'A Complete Culture of Sexualization': 1,600 Stories of Harassment in Higher Ed

Q. You mentioned systematic elements of academe that make it rife with harassment. What are those elements?

A. First of all, professors have access to a constantly renewing supply of very young undergraduate students who generally have left home for the first time and are exploring lots of different things in terms of their sexuality as well as their intellectual ideas and emotional ideas. And they, professors, can really insinuate themselves inappropriately in young women’s development.

At the graduate-training level, the relationship is so intimate, and you spend endless hours in an office alone with your adviser or in the lab with your professor. The line between your professional work and your personal life becomes very blurry, because academia is much more a way of life than it is a job.

Departments routinely have departmental happy hours. You have wine-and-cheese receptions after visitors. You go out to dinner together all the time. Scholarly conferences always have at least one open bar, if not several. Interviews for a tenure-track job take place in hotel rooms.

It’s profoundly hierarchical. So all of those who are situated lower, like a grad student, Ph.D. candidate, a new Ph.D., or a job seeker, are completely dependent on the sponsorship and goodwill of those who are higher — the tenured professors, the deans, and the provost. If they offend them, they lose access to their funding, to their enrollment, to their letters of recommendation. They basically lose access to their ability to continue in their chosen field.
— Karen Kelsky, interviewed by Nell Gluckman