Rebecca Gill Profile picture
Jan 4, 2018 21 tweets 8 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
This afternoon at #SPSA2018, I was on a #CWC panel about mentoring across genders. Below, I'll include my comments from the panel. In it, I speak candidly about my #gradschool #metoo moment. @SPSAwomen @SPSAwomen 1/n
In many ways, graduate school is designed to make students feel like impostors. It's a common experience, but it can be particularly damaging for members of groups that have traditionally lacked access to the higher ranks of our discipline. I’ll focus on women here. 2/n
For these folks, the feeling that they have “faked” or “charmed” their way into graduate school (or the #tenuretrack, etc.) can override objective evidence of their own diligence, intellect, and merit. 3/n
Compounding this problem is the set of stereotypes that attach to women: that they’ve slept their way to the top, that they are #affirmativeaction hires/admits, or that so-and-so professor is only working with them because they are pretty. 4/n
This can lead women to underestimate their abilities, sabotage their own work, and even develop symptoms of anxiety and depression. Sexual harassment can make these impostor experiences far worse by providing external validation of these misperceptions. 5/n
When I was a graduate student at @michiganstateu a senior professor took an interest in my work. He was the editor of a major journal, and he was coming to my department and, with his wife, would soon be running the graduate program I was in. 6/n
I took a course from him @ICPSRSummer. After class the last day, we all went to the pub, as was the tradition. Although the room was filled with other political scientists, he spent the entire evening talking to me. Suddenly, the conversation veered off course. 7/n
I could see it happening right before my eyes, and I did my best to communicate my discomfort without making the situation worse. But it didn't work. He started to talk about how "mysterious" I seemed the first time he’d seen me. 8/n
Finally, he asked if I would consider having an affair with him, suggesting that it would be good for my career to work with him.
I felt frozen and disoriented. 9/n
I blurted out, “you can’t expect me to answer that.” Thankfully, my friend had noticed my discomfort and leaned in close enough to hear the exchange. She escorted me from the pub. As the shock started to wear off, it was replaced by a deep sense of shame and embarrassment. 10/n
Who was I kidding? Of course he wasn’t interested in my work. What did I have to say about these topics that hadn’t been said before, and better? What a fool!

That was the beginning of what I now refer to as my “harassment sabbatical." 11/n
I kept teaching, but I stopped writing. I just couldn’t get any words on paper that didn’t seem idiotic. At the beginning, I didn’t tell a soul. When a senior member of my committee insisted that I add the man to my committee, I finally had to confess. It was humiliating. 12/n
The senior member of my committee sort of shrugged his shoulders and looked very disappointed in me. At that point, I told one more person—my dissertation chair—who said something along the lines of, “wow, that really sucks for you.” 13/n
But nobody did anything. Why would they? It shouldn’t have been that big of a deal, right. I wasn’t raped or anything. 14/n
But they should have seen the signs. Progress on my dissertation completely stopped. I stopped going to conferences. I stopped coming into the department. I took a job as a visitor in another state. I disappeared. 15/n
If impostor syndrome is the unrealistically low assessment of one’s own talents, adding sexual harassment to the mix provides specific, tangible confirmatory evidence that the low assessment isn’t unrealistic after all--that the stereotypes are true. That you don't belong. 16/n
This is why workplace sexual harassment can be so dangerous for its victims. When bystanders fail to understand the way that a *mere* inappropriate remark can derail an entire career, they also amplify the impostor message in the victim's mind. 17/n
What happened to me—quid pro quo harassment—was a clear violation of #TitleIX. But harassment does not need to rise to this level to have devastating consequences for women. The obvious remedy, of course, is to stop harassing women. 18/n
However, there seems to me to be little appetite, even in this #metoo moment, to oust harassers from their tenured perches. Mine is still editing a major journal, etc. Because of this, we also need to direct our attention toward developing effective bystanders. 19/n
I don’t believe for a moment that the men on my committee wanted me to fail. I have to believe that they didn’t see the impact this would have on me. We need to fix that. We need to talk openly about impostor syndrome, and particularly its relationship with harassment. 20/n
This conversation needs to happen across genders, and men need to take responsibility for improving our discipline’s culture. #polisci @APSAtweets @MPSAnet @TheNewWestblog #harassment #academia #womeninacademia #mentorship #MeTooWhatNext #DoBetter 21/21

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