Town Hall Participants Assess Progress in, and Next Steps for, Addressing Sexual Harassment in Academe
Town Hall Participants Assess Progress in, and Next Steps for, Addressing Sexual Harassment in Academe

April 2019

Town Hall Meeting Participants
(Left to Right): Felice J. Levine,
Shirley M. Malcom, Shaun R. Harper,
Shannon Lynn Burton, Carol Mershon,
and Valerie Kinloch

The AERA Annual Meeting featured a Town Hall session titled “Sexual Harassment and Climate Change in Scholarly Associations and the Academy.” During the April 5 event, participants discussed how the education research field and other scholarly disciplines can support efforts to build upon collective concerns and support innovative practices and policies to prevent sexual and gender harassment.

The Town Hall, chaired by AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine, featured high-profile panelists Shirley M. Malcom (American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS]), AERA President-Elect Shaun R. Harper (University of Southern California), and Valerie Kinloch (University of Pittsburgh). The 2019 Annual Meeting ombuds, Shannon Lynn Burton (Michigan State University) and Carol Mershon (University of Virginia), led the session. 

In her opening remarks, Levine gave an overview of efforts by AERA and other scientific societies, federal funding agencies, and the academy over the past year to ramp up efforts to prevent sexual and gender harassment and improve workplace climates.

“In particular, the release of the National Academies’ report Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in June 2018 made clear the need for sweeping changes in the culture and climate of the academy and scholarly professions,” Levine said.

Felice J. Levine and Shirley M. Malcom

Levine reported that AERA had introduced an ombuds program at the 2019 Annual Meeting to help support anyone at the meeting experiencing any form of unwelcome conduct. She emphasized the significance of the program as a neutral, confidential, informal, and independent resource regarding harassment, discrimination, or any violation of AERA’s ethics code or standards of conduct. AERA widely publicized the program before the Annual Meeting in Highlights and AERA19 Insider and onsite through flyers and postcards.

Levine noted that early this year, AERA and AAAS led 75 science societies in urging the Education Department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on research and evidence; she also noted that AERA had helped to launch the Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM. These efforts followed on several activities AERA had undertaken to engage with issues of sexual harassment in academia, including supporting the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act.

During the Town Hall session, participants assessed the progress made since the #MeToo movement first took hold, what critical next steps need to be taken, and how the education research field and other scholarly disciplines can further support efforts to build on their collective concerns and support innovative practices and policies.

Malcom emphasized that the evidence-based National Academies report galvanized the scholarly community. “There were research and specific recommendations that were put forth to do something about it,” she said.

“We’ve talked about sexual harassment for too long,” she added. “The changes we are making within our communities relate to the fact that we want excellence. It’s time to shut it down, but it’s going to take a commitment from all of us.”

Shaun R. Harper

Harper opened his comments by noting that someone had recently asked him whether #MeToo had gone too far. “My answer was a resounding no, because there’s no evidence to suggest that, and in fact, evidence to suggest the contrary.”

Noting the underrepresentation of men in the Town Hall audience, Harper said, “The people who need to be at the Town Hall right now are not. Men can absolutely be victims of harassment and abuse. But we must acknowledge that men must be part of this conversation.”

Burton and Mershon discussed their experience running ombuds programs, as well as the origins of the ombuds resource at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association—which served as the model for AERA’s ombuds initiative this year.

“The ombuds program is absolutely essential in this space,” Burton said. “We can offer a soft landing space for people to weigh and hear and understand their options.”

Valerie Kinloch

In her comments, Kinloch called for a substantial financial commitment from higher education institutions and organizations to systemically address sexual harassment.

“We cannot seriously talk about changing systems without serious financial investments,” Kinloch said. “We need to implement structures that are sustainable and that do not just protect people from violence but prevent violence on our campuses and in our communities.”

During audience Q&A, Levine pointed to next steps in the coming year for AERA and other scholarly associations. She said that AERA would work on rolling out a climate survey of the field and would, as a leader of the Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM, create a repository of knowledge and evidence-based best practices.