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Women in Astronomy

A Culture of Silence

15 Oct 2015, 20:27 UTC
A Culture of Silence
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This week the Astronomy community was rocked by the news that Geoff Marcy was found to have violated campus sexual harassment policies after a six-month investigation by Berkeley's Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination.Until Buzzfeed News broke the story last week, Marcy's habit of making women uncomfortable was an "open secret" in the Astronomy community. Yet many people are reacting with frustration, saying: "If everyone knew, why didn't we do something sooner?" or "I am a woman in astronomy, how come no one told me?" The Marcy situation highlights a larger problem we have within the structures of academia: a culture of silence.What options does a junior person have, when a professor crosses the line?Academia provides a unique environment and set of power dynamics that make it very challenging for junior people to come forward when they are the targets of harassment or other forms of inappropriate behavior.The community is small and tight-knit: Moving forward in an academic career is dependent on reference letters from professors and your name on their research papers. All it takes is for a well-connected professor to make a few phone calls to colleagues at other institutions and you are blacklisted, unable to go anywhere. This ...

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