Thursday, February 11, 2016


Years ago, when I was a graduate student, I saw a professor in the astronomy department behave lecherously toward an undergraduate woman. I soon learned that the professor had a reputation for groping, kissing and talking about sex with female students. People had attempted to confront him directly and to report him to the department without success. The professor’s abuse followed a specific pattern: First he would claim that he had no idea his actions were inappropriate or unwanted. He would vow never to do it again. And then he would repeat the exact same behavior with a new, unsuspecting student.

I asked a woman on the faculty for advice. She warned me that I didn’t want to get a reputation for being “overly sensitive” or “difficult.”

“If you report him, you could ruin his career,” she said. 
“Do you really want that on your conscience?”

The message was clear: My discomfort didn’t matter. Reporting the professor would be fruitless and only hurt my reputation. If by some miracle he did face consequences for sexual harassment, I ought to feel guilty. His bad behavior was my problem.