Combatting Sexual Harassment Doesn’t Make One a Vigilante

To the Editor:

As a senior female faculty member in a male-dominated field not discussed in the article “To Avoid More Scandals, Cautious Departments Swap Drinking for Hiking,” (The Chronicle, July 3) I was disturbed by some of the language used to describe the substantive efforts of faculty to combat sexual harassment and sexual assault in their fields.

Philosopher Janice Dowell is referred to as “a vigilante of sorts” for using the power available to her to discourage an editor from rewarding an alleged harasser with a contribution to a published volume. My reading may be tainted by having come of age in the time of Dirty Harry and the Death Wish movies, but “vigilante” seems a bit extreme in this context.

A second female philosophy professor, Delia Graff Fara, is noted as having shared her experience of sexual harassment by a prominent male philosopher on a public blog. “The account stunned fellow philosophers,” the article explains, “in part because Ms. Fara is not known to be an activist on the issue.” How many fellow philosophers think that only a known “activist” would choose to describe a violation of Title IX in a forum that might encourage other victims to come forward? More importantly, do these fellow philosophers want their next generation to think they need to make a choice between “activism” and scholarship, or could they envision a future in which all dedicated scholars took responsibility for the health of their own professional community?

If we are truly interested in decreasing the incidence of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the academy, perhaps we could start by dispensing with the notion that one needs to be a “vigilante” or an “activist” to call out this behavior. There are other words for people who refuse to turn a blind eye to illegal and unethical behavior; “citizen” comes to mind.

Kate Queeney
Professor of Chemistry
Smith College
Northampton, Mass.

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