Advocacy - Am I doing it right?
0 comment Thursday, May 29, 2014 |
I received a pleasant surprise visit from a junior grad student in my program today.She has been in a rather protracted situation of harassment in her lab of late. We've been talking a lot over the last couple of months about what she can do about it, and her concerns about doing anything at all. I'm really glad that she came to tell me today that she finally decided to talk to her PI about what's been going on. I'm really proud of her for doing so. I'm also very pleased that her PI was receptive to her concerns, supportive of her position, and has encouraged her to continue to talk to him about what was and is going on. I'm a little disappointed that the PI has not taken some definitive action regarding the perpetrator already.The perp is another member of their lab who engages in repeated unprofessional behavior including contaminating communal stocks, "borrowing" and then breaking other people's personal equipment without permission, damaging departmental equipment and then blaming someone else or claiming ignorance, and more importantly, making derogatory and offensively sexual comments to and around the female members of his lab. In my opinion he should have been fired long ago from a purely productivity-grounded perspective. The harassment issues only came to my attention more recently and are definitely grounds for dismissal.As I said, I'm really pleased that the grad student finally worked up the nerve to talk to her PI about it. It seems that this person has been creating a hostile work environment for just about everybody for some time, but she is by far the most out-spoken of them and thus the most likely to say something. Even still, this has been a long process - she's been talking to me about it for a couple of months, and it had been going on for some time prior to that. I've been encouraging her to speak to her PI for a while now and on some level I understand her hesitation. It's not easy to accuse another of your colleagues of impropriety. She was afraid that her PI wouldn't take her claims seriously. She was afraid that the other women in her lab, though they also complained of this guy's behavior amongst themselves, would be too reserved to back her up when she went to her PI. One of those women advised her to just get used to it -- that they weren't going to change this guy so the best they could do was adapt. Ugh. Fortunately, her fears were unfounded. Her PI has asked her to continue to bring up her concerns, and it sounds like the other lab members are more willing to do so now that they've seen his positive and supportive response.I'm glad that things are moving forward, though I'm disappointed that there is not yet an action plan in place for dealing with this - her PI has encouraged her to continue to bring her concerns to him...I just don't know that he's made any commitment as to what he's going to do about it. I've since suggested that she document any further incidents by sending these concerns via email to her PI as they come up. Hopefully, that will be the required impetus for some action, whether it be a "come to Jesus" talk with the jerk, or just getting rid of him.I'm also a little frustrated that it has taken so long to come to this point. I know she's been really unhappy and uncomfortable in her lab for some time and I understand why it took her so long to work up the nerve to bring it up. It shouldn't have to be that way, but it is. I can't help but feel like I should have somehow done more...but I don't know what it is. I could have approached her PI on her behalf I suppose, but I have not personally witnessed any of the incidents that are at issue. I also think these concerns mean a lot more coming from her. I didn't want to undermine any of the trust between her and her PI. It's further complicated by the fact that she and I are both grad students and therefore subject to the same professional vulnerabilities. Were I another faculty member perhaps I could carry a bit more clout and it would not have been weird for me to step in and say something. I also didn't want to jeopardize her trust in me. I know that she has come to me for advice on this because a) I have validated that her concerns about these things are real and important, and b) let her know that she doesn't just have to live with it. I was a "safe" person to talk to while she made up her own mind about what she wanted to do about it. While I encouraged her to approach her PI from that beginning, I didn't try to force her to take any action she wasn't ready for...but still, I think it went on for too long.I just don't know - was there something else that I could have or should have done in this case?