Graduate women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at the University of Massachusetts have developed the #SafeAtWork campaign to end sexual harassment around the University.
Through regular meetings with GWIS (Graduate Women in STEM), a culture of sexual harassment within the fields began to expose itself. Female students began sharing their stories of harassment, prompting the creation of “Broken Silence,” a special edition of the group’s quarterly magazine that displays many of these stories.
“The group’s mission was to help women in STEM through mentoring and skill building,” Christie Ellis said, GWIS co-chair and chemistry doctoral student.
“When we found sexual harassment was driving women out of Ph.D. programs, we knew the roadblocks couldn’t be fixed with the meetings we were having” said Ellis.
Ellis and co-chairs Raquel Bryant, geoscience doctoral student, and Joelle Labastide, biophysics postdoctoral researcher, spent a year collecting stories from women –mostly from UMass – in STEM academia who have experienced sexual harassment for the publication. Cases documented in the special edition ranged from professors commenting on female students’ outfits to detailed cases of rape.
“We are so armed to the teeth with work safety issues when it comes to chemical and fire safety… but there is a lot more to work safety than just keeping you physically safe. You need to be able to exist in your space you need to be safe from people who want to exert violence on you,” Labastide said.
According to Ed Blaguszewski, University Director of Strategic Communications, there is discussion of formalizing a statement of policy regarding any consensual relations between students and faculty.
The co-chairs emphasized the importance of #SafeAtWork’s sub-campaign, ‘Clean Up Your Department,’ aimed at prompting faculty to set a culture of respect in their classrooms.
“Tenured faculty are the only chance we have on carrying institutional memory and actual permanent solution,” Labastide said. “That means not choosing your badly behaving colleague over students.”
On Oct. 12, GWIS hosted a town hall meeting for graduate students and faculty addressing #SafeAtWork and its ‘Clean Up Your Department’ campaign. Many people from the administration, including Chancellor Subbaswamy, attended.
The University recognizes the town hall meeting as a good first step and plans to hold a retreat in November for students and administration to further assess the best practices in moving forward.
“We’ve had a number of things in place, but we need to do much more,” Blaguszewski said. “There are resources in place that we need to connect students to. There are projects that we’ve started to launch that we need to build upon.”
GWIS organizers are optimistic about the campaign and hope to expand its prevalence to other social issues such as mental health.
“We would never want to kill the momentum we’ve created around this issue,” Labastide said.
“There’s a lot of other issues that will fit under the campaign umbrella so I think the campaign will grow rather than turn over,” Labastide said.
Rhiannon Snide can be reached at [email protected]