In May, WISeR and the Dean’s Office co-hosted two Anti-Harassment workshops by Dr. Sherry Marts. The workshop gave trainees a place to learn strategies to get out of uncomfortable, bad, or dangerous situations.
While it’s our job as a community to condemn harassment and to make Rockefeller and science a place where these things don’t happen, the reality is that most women and minorities do report experiencing these situations in science. At Rockefeller, 73 of 255 respondents to our survey responded they’ve witnessed or experienced bias, harassment, or discrimination at Rockefeller. 155 respondents wanted us to host product- and skill-based workshops. In light of these results, and, we wanted to do something to help everyone protect themselves and their friends.
What it was
Each 1.5-hour workshop was a little different, but both started off with introductions and moved into practiced yelling (“HEY!”, a crowd favorite), The rest of the workshop was spent practicing. Sherry would introduce a situation and a ‘script’ for how to deal with it, and then we broke off into pairs to practice. Though these differed between sessions based on participant demand, they included:
- how to get out of unwanted hugs and touches (great for poster sessions)
- how to shake hands with a super-gripper without feeling much pain (extend your first finger!)
- how to respond loudly and forcefully to someone approaching you in a threatening way
While sometimes applicable to academic settings, these latter skills focused more on street-type harassment.
Who was there
We offered two separate workshop times, and 26 people signed up for these events (4 men, 22 women). We had 3 research assistants, 13 students, 6 postdocs, 2 research associates, and 2 other folks sign up. Of these 26 participants, 15 responded to a short survey about the event. Below find a summary of these data we collected from these 15 respondents:
- 3 of the 4 men responded, and 12/22 women
- 3/3 research assistants, 6/13 students, 4/6 postdocs, and 1/2 research associates
- 6 from the morning and 9 from the afternoon session
- everyone in the morning session thought we should offer this workshop again, while 2 people in the afternoon did not
What we learned for next time
Overall, people were positive about the event. Most (11/15) said it was very (4/15) or somewhat (7/15) useful. Those that found it useful would definitely or probably recommend it to a friend or colleague (10/11) and 13/15 think we should definitely (10/15) or maybe (3/15) host this event again.
However, the most interesting information was contained in the comment sections. We asked three open-ended questions:
- What was the most useful thing about the workshop for you?
- What would you change about the workshop?
- Do you have any additional comments or feedback?
I usually hate to break things down by gender, but since all respondents self-identified and there was a stark contrast in responses, I’ll do so here:
- All of the men found the workshop useful, would recommend it, and think we should offer it again. One suggested: “…this workshop be given to incoming graduate students/postdocs. One could collaborate with the postdoc association on this. Even for some fee, I think people will attend.”
- Four individuals noted that they wished something like this were required either for faculty, or for everyone. One noted: “These trainings should be as rigorous as our biosafety, radiation safety, chemical safety courses, with mandatory annual refresher courses.”
- Five people noted getting out of unwanted touching, including hugs, was the most useful part of the workshop. Others mentioned practicing yelling, and the role-playing (though it is worth noting others complained there was too much role-playing).
- The most common refrain (10/15) was that they felt the workshop was overly focused on street harassment and not what happens to most people in academia on a regular basis. This point resonated with me as well and definitely warrants further discussion.
How it came to be
A little backstory on how this workshop happened: Dr. Sherry Marts came highly recommended from colleagues at AMNH and Columbia. Everyone noted her flexibility and knowledge, so I was personally really excited to meet and host her, though I found writing up a description of a completely flexible and interactive event challenging. I wrote an email to everyone describing what I thought and hoped the event would contain, and the truth is that I missed the mark.
In the end, I personally came away feeling like it was a great event, just not the one I expected.
Many people in academia experience bias, harassment, and discrimination of all kinds. Some incidents seem subtle, because of the casualness of the execution and frequency of occurrence, but are extremely damaging. At the workshop, many of us shared similar stories of unwanted hugs, comments, and daily reminders that we aren’t just scientists, we are also women. There are many ways this plays out, but a deeper discussion on how to deal with these things when they come from people you can’t afford to upset (like PIs), and how to better set boundaries with co-workers you may have to see every day would be useful for the trainees who attended.
In short, I want you to know that we heard you. We have funds for another similar event this fiscal year (July 2016 – July 2017). We will incorporate your comments and come up with an even-better event (or events!) that tackle(s) more science-related problems.
Also, special thanks to Andrea Morris for sharing her budget with us on continuing these important conversations. Also thanks to everyone who attended and especially those who responded to the survey. Please let us know if you have additional thoughts either through the comments here, chatting with a board member, or emailing the WISeR email account (wiserrockefeller.edu)