Sexual Harassment in the Carletonian

First, some background. About a week ago, my school’s newspaper, the Carletonian, published the advice column below:

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This column offers some problematic advice, including both touching the female TA and asking for an unnecessary private tutoring session. That may work in the movies, but in real life you are just making someone uncomfortable and wasting their time, in a situation where they are not allowed to leave. The original article was flawed but, in my opinion, largely innocuous. That was, perhaps, a charitable view, but my experiences with the Carleton community in general have been that nearly everyone is very sensitive to gender issues. At first, I thought of it as simply poorly thought-through, the sort of thing that would likely correct itself.

However, physics majors spoke among ourselves, and the more we talked about it the more upset we became. There are 55 declared physics majors at Carleton, 17 of whom are women and, as far as I know, only 3 of whom are TAs. Only one of those TAs hosts tutoring sessions. So, when Aphrodite decided to respond in the way that she did, she not only encouraged sexual harassment in the workplace in general, but also targeted a surprisingly small sample size of one woman. That one woman (and other female TAs across campus) now felt uncomfortable in her place of work. So, physics majors penned a letter to the Carletonian, which an overwhelming majority of students in the major agreed upon:

Click to embiggen.

Finally, we received two responses, one from the editors of the Carletonian and another from Aphrodite herself:

Click to embiggen.

Click to embiggen.

If the response had been a simple apology for making people uncomfortable, it would have been the end of the issue. But these responses are a problem. The editors distanced themselves from the problem, and Aphrodite (along with other people who felt physics majors were blowing this issue out of proportion) was both shockingly condescending and reflective of the unfortunate atmosphere around sexual harassment in STEM fields in general. Sexism and harassment are not a joke, and this response is not innocuous.

Aphrodite’s “defense” (because I’m loathe to call it simply a response) contained a dismissive tone which is all too familiar to women who have experienced sexual harassment, particularly in STEM fields. It trivializes a serious issue and encourages harassment in the workplace. We are not “blowing things out of proportion” or “unable to take a joke” and the Carletonian is not “fostering conversation.”  Encouraging harassment is unacceptable, and the response which not only did not deal with the problem but actively dismissed physics majors’ concerns and discomfort.

In a final response, we have created a petition to show the Carletonian and Aphrodite that these responses and the attitude which they perpetuate are unacceptable: https://www.change.org/p/carleton-community-and-friends-send-the-message-that-aphrodite-s-10-31-column-and-the-following-responses-are-unacceptable-representatives-of-carleton-s-community-and-values. I have been very impressed with the Carleton community’s response and with their intelligent and well-considered comments, and I hope that you will go there to read the comments and stand with the Carleton physics department against the perpetuation of workplace harassment.

Edit: I’d like to share Phil Plait’s blog post on #Shirtstorm and casual sexism here, and if you care about casual sexism but not about Matt Taylor’s shirt or Twitter, skip to the end: “It’s just it’s just it’s just.”

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2 thoughts on “Sexual Harassment in the Carletonian

  1. Wow. The response of the paper and especially the advice columnist is so beyond unacceptable. The only way this would make sense would be if the column was actually satire, as the editor refers to. The fact that the guy tries to make it sound as people are only upset because the TA was female and in physics just goes to show how far this guy is missing the point. Advocating for a female history student to sexually harrass her male TA: still not OK. This guy also needs a lesson in the dynamics of male privilege.

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