MeToo leader says level of harassment at universities is horrifying

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A leading figure in the #MeToo movement says the extent of sexual harassment in universities is horrifying.

Celeste Kidd is an assistant professor and principal investigator at the University of California who, in 2017 – along with her colleagues, publicly challenged the University of Rochester on its handling of sexual harassment complaints from students and staff.

After her resignation, she was internationally recognised as one of the academic leaders of the #MeToo movement by Time Magazine, and was jointly featured as Time Person of the Year 2017.

Celeste Kidd at Trinity College Dublin
Celeste Kidd before her speech to students at Trinity College in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

“We don’t have as much data as we need about universities in particular, but I think people would be horrified at how often it happens,” she said.

“The best estimates generally come from studies of work place harassment in general, but there’s also work that shows that certain features of work places, that are very common to academic institutions, lead to higher rates of harassment and rates of retaliation.”

Universities have specifically come under fire over procedures in place to report harassment and institutions’ inability to investigate their own practices, after a number of women at major universities in America came forward saying they had been targeted after making their complaint.

A professor or mentor can hold an inordinate amount of power over a student in terms of access to research, equipment or recommendations, and these factors often prevent students from coming forward.

“The fact that word of mouth recommendations carry so much weight in academia, creates a situation where if a student complains about sexual harassment from a mentor, that mentor can penalise the student by introducing negative feedback into the record without the student even knowing or having the opportunity to respond,” Ms Kidd added.

“The things we know from the data, I think, causes concern about how academic institutions are set up.

“At the institutional level we’re generally not seeing change, since #MeToo. Institutions have been more vocal in saying they support victims in the abstract, while they still deny the existence of, or in the worst cases attack those who come forward.

“We haven’t seen institutional changes, we haven’t seen enough meaningful policy changes in order to force institutions to be accountable, but in terms of #MeToo the social movement, I think it has been unbelievably effective, people are reporting and are more willing to talk about things that had been previously stigmatised.”

Ms Kidd visited the university as part of the 2019 TCD Neurohumanities Public Talks series.

Ms Kidd’s lecture, entitled How Sexual Harassment Creates Inequality in Academia, explores how sexual harassment is especially salient in academia, where the power is more concentrated and the hierarchies are more clearly delineated.

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