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An Expert's View of Changing Academic Culture

In what follows I provide some background and setup for a strong Mahalo.ne.Trash endorsement of Prof. Katie Hinde's exemplary, pitch-perfect, framework-shifting essay "Work in Progress: Changing Academic Culture." It's arguments and lessons will stay with me for a lifetime. And just in case that's not enough of an endorsement, here's my intro, in which I, among other things, brag about knowing the author :-)

Prof Katie Hinde in the field in Namibia
When I arrived at Harvard, I was contacted by a Prof. Katie Hinde from the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology (HEB). It turned out that one of her students was partnered with one of my students. Small world! She had also read my blog post on The simple power of presence in even modest numbers, which really resonated with her. She invited me to coffee and we quickly figured out that we were kindred spirits. 

I am honored to have Prof. Hinde as one of my true friends, and given all the amazing professional and personal advice she's given me, she's also one of my academic mentors. Over the years I have picked up many key concepts and much valuable vocabulary from my conversations with Katie. I've also learned a ton about lactation, field research, and working with temperamental rhesus monkeys. Plus, the Johnsons are big fans of the Mammal March Madness!  


Sadly (for me) she departed Harvard last year for Arizona State University, where she joined the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Harvard's loss is another institution's gain, as is too often the case with my new home university. And talk about a dream job. It's now my (pipe)dream to work in the School of Astro/Physics and Social Change! 

In addition to her research on lactation, Katie is also an activist who is putting in The Work in the battle against sexual harassment in academia, and doing so in the peer-reviewed literature. She and her coauthors Robin Nelson, Kate Clancy and Julienne Rutherford conducted a study of academic field experiences (Paper; #SAFE13) with a focus on sexual harassment and sexual assault. Their results painted a picture that is neither pretty, nor surprising if you listen to and believe the lived experiences of women of color and white women in the sciences. 

Anyway, all of this is to set up her recent blog post on the topic. It's a must-read for those of us in astronomy, and academe more broadly, who are non-experts wrestling with and learning about sexual harassment/assault. As a dude coming up in the sciences (and this society) I've swum through a fog of systemic sexism that has enculturated in me a belief in intrinsic male supremacy. As a man, STEM reflects my masculinity, affirms my place, elevates my voice, and gives me a host of unearned opportunities and advantages. In the double standard that breaks along gender lines, I come out ahead, no matter if I experience a separate double standard along racial lines. It is my job to work on my sexism daily, recognize past mistakes, and leverage my heteronormative, cisgender, physically able, male privilege to elevate others. 

Of course, that same sexist smog imposes a steady drag on the careers of women of color and white women in science via mechanisms including, but not limited to microagressions, microinvalidations, stereotype threat, intellectual and physical bullying, and as we've seen in the news lately: sexual harassment and assault. All of these fit under the umbrella of systemic/institutional sexism, all of them support the false notion of male superiority. All of them must be recognized, eradicated and atoned for if our field of study is to be come inclusive, equitable and as a result, diverse.

A key part of this struggle is men educating themselves. We must start seeing ourselves, rather than "Other Men," as the problem. I have contributed to the problem through my words and actions, as have the men in my social/professional circles. I recognize that and I must do better. There is no passive resistance to systemic sexism. To the extent that the "Other Men" exist, they abuse their power only with the permission of our collective silence. So when women take the time and effort to say what's been said thousands of times before over the decades, we must stop and fucking listen...and then speak up and speak out.

Here's a perfect opportunity to stop, listen and learn:

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