Penn State students and faculty speak out about sexual harassment and abuse on campus over anonymous Google survey
Seven incidences have been cited at Penn State, according to the survey
Since 2010, the number of reported on-campus sexual assaults at Penn State has increased, indicating a serious problem within the university.
This is an issue that extends not just to undergraduates, but to students in graduate school and members of the faculty. At the beginning of December 2017, Karen Kelsky, a former tenured professor and current career consultant for academics, created an anonymous Google form. The document, titled "Sexual Harassment In the Academy," was designed as a space for women in academia to share their encounters with sexual assault and harassment.
The survey received over 2,000 responses. Out of the responses that specified universities, Penn State ranked as the 11th most reported school.
One graduate student in the Chemistry PhD program recounted an incident of harassment at a recruiting event.
"A professor seated across from me wrapped his fingers around the beer can in front of him, peered at me with alcohol red eyes, and asked "do you think you could take it? I'm about this size…..". His demeanor, facial expression, and voice intonation clearly signaled that he relished the idea of committing physical harm to me, much as a sadist would."
More reports from Penn State faculty were equally as terrifying.
An employee of the Dean of the College of Education reported that the Dean put his hands on her waist during a meeting. A staff manager wrote of a donor that threatened to blackmail female staff and told sexist stories. A development officer in the College of the Liberal Arts alleged that a donor pulled a gun on her.
Others experienced discrimination and harassment that lasted for long periods of time and were consistent problems within the department.
One woman working the Humanities field shared an experience of a superior she had seen harassing women for around a decade.
"An associate Dean harassed most of the women within his functional areas into quitting…he treats women radically differently than he treats men. For example, by micromanaging them, by criticizing them, and by openly advocating to pass them over for promotion and such," she wrote. "All of the young women who have been assigned this office have complained about him, because he treats them like secretaries and makes inappropriate comments to them about hotels and such."
The outright discrimination against women in academia has caused significant problems in their careers, as reported by this friend of two PhD students in Entomology and Biosciences.
"A friend of mine who at the time was a PhD student endured harassment and outright destruction of her research (another grad assistant intentionally destroyed her research because it was occupying space he felt should be his, setting her research back by weeks), and another friend had her advisor quit her for objecting to the gendered, biased and outright bullying behavior of the department toward both of them. The department also refused to help either with placement."
The friend also reported that the victims were forced to "seek new advisors" and work harder to find employment as a result of harassment.
A student who said she had been stalked for two years by a fellow graduate student suffered from severe anxiety during her studies and dropped out of academia after getting her Master's degree.
She described it as, "a decision I sometimes regret."
Based on these reports, sexual assault and harassment is a serious problem in the Penn State academic community, as well as nationwide.
"Until this issue is addressed head on, women will continue to be hounded out of academia," wrote Karen Kelsy.
She hopes that by creating this space for women to share their experiences of sexual assault and harassment, they will feel less alone and more empowered to continue their careers in academia.