The following stories were sent to SANG anonymously, and the individuals have agreed to have their stories posted here unedited. SANG hopes that making these experiences public will inform practices, policies, and cultural change that benefits graduate and professional students. If you would like to share your experience go to Submit Your Story.
"For several years before my PhD I worked at an observatory in an isolated location. We often had visitors, including various conferences and consortium meetings. I wasn't part of this particular consortium, but observatory staff were invited to the dinner for the meeting, held on site right after work. These dinners were always fun: free food, a lively atmosphere, and a chance to talk with people with different research and career backgrounds. I chatted with a few of the professors in the consortium, one in particular whose work with underrepresented minority students in the field I'd admired. He seemed like a decent person, and someone I'd like to get to know. We'd both gone to the same college. The observatory director had told me that this professor was gay, so I figured he wouldn't hit on me despite his being rather drunk. I kvetched a bit about some observatory management issues; he suggested that we take a walk so that others didn't hear my complaints.I could smell the rum on his breath as we walked around the site. I thought he was being sympathetic to my struggles with the observatory management until he put his hand on my back, tried to hug me, tried to kiss me. I'd reported sexual harassment in the past at the observatory and had been told it was my fault. I had been cornered in my office and berated for two hours by my boss's boss for reporting harassment. I was told it was too hard to have a site-wide safety and anti-harassment policy. As soon as this professor put his hand on my back I knew I had no recourse if I told him to go away. Instead I had to tolerate his making moves for the rest of the evening, sleeping at the edge of his bed in the dorms on site, shirt clenched around me as some sort of protection from him, knowing I had to take it, that there was no choice, no protection for me, and that no one would believe me.Turns out this professor isn't gay. He bragged about sleeping with a 16-year-old girl in his town. I heard later that he was blackmailing someone who was trying to report him for sexual harassment. Female professors in the consortium refuse to do anything unless I file an official report, despite their having watched him attempt to sleep with countless girls and women in the past. I don't want to file a report as I'm terrified of blackmail. This man could easily ruin careers. I don't want him to ruin mine. I was not the first woman (or girl) he'd sexually harassed, nor will I be the last."
"I was roofied by the postdoc in my lab while I was a masters student at a remote field location. My adviser immediately took the postdoc's side. The school found no misconduct, and the creepy ombudsman found no 'hostile work environment' despite reams of emails and records of inappropriate behavior by all of the men in the lab, including the professor. The district attorney believed the drugging and assault occurred, but did not have enough evidence to press charges. The NSF pulled the funding for the postdoc's salary, so he left and took a job outside of the university. My adviser taking the postdoc's side meant I had to leave my masters fellowship and research project that I had been working on for a year and a half. Sexual harassment has always been part of my science experience. At Caltech as an undergrad, it was considered normal quirky behavior for men to break into women's rooms at night and assault them. When I reported it I was told it was my fault for being friendly. Two women I know were fake gang-raped in a dorm hallway (everyone had their clothes on); they barricaded themselves in a second floor room and broke the window and jumped out to escape. The men were not disciplined. That week, three other men were expelled for causing an *accidental* injury with a fireplace in a dorm room; apparently an accident is a more grievous offense than forcible assault. Grad student TAs propositioned me and followed me back to my room after office hours - that was considered a funny joke there. Caltech was an extremely hostile environment were it was openly acknowledged that women weren't safe, it was just part of life there.I've had a lot of safety-related experiences that have caused serious harm to myself and potential harm. My fieldwork is quite technical and dangerous, but I was not given any training despite repeated requests for training that was offered regularly at my university. The PI said I was a 'pussy' for requesting and needing the training, and regularly said, 'This is why I only hire big guys for this lab'. Luckily I was only injured once due to lack of training and required a trip to the ER. I'm lucky I didn't suffer worse."
"The last semester of college (an elite private school that often insists it’s a 'new ivy') before I started graduate school, I took a class with a notoriously difficult professor. He seemed to take a liking to me, though, and once he knew that I knew how much power he had over me, he regularly made sexually suggestive and otherwise inappropriate comments to me. I took them with a grain of salt since I respected his intellect. He approached me around spring break to ask if we could 'hang out,' and on the last day of class, he pulled me aside and asked to schedule a time to meet for a drink. He was very insistent that this only be at his apartment and only after graduation, and he made sure to find out the precise date and time of the graduation ceremony to schedule our meeting after it. I legitimately thought he wanted to chat, and I, naively enough, thought he respected my intellect, too.
When I went up to his apartment, he immediately offered me drinks and drugs. That first night he was very aggressive, and I was worried that he wanted a sexual relationship, but I respected him too much to actually entertain that as a possibility. I also valued his mentorship. To ensure my safety, I brought my girlfriend — she had also had him as a professor — with me when I returned to his apartment. After showing us his designated end-table form which to do lines of cocaine, he slept with both of us. My friend and I were not strangers to creepy old men; he clearly designed this evening piece by piece. When he saw I became wary, he became violent Even after he was violent enough to send me to the hospital, I thought this was a funny anecdote that I would tell my buddies later. As I continued through graduate school, he told me he would ensure I would get a tenure-track job, and he did get me quite a few prestigious internships about which I still boast on my CV.
He told me that he specifically took notice of me because of my, for lack of any better term, poverty. He was alarmed that I didn’t have a winter coat and saw that I wore the same clothes every day, and he told me later that was one of the first reasons he took interest in me. Beginning with our first out-of-class meeting, he insisted on handing me cash, which I initially refused but eventually accepted upon his insistence.
His abuse only escalated in new and horrifying ways, and I finally broke things off with him during my third year of graduate school. Funny enough, it was only when he mocked my master’s thesis that I decided I had enough. Almost three year later, I am still plagued with night terrors over his physical abuse, which often included regular backhanding but sometimes the whipping of a belt buckle; sexual abuse, such as tying be down and threatening to burn me with cigarettes while I screamed for him to stop; and emotional abuse, like his continued insistence that I was too stupid to succeed as an academic without him.
I am sure that by now he has found a new young woman to terrorize."