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Why I’m Firing Michigan State: Sexual Harassment, Online Harassment, and Utter Institutional Failure

Related Link News story in the Chronicle of Higher Ed

I have drafted this in my head a hundred times. I think that finding just the right turn of phrase may convince everyone of what I am about to say. But I know, sadly, that will not be true. I am afraid. I am afraid of not being believed. Oh wait, that’s already happened. I am afraid of being called a bad historian. Well, that’s happened, too. I am afraid of 5 — or 50 — scalding Amazon reviews. I am afraid of being ostracized from the academic world in which I previously found refuge. Mostly, I am afraid that nothing will change.

I have analyzed the angles. Is this about #MeToo? Is this about Michigan State’s culture of sexual trauma? About the toxicity of today’s Internet, especially for women? About undermining the expertise of women? Online harassment? Risky research? Retaliation? It’s about all those things.

There are so many angles because of the intersections and interconnections of harm that built up over time. Many angles, too, because many people in positions of power failed to do the right thing. There is the professor who sexually harassed me, and the entrepreneur who attacked me online. There is the entrepreneur’s friend who amplified the bullying, and the dean who transformed the online attack into a research misconduct allegation against me.

This essay is about me standing up for myself and facing down the bullies. It’s about speaking up for myself, and reaching out to the many others who have faced similar ordeals. But the smallest window onto all of this is subtle. It’s a silence, and an absence. It’s a story about who is not acknowledged in my book.

Yes, I wrote a book, something expected among academics in the humanities. When I read any book, I linger over the Acknowledgments. I like imagining the personal connections built and sustained around analyzing, imagining, researching, and writing. Now I know, too, that absences speak volumes. What connections have been undermined? Severed? What’s missing?

Let me tell you about my first year as an assistant professor at Michigan State University (MSU). I am a historian, and my expertise includes gender, science, and technology. I am jointly appointed in two of MSU’s undergraduate residential colleges, James Madison College and Lyman Briggs College. I started teaching at the end of August 2016.

The sexual harassment began in September.

It started at the weekly faculty meetings at Lyman Briggs, when an associate dean of the college ogled me. In faculty meetings and in the hallways around the College, he stared at me, and my breasts, looking me up and down.

His office was close to mine, making it difficult to avoid him (something I should never have had to do in the first place). And still, he sought me out. He isolated me, asking me to drive him or walk with him back to the College after monthly Faculty Senate and monthly University Council meetings. ...

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