pressing as now I have a young daughter and son interested
in the STEM field.
Last fall, C&EN came out with a compelling cover story,
“Confronting Sexual Harassment in the Chemical Sciences”
rassment-chemistry.html), by senior editors Linda Wang and
Andrea Widener. The timeliness of the article was stunning, as
it came out just prior even to the #Me Too movement catching
on like wildfire in the media. This article contained shocking personal accounts of abuse in the field of chemistry and
academia as well as sobering statistics on harassment. We are
reprinting a portion of the story in this issue of the Graduate
Sexual Harassment: What Would You Do?
Editor’s note: Opinions within this editorial do not necessarily
reflect the views of the American Chemical Society. The opening
paragraph reflects incidents that happened long ago. These incidents should not be in any way attributed to the departments
or universities where I received my degrees. Special thanks to
Dr. Blake Aronson for providing the list of resources.
He was an esteemed professor, a great lecturer, and some valued him as a mentor. Even now, if you were to look for
him on Rate My Professors, you would see numerous chili
peppers on his profile. Yet, there was a secret that only some
students knew. “Never be in a room alone with Dr. _____.”
Different ways and times, this was repeated to me by my
friends in the department. Different incidents had apparently
been reported, and rumors abounded about their cover-up.
A number of women had reported being touched inappropriately or assaulted by this professor. One incident I heard about
allegedly happened in a stock room. Another incident supposedly took place in a closed instrumentation room. I was young
and naïve I didn’t see those incidents. I only saw a little of the
frayed edges of the questionable behavior: the professor giving his young female students unwanted shoulder massages
in the computer room (“Is he just eccentric?” I asked myself),
the professor touching himself during office hours (“Could he
just be socially awkward?” I wondered). Although groups of
students would talk about it from time to time behind closed
doors, I never heard of repercussions for the observed or rumored behavior.
I wasn’t a direct victim; I was more of a bystander. I did
what many others did, I told my friends to be careful to “not
be in the same room with Dr. _____,” and I made sure they
were never alone with him. Looking back, I realize that others did the same for me, sticking around so I wouldn’t be by
myself. But I otherwise did nothing; I sought rather to avoid
the subject. Later on in life, I and many other people I know
would have our own personal experiences of harassment that
left us feeling humiliated and powerless. All or most of these
incidents would go unreported because we feared we would
not be believed, or perhaps we felt guilty, as if we could have
avoided or deflected the situation if we’d done or said the right
thing. Or maybe we just didn’t want to be the one to destroy a
generally respected figure’s reputation.
My experiences and those of others I’ve known have left
me with questions: “What should I have done?” “What can I
do in the future to prevent this?” This dilemma is all the more