Monday, May 26, 2014

Harassment from Students

The recent discussions on harassment in astronomy have been really thought-provoking and inspiring.  But yet another form of harassment that those of us in academia have to face is harassment from students.  This can take all sorts of forms, but in the end it all comes down to a lack of respect from (usually male) students simply because you're a woman.  The trouble is that the advice you get on how to deal with harassment from peers or superiors is often not useful or appropriate for dealing with harassment from those junior to you.  If it happens during class and is clearly disruptive, you can simply ask the student to leave.  But just as many serial harassers have become more sneaky in how they operate, students can be pretty sneaky, too.

I'd like to pose here a couple of scenarios and ask what you would advise someone to do in these situations.

Case 1: It's the first day of class, and you don't know any of your students yet.  Someone makes a crack that's out of line, and clearly because you are a woman.  It's a big class, and since you don't know names yet, you can't identify him afterwards.  What do you do?

Case 2: Your end-of-term teaching evaluations come in, and you get remarks on your appearance that have nothing to with your teaching.  The evaluations are all anonymous, and your grades are already turned in.  However, not only do you find the comments upsetting, but your evaluations do matter when it comes to review for tenure.  What do you do?

Bonus: Your end-of-term teaching evaluations come in, and there are comments making fun of your non-European name.  Or your regional accent.  What do you do?

While "just ignore them" is a possible response, the attitudes of students does have an affect on the workplace climate, just as much as attitudes of the faculty.  Not only that, but by not correcting the attitudes of the students, some day they might grow up to become the serial harassers of the world.  It would be nice to be able to nip that kind of behavior in the bud, but short of a reeducation camp, what do you do?