At a recent national conference, organizers reported on a survey of members that asked whether they had ever experienced or witnessed sexual harassment while attending the annual meetings. You read that correctly: the question wasn't whether we had ever experienced sexual harassment in our careers, but whether we had experienced it during our annual three-day conference.
I've been in the academy for decades, as a researcher, professor, and now as provost here at UC Santa Cruz. I am not easily surprised. But I was outraged at the results: 20 percent of the female participants reported having been the victims of unwanted sexual advances during this short conference; 40 percent reported hearing unwelcome comments of a sexual nature. And not just women reported being harassed.
Sexual harassment and sexual violence are terrible in any context, when perpetrated by anyone. But there is something especially destructive to the academy when the perpetrator is a faculty member.
This spring, I am convening a dialogue to bring together Academic Senate leaders, students, and faculty members. It will be from 4 to 6 p.m. on May 10 at Kresge College's Town Hall. We must define concrete mechanisms that administrators and faculty can adopt, above and beyond what is required by law or policy, to advance a culture of service to each other and our students.
Faculty members have a special duty. We serve as role models. We are supposed to mentor our students, uplift junior scholars, and honor our colleagues. These are our oaths, real as any Hippocratic Oath taken by a doctor. Any faculty member who conditions his or her mentorship of students or assistance to colleagues on their sexual availability has betrayed this oath.
As a forensic anthropologist, I am trained to think in terms of evidence. All human activity leaves something behind-a mark, an impact, a wound. Sexual harassment and sexual violence leave deep, painful wounds-first and foremost on direct victims. But such conduct also pollutes our culture and community. It slashes at heart of the very meaning of "university," which is a place of inclusion and growth.
As a woman and a leader, I am pleased that the University of California has taken significant steps to strengthen our policies against sexual harassment and sexual violence and our procedures for protecting victims, while ensuring fairness for all concerned.
As faculty members, we must go much further. We, as faculty, must do more than comply with mere law or university policy. Indeed, compliance to these standards is a basic job requirement. Sexual harassment isn't just a compliance problem; it is a culture problem. And beyond procedures and codes of conduct, we must hold ourselves-and each other-accountable for creating a culture of transformative service. I am speaking of service in the Greek sense of the word: caring for others and making their needs a priority.
In a culture of transformative service, we as faculty would promise to do more than merely refrain from harassing conduct. The expectation should be that every student, every colleague is better in some material way for having worked with us or learned from us. That is more than the absence of bad conduct; it is the presence of active and genuine service. While we have extraordinary faculty who honor this principle already in their daily work, I believe there is value in stating this principle clearly and making ourselves accountable for following it across the board.
Our students get it. A few weeks ago, I met with a group of students protesting for stronger protections against sexual harassment and for more faculty accountability. I agree with many of their points and know it is time to take action. I am starting with myself and with my colleagues on the faculty. Ultimately, we are the stewards of our faculty culture, and we are responsible for creating the culture in which all students and university members can work, teach, and pursue knowledge.
I have seen too many students leave academia because they cannot endure the harassment or being forced to choose between advancing in their careers and maintaining their dignity. I have seen too many colleagues slowed and disillusioned by gender discrimination and harassment. Indeed, I have seen perpetrators not only remain in academia but advance to positions of leadership. This issue is no longer one about compliance with the law and university policy but a total and radical culture change that must start now.
I welcome those who doubt that things can or will change to join the dialogue, as well as those who have been affected by sexual harassment and sexual violence, directly or indirectly. My hope is that we can begin to create a higher, more just basis of engagement between faculty and the broader university community. We must unite to be the change we want to see in the world.