that Alice gave in by staying. That wouldn't be fair, because we're both in a no-win situation.

Postscript: Alice read a draft of this post before I posted it, and gave me their permission to post it publicly. I have not sought permission from any of the other people named in this account, as I believe their actions constitute implicit consent to such naming.

Comments on this post are screened by default. I will unscreen comments that I find to be constructive, unless you tell me "Please don't unscreen my comment". Edited to add: Please feel free to link to this post anywhere you feel fit. There's no need to ask permission. I don't mind having to deal with a few trollish comments as a result; screening means I'm the only one who has to see them.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-05 07:19 pm (UTC)
talia_et_alia: Photo of my short blue hair. (Default)
From: [personal profile] talia_et_alia
Hey - I'm still reading back through the other two entries, but I wanted to say thanks for writing this up and putting it out there publicly. I've been aware of the shape of the situation (through your journal) for a few months now, but this is the first time I've seen all the details laid out; apparently it is worse than I thought, and your points about the lack of integrity and logic shown by your advisor and his colleagues are incisive and lovely. (I mean, sexual harassment is not an academic issue? I don't even.)

I hope the results are productive and minimally harmful to you, Alice, and your careers - but I'm not holding my breath. Best of luck to you both.

(I don't know that this is "constructive", but I'm fine with you unscreening this.)

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-05 09:42 pm (UTC)
kyriacarlisle: early modern sailing ship (Default)
From: [personal profile] kyriacarlisle
God. That's harrowing, and so damn unfair.

I wish I had something more constructive to say than that - although I think you're very strong for having written this, I shouldn't have to compliment you for that, because you shouldn't have had to write it. At any rate, I read it, I am shaken up and angry, and no, neither you nor Alice gave in.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-07 02:48 pm (UTC)
picklish: (Default)
From: [personal profile] picklish
This doesn't sound like a situation where better explaining would have turned everything to unicorns and rainbows. As you so eloquently say above, "when understanding a situation would compel a person to action, and it's easier not to act, then it's in their interest to not understand." Even the most insightful explanation would have been systematically disbelieved.

Also, your advisor's utter lack of desire to engage with problematic behavior but ability to talk about "collaborative and respectful" environments is abhorrent. I'm still stunned from the thought that anybody could do such a thing.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-05 10:42 pm (UTC)
juli: hill, guardrail, bright blue sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] juli
I continue to be really horrified by the "collaborative and respectful" doublethink. That's just inexcusable and wholly shameful, unjust and coercive, especially in light of not wanting to know the details of anti-social and disrespectful behavior in this situation. It isn't just that you are held to different standards of collaboration and respect, it's that you're the only one being held to such a standard by your advisor. If he really does value collaboration and respect so highly as he seems to believe he does, then he ought to want to know details of anti-social and exclusionary behavior that hinders collaboration and shows an enormous lack of respect.

It is potent antidote to the belief that microaggressions live in isolation. The initial sexual innuendo was comparatively small and insignificant — which is to say that it's relatively normal even if its impact is not so small — and yet that little statement which had no real worth or value for the person making it in the absence of the power structures you have described and analyzed. And despite its worthlessness and its harm and its insignificance, the authorities in power in the situation have been willing to go to the mat for it. To back it up all the way. To allow you to feel pushed out of the program. No cost it seems, except perhaps lack of funding or loss of personal comfort, would be enough to make them take corrective action, to stop defending it. I suspect that the outcome would have been different if there had been no action but they had offered apology and sincere understanding rather than dismissal and victims-blaming. And yet it is the nature of microaggressions like this that they have defenders in the large, too, and that they will reliably result in no action, no apology, no sincere understanding on the part of those in power.

Meanwhile, the workers on the bottom rung are left doing all the understanding, all the seeking of corrective action and all of the deconstruction of justifications required to move forward; they bear the cost, and the burden of improvement. And yet, if ever things were to really begin to change, such that conflict-avoidance were not in the service of these same bullying structures, these bastions of moderateness and fence-sitting would proclaim their boldness for going with the flow. The reality is (to put it in religious terminology rather than to simply call back to Letter from a Birmingham Jail) that they are concerned only with their pastoral relationships, the vague civility of their community, the nurturing of those it is easy to nurture, rather than the prophetic action that is doing the right thing rather than the easy, expected, tired and played-out oppressive, old thing.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-06 09:06 am (UTC)
juli: hill, guardrail, bright blue sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] juli
This seems like a very fine point to me, so I suspect that I'm going to misspeak in trying to offer further clarification of what I mean. I don't disagree about anything to do with his motivations for making the remarks he did, the privilege required to do so, the knowledge that it was unprofessional [i.e. not doing it while authority figures are around], etc. I essentially think that he probably would have felt that his life would not have been particularly diminished if he had not made the remark. That it had no value to him, and not just because if he hadn't made it someone else would have, on account of rape culture or something like that, but that it perhaps carried little emotional weight for him, and was probably not very carefully-considered. I dunno, it's a tangled set of interactions, and it makes my head spin a bit, but I'd be surprised if he felt that making or not making those remarks had any particular significance to him.

I certainly can't speak to what's going on inside his head, only what I know has gone on inside my head when I've said similar things (albeit, hopefully, in different contexts and with different impacts.) When I say there is no value, I am thinking of times when I've made semi-offhand (and perhaps not entirely serious, but certainly not entirely joking; I'm unclear on how earnest the original comment was, and it isn't really relevant to the rest of the saga, but for this little remark of mine) overtures towards someone I knew moderately-well consisting primarily of sexual innuendo. They are effectively throwaway, not things I'd defend very readily, things which have no great value for me in that I could just as soon have not said them and I wouldn't have lost anything by doing so. It seems likely to me that his subjective experience and valuation could have been similar to mine, that it could have been something that really seemed unimportant to him, but as everyone has demonstrated with their subsequent actions, the context and power structures give it great worth to those in power and authority. But perhaps I'm giving myself, and other people by extension, too much credit in my assumptions of my ability to figure out my motivations, desires and values. Or maybe we're saying the same thing, but you're attributing the social value to him to him, where I'm speaking solely about personal value to him, which is not independent of social value, but which involves more factors than just the social ones.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-06 01:06 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] mryn
Wanted to let you know that I am reading and trying to absorb.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-06 06:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rjmccall.livejournal.com
I'll admit that I was wondering whether there was some bureaucratic rationale behind Andrew's behavior — maybe he'd been asked by the department or University HR to remain strictly neutral or something, or maybe he was doing a lot behind closed doors while trying not to disrupt the group any more than necessary (not that that's necessarily possible, or even wise, but I can understand wanting to try). But no, it sounds like he's really trying to take a principled stand for this not really being "academic" and therefore something he should be involved in. That's clearly bullshit, and I'd be angry and disappointed, too.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-06 08:20 am (UTC)
autumnus: A purple monochrome portrait of Zoe from Dreamfall, with drawn stars in background and "the Dreamer" written on bottom. (Default)
From: [personal profile] autumnus
holy.... crap.

I have to say I am more appalled by the professor's behavior than I am by the guy (well almost). As a supervisor it is his job to know and should be able to access the information from the previous agreements and such since both grad students work for him (even when you can't). I have hard time reading it as clueless. I almost wonder if he could be this *I need to be neutral* if somebody did blow the whistle and he was suddenly facing outrage.

On one hand I am sorry you are not going to get the PhD you worked so hard for. On the other hand, do what ensures your safety. *hugs*

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-06 11:05 am (UTC)
autumnus: A purple monochrome portrait of Zoe from Dreamfall, with drawn stars in background and "the Dreamer" written on bottom. (Default)
From: [personal profile] autumnus
About wanting to do PhD, it shouldn't be to not disappoint others, it should be something you want to do or not. Although, I don't know, getting your PhD. just to spite the bullies and cowards like this, and then talk how you did it despite them again, might be gratifying within a certain mindset. ;)

Anyhow it is your decision.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-06 02:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] anemone.livejournal.com
The childish part of me is tempted to send Andrew an email with the subject "being neutral means letting the bullies win". (The plotting teenager in me reminds me I could I could send a bunch of emails of that sort anonymously. That sounds all sorts of fun, though the practical result likely be bad.)

More seriously, I'm sorry.

I also want to thank you for posts like this. Reading your journal has done a lot to help me understand my privileged and (hopefully) do better at keeping my feet from stepping on people.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-06 03:20 pm (UTC)
yam: (Default)
From: [personal profile] yam
What a horrifying echo chamber of transgression and entitlement. I'm so sorry you had to experience this, have to experience it, that society is set up to smugly victimize you for being a person of integrity and speaking up, and that you can be presented with a huge emotional invoice from the prince of nigeria and have no choice but to pay it instead of sending it to a spam filter where it belongs.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-07 02:48 am (UTC)
ext_367457: Camera-phone self-portrait, outdoors, with a collared shirt and tie (Default)
From: [identity profile] nentuaby.livejournal.com
This is a seriously good essay, and a great example of the way discriminatory actions can have so many knock-on effects. Thank you for posting it; I'll be sharing it elsewhere.

I've never been in an close-quarters situation like that, but it definitely echoes with something I've felt... My parents worked out that I'm queer by how much anger at the world I was displaying during the Prop 8 fight. (I ended up coming out in response to a direct question). I had no intention of marrying anyone at all and didn't even really consider queerness a particularly important identity tag at the time (being pansexual, my last-stage denial reaction was "what the hell, it's not like I don't like the sex I'm supposed to date, so it's not really relevant!") Even though I had all these "not really my fight" reasons, though, the general air of hostility was eating so many brain cycles that my loved ones could tell I was off my game, and work out pretty well why.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-07 05:38 am (UTC)
gender_euphoric: (Default)
From: [personal profile] gender_euphoric
This is enraging. I am completely infuriated with the authority figures in your department who have leveraged their power into a tower of "see no evil" shit while someone else suffers. I'm so, so sorry--to you and Alice both. I've been in a similar situation (mine was workplace harassment that I witnessed), and I took my rage and lack of agency in the situation out on myself for years. I wish you some kind of ending to this that is just.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-07 09:41 pm (UTC)
kake: The word "kake" written in white fixed-font on a black background. (Default)
From: [personal profile] kake
Thank you for writing this all out in detail. I'm so sorry you and Alice were treated like this.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-08 05:26 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] bob_obob
I feel compelled to ask, about a specific point I consider beyond the pale,
even though I think the answer is clear, I'd like to know if my summary is accurate:

Your adviser explicitly told you
that no one other than you
had *any* strong opinions or feelings
about what his actions should be
... and then he completely dismissed yours?

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-08 07:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gwillen.livejournal.com
Thanks for posting this, and I'm sorry that you (and Alice) had to put up with it. :-( As someone whose privilege dice basically came up all sixes, I try to read things that will help me understand and avoid abusing my privilege. Personal accounts like this are among the few ways for people like me to get a view into what it's like to be on the other side of privilege, not just in terms of what happens, but of how it feels. So thanks again for writing it. (And thanks for good links -- in particular, following a link from a link from your post, I found this piece with an excellent story/analogy for helping people to understand what it feels like to be on the wrong side of privilege: https://sindeloke.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/37/)

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-08 09:37 pm (UTC)
miang: Takuto Tsunashi, Star Driver: Someday, the weight of the world will give you the strength to go. (takuto - your galaxy will shine)
From: [personal profile] miang
Gahhhhh this still just makes me so unbelievably angry. It's like it brings back all of the awful bullying nonsense I had to put up with in grad school, only buried in mountains of systemic oppression besides. I don't have a frowny-face emoticon big enough to convey how well this concept of the emotional work required to continue doing your intellectual work resonates with me, but it very much does, and I'm disgusted by how much worse it must be for you and Alice both than it ever was for me. I continue to be so very sorry that the both of you have been put in this position, intent be damned.

PSU has a pretty terrible sexual harassment policy in comparison to some I've seen (my employer's springs to mind), but I do think you might have some traction with the third criterion. If I may quote selectively:
"Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances [...] where: [...] Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's academic or work performance, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive education or working environment." I don't think it's possible for an intellectually honest person to read this series of posts and still conclude that the incident you describe has failed to meet the quoted condition (for you and Alice, despite only Alice being the direct intended target of the harassment). Supposedly, "PSU will not tolerate this prohibited behavior." Supposedly.

Since it seems like everyone's taking a turn at the non-constructive as well, I will just point out how deeply amused I am that you linked something from [personal profile] lightgetsin, who, apparently in addition to some very thoughtful observations on disability and access, has co-written some truly bitchin' Vorkosigan saga fic with which I have been fairly obsessed since mid-August or so. Small world, &c.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-14 06:11 pm (UTC)
amadi: A bouquet of dark purple roses (Default)
From: [personal profile] amadi
"Alice" just sent me here, as we're talking about their future hopes and plans. I am appalled, and I wish I could say that I was surprised, but nothing surprises me any more, least not in academia. I'm just sickened at the toll that this has taken upon you and Alice and your respective futures. I certainly understand that this environment is too toxic and unsupportive to remain a part of, but the little justice warrior in my heart wants to rise up and "dismantle!" "smash!" "destroy systems of oppression!" and I hate that the only sound answer for your sake and Alice's is to walk away, after having invested so much of yourselves. The fundamental unfairness burns like flame.

I'm so sorry. Thank you for chronicling this sad story. I hope you find a new place to continue to develop your talents.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-09-15 03:56 am (UTC)
amadi: A bouquet of dark purple roses (Default)
From: [personal profile] amadi
Knowing when strength means walking away, and actually walking away, can be even harder than standing up and fighting sometimes, as we're also taught, especially as Emotional Laborers, that prioritizing our own wellbeing and safety is selfish and wrong. The expectation of continual self-sacrifice is writ large on our experience and our decision making. I honor you and Alice for having the strength and the courage to step out and make the choice, as hard as it is, and as great the consequences you're facing.

(Feel free to unscreen this exchange as you'd like.)


Date: 2011-09-17 09:02 am (UTC)
spz: Farley of Kimberley's Castle (Default)
From: [personal profile] spz
... that was instructive.

One comment:
I wouldn't describe myself as being an ally (to all downtrodden). Frankly, I wouldn't have the energy.

I generally do try not to be a nasty and cruel person though.
As an element of the "apathetically well-intentioned" I'll offer that intent matters, because what I (and others) really should say when messing up is "I didn't intend to hurt you and apologize for doing it anyway" possibly garnished by "I don't understand what I did wrong, explain?".
Whereas if you do have intent, well, what benefit in any further interaction? So, please, if/when you have the energy to do so, do complain when the probably mildly well-meaning hurt you, we only can get better if we actually know we failed.

Re: thanks

Date: 2011-09-20 08:22 am (UTC)
spz: Farley of Kimberley's Castle (Default)
From: [personal profile] spz
I didn't mean explain why, I meant explain what. I could spend a lifetime avoiding to poke you in the eye and not even know that anvils exist, let alone that I had one and was dropping it unsafely. Also, I would be very surprised if you didn't get a 'stop that' from the alpha animal if you stepped on their toes.

You wrote: "very little harm is done by people who are trying to be nasty and cruel".
=> my position about intent is not going to make sense to you.

Re: thanks

Date: 2011-09-23 04:21 am (UTC)
juli: hill, guardrail, bright blue sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] juli
Intent doesn't change the effect, but is it really irrelevant in your example? Whether an anvil is dropped intentionally or not makes a tremendous difference in how one should respond. A police report is a good place to start if it was dropped maliciously, perhaps. But berating someone for an accident, while understandable in the heat of the moment, is more of a long-term feature of an abusive relationship than of a productive and constructive one. I'm not sure how well that carries over into the social realities beyond the anvil example, but it gave me some pause in reading this comment.

Grad Student Solidarity

Date: 2013-01-01 03:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mackenziedawn.blogspot.com
Hey Tim,

As a person who enjoys a lot of privilege, I want to begin by saying "I'm sorry." I'm sorry for all the times I have been willfully ignorant, for the times I've heard a 'joke' and not stood up for the people who were the butt of it, and for the times (this one is more painful to admit) it was me telling the joke. To you, I'm sorry that your dream has become a casualty of ignorance/apathy/idiocy.

At the same time, I want to let you know that we're working on it. I'm a physics grad student; I was prepping for a gender deconstruction workshop (for physics grad students) when I stumbled on your essay. At UW, many grad students have acknowledged that they are ignorant of all the complex difficulties/issues that the minority groups face, and they have asked for training. I'm the current coordinator, and (one of) my goal(s) is to educate/empower the cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, white men to stand up for those of us who don't get all those labels--to inspire them to go to battle on behalf of decency and equality and integrity alongside us. Perhaps it is too late to remedy the situation that you have described so beautifully/honestly/heart-wrenchingly/analytically, but I hope that we can prevent it from being a "part of our culture."

With Hope (and Anger) and a mission,


(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-11 05:02 am (UTC)
squirrelitude: (Default)
From: [personal profile] squirrelitude
Wow, I think this was an important read for me. Things that I learned:

- I need to *stop* talking about intent when apologizing until I can figure out how to do so without it putting burden on the other party -- even when I really, really, really want to say it. My desire to talk about intent is partly to protect my own identity as an ally (thinking about the mention of the fixed-state model of ally-ship you mentioned in Killing the Messenger at Mozilla) and partly out of fear of liberal friends potentially ostracizing me (which I should just suck up and deal with, because even though that's a scary thought, the actual likely consequences for a white cis male (etc.) are pretty damn minimal...)

- I need to be less afraid to speak up even when it's uncomfortable socially. If I have to ruin someone's joke or harsh an otherwise pleasant banter, so be it -- better me than someone with less privilege.

- I have a better understanding of why jokes about GSMs are harmful. I had not understood the direct connection to violence (via othering.)

- Similarly, I don't think I'd seen sexual harassment explained as bullying before, or the way it uses existing power structures to turn a small action into a large effect.

So... thanks. I think I've got a little bit better of a picture of what people with different gender and sex from my own have to deal with and how I can be a better person with regard to that.


tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

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