Taking Leadership and Remaking Academic Communities

Sexual violence, as the global clamor of #MeToo suggests, is a problem of deep-seated gender inequities and the social supports that these have found in the institutions and societies within which we all live and work.
The #MeToo movement simply confirmed and rendered visible the regular incidence of sexual harassment that has all too often shaped the classroom, fieldwork, field training, and the subsequent workplaces of anthropologists since the discipline’s inception. Decades of writing by brave scholars document the character, harm, and fallout of experiences with sexual violence and harassment in anthropology. Studies on the incidence of sexual violence in specific subfields in our discipline suggest that the narratives of sexual violence reveal a patterned experience that harms not only those who experience it directly and indirectly, but also the integrity of our academic community.

Anthropology is not the only discipline in which sexual violence is prevalent and where particularly egregious cases have become public knowledge. Sexual violence, as the global clamor of #MeToo suggests, is a problem of deep-seated gender inequities and the social supports that these have found in the institutions and societies within which we all live and work.

Taking leadership in addressing the harm of sexual harassment to their professional communities, academic associations in various fields have updated and crafted new policies with clear reporting provisions, engaged in policy advocacy on harassment, provided prevention and best practices resources for their members, and embarked on proactive programs for cultural change in annual conferences. Sexual harassment is defined by leading associations as “scientific misconduct that limits innovation and restricts the presence of women in science.

Eliminating sexual harassment and sexual assault in anthropology is about a broader shift in cultural norms regarding gender, sex, sexuality, and power.
The problem of sexual harassment permeates academic environments beyond the purview of particular disciplinary associations. National science governing bodies are engaged in a restructuring of established practices aimed to curtail the incidence of sexual harassment. Starting in 2018, the National Science Foundation now requires grantee institutions to report findings of sexual harassment and “clear and unambiguous standards of behavior to ensure harassment-free workplaces” and enables reporting of sexual harassment through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. In February 2018, the US House Congressional Subcommittee on Research and Technology held hearings on sexual harassment and misconduct in science and considered both the prevalence of the problem and the response of scientific associations to the problem of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault further neither the professional interests of anthropologists nor the Association’s mission to use anthropological knowledge effectively to solve human problems. Eliminating sexual harassment and sexual assault in anthropology is about a broader shift in cultural norms regarding gender, sex, sexuality, and power. It is about overturning what Berry et al. (2017) have defined as the “discipline’s implicit masculinist” mentality. In the year ahead, the Association through the Members’ Programmatic, Advisory, and Advocacy Committee (MPAAC), is crafting clear sexual harassment and meetings conduct policies, as well as plans for continued monitoring of the problem and the preventative work of member education on best practices for methods and ethics training, field school planning, and addressing sexual harassment in the varied work contexts in which anthropology takes place.

The work of MPAAC and its Working Group on Sexual Harassment will strengthen the Association’s Zero Tolerance for Sexual Harassment Statement and the expectations of professional conduct currently encoded in the AAA’s 2012 ethics statement. Shifting cultural norms regarding gender, sex, sexuality, and power, signals the beginning of a process of establishing new ways to conceptualize and address sexual harassment. This process includes the development of new practices for graduate and undergraduate training and mentoring along with a renewed commitment to our established practice of monitoring the incidence of gender inequities and sexual harassment in the discipline.

M. Gabriela Torres is an associate professor of anthropology at Wheaton College, Massachusetts. In the past, she served as secretary of the Association for Feminist Anthropology and chair of the former Committee on Gender Equity in Anthropology.

Dianna Shandy is an associate dean in the Kofi A. Annan Institute for Global Citizenship and professor of anthropology at Macalester College. She is the co-author of Glass Ceilings and 100-Hour Couples: What the Opt-Out Phenomenon Can Teach Us about Work and Family (2009).

They both hold gender equity seats within MPAAC and are co-leads on the AAA Sexual Harassment Working Group.

Cite as: Torres, M. Gabriela, and Dianna Shandy. 2018. “Taking Leadership and Remaking Academic Communities.” Anthropology News website, May 10, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.864

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