academia

1I was so honored to be invited to give the AKD Induction Ceremony Address for the University of Akron this year.  It was an opportunity to give a speech about something in which I deeply believe: the awesomeness of sociology.  So, here it is!

My 13 minute ode to the discipline, featuring (an attempt at) self-deprecating sociology humor and a few personal confessions regarding my own rough start with sociology:

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at BlogHer, VitaminW, and The Huffington Post.

At about 1:00 Monday, a quorum of the Occidental Faculty overwhelmingly voted No Confidence in the campus attorney, Carl Botterud, and the Dean of Students, Barbara Avery. I was among the faculty in attendance.

The votes are in response to a belief that these high-level Occidental employees have mishandled sexual assault education, reporting, and adjudication in ways that have harmed individual students and campus culture.

While the motions are symbolic, such measures are quite rare. It is a very powerful statement coming from a faculty united in defense of survivors of sexual assault and their allies. We now wait to see how the College President, Jonathan Veitch, moves forward. The two are currently still active employees at Occidental (that is, not on administrative leave) and Avery continues to chaperone students through the reporting and adjudication process. We are told there is or will be an internal investigation into their conduct.

The vote of no confidence comes on the heels of two federal complaints filed by a coalition of students and faculty and a set of lawsuits filed by Gloria Allred. It is the next step in our personal fight for a better campus, but part of a nationwide movement involving dozens of campuses across the country.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post.

This is a new one.

Some of you may know that there is a wave of colleges and universities filing complaints with the Office for Civil Rights, claiming that their institutions are failing to protect women from sexual assault. This (first) wave includes Amherst, Yale, the University of North Carolina, Swarthmore, and Occidental among others.

Well, last night many of the details of the stories of the students whose cases have been mishandled — right down to exact quotes from their lives — found themselves in an episode of Law&Order SVU.  They didn’t ask for permission, offer a “consulting” fee, or even warn them that it was coming.

This just leaves a this-is-so-wrong-I-don’t-even-know icky feeling in the pit of my gut.   I know that Law & Order has been ripping stories from the headlines for three decades, but it stuns me that it can claim to be fiction and not compensate the real women who’s lives are clearly and unequivocally depicted in this show.

Let me put this in stark terms: Law & Order is brazenly capitalizing on the pain and trauma of young women and not only failing to compensate them for stealing their stories, but actually denying that they exist by claiming that the “story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event.”  Stunning.

Alexandra Brodsky, a survivor who filed the complaints against Yale, told Jezebel:

The SVU episode strikes me as an extreme example of the risk of going public as a survivor: your story is no longer your own.

I’ve not seen a more obvious example of this fact.

The teaser for the episode, plus a list of 15 ways the episode copied real life, collected by Katie J.M. Baker at Jezebel, is after the jump.

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When I approached my undergraduate mentors about graduate school in 1996, they warned me that many people who earn PhDs never get jobs in academia.  This is sometimes deliberate, as their are jobs outside of academia for some degree-holders to get, but it’s also sometimes a grave disappointment.  My mentors emphasized the extent of the risk (and frankly scared me quite a lot), but how bad was it?  And is it worse today?

The Atlantic‘s Jordan Weissmann put together the data.  The leftmost bars on his figure show that, on average, under a quarter of PhDs landed a full-time job at a college or university in 1991.  That number had dropped to less than 20% by 2011.  The numbers, however, vary significantly by field:

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See here for more details.

The looming question, of course, is what percentage of PhDs want a full-time academic job, something that certainly varies by field.  In other words, there aren’t a boatload of bitter engineers bad-mouthing the academy while slinging lattes at Starbucks.  Here’s a hint at an answer: A study published in 1999 found that 53% of all new PhDs said they wanted to become professors.  Ten years later, just over half were tenured (54%) and a handful more were tenure-track (7%); a third weren’t in academia at all.

On the one hand, I think these numbers are really depressing. Five to ten years is a long time to train for a career only to discover that, for whatever reason, you won’t be employed in the area of your expertise.  But I have two “on the other hands.”

On one other hand, I wonder how these numbers compare to other occupations?  We accept that certain occupations are highly competitive and include a lot of dumb luck and failure.  Modeling and acting are obvious examples, there are certainly others.  I know someone who’s spent their lifetime trying to become an astronaut.  Where does academia fall in the spectrum of risky job endeavors?

On a second other hand, I’d love to see some research on what happens to academics — especially in the humanities and social sciences — when they don’t get a job in academia or are denied tenure after getting there.  Within academia, this is often framed as THE END OF YOUR LIFE.  But maybe it’s often okay or pretty good.  Honestly, I don’t know.

Interesting and useful data, to be sure, but far from the whole story.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post.

Last week I posted about our college President’s suggestion that he is disinclined to believe students who report sexual assault.  In response to this, and a series of other problems with our sexual assault policy, the Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition is filing a federal complaint with the Office for Civil Rights and a Clery Act complaint.  No longer confident that our President and his administration will agree to implement the best practices for reporting and adjudicating sexual assault, faculty and students are turning to external mechanisms.

These seem like extraordinary measures, but I want to be clear that there is nothing extraordinary about the number of sexual assaults or the mishandling of reports by the Occidental administration.  Occidental is no more or less unsafe than the vast majority of residential colleges and universities around the country.  College attendance is a risk factor for sexual assault — it raises the likelihood that a person will be a victim of an attempted or completed assault — and Occidental is no different in that regard.

Instead of a sign that Occidental has a uniquely broken system, the activities on campus reflect a commitment to making the college a nationwide model.   You see, we do believe that Occidental is different than other colleges.  It’s extraordinary.  And we’re committed to holding it to a higher standard.  We want Occidental to usher in a new era of sexual assault policy and improved campus sexual culture.  There will be a day when honest, transparent, and fair reporting and adjudication of sexual assaults will be the norm.  When that happens, the approach we find on essentially all college campuses today — a high rate of non-report, pressure on victims to stay quiet, sloppy and biased adjudication, and suppression of sexual assault data — will be considered backward, inhumane, and unjust.  That day is coming, and we want Oxy to get there first.

Photo credit: Chris Ellis and the Occidental Weekly.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Ms., The Huffington Post, and BlogHer.

Earlier this year a coalition of students and faculty at my institution, Occidental College, convinced the administration to make several changes to its sexual assault policy.  One of these changes involved the addition of reports of sexual assault to our OxyAlert system.  This meant that any time there was a report of a sexual assault, the college community would receive an email saying so, just as we now get alerts of all other crimes that are reported to have occurred in the vicinity.  The administration agreed to do this.

Last week the students learned of a report of a sexual assault second-hand (from the media), simultaneously discovering that the administration had declined to send out an OxyAlert in response.  Considering this a betrayal of their agreement, the students organized a marchpetition, and tumblr.

In response, the president of Occidental College, Jonathan Veitch, wrote a letter to the campus community. In it, he confirms what the students of Occidental fear: he is inclined to disbelieve students that report sexual assault.  He writes that OxyAlerts in cases of reports of sexual assault are not “possible or desirable” because:

In the first few hours, days or even weeks, it is not always clear what has happened in incidents like these. Investigators need time to sort through conflicting accounts in order to provide a clear narrative of what took place.

By suggesting that “incidents like these” need vetting, Veitch is reproducing a bias against sexual assault victims that feminists have been trying to eradicate for decades.  He is saying that sexual assault reports must be “sort[ed] through,” but reports of all other crimes can be taken at face value.  In other words, there is nothing wrong with the OxyAlert system per se, he just doesn’t think that women who report sexual assaults should necessarily have access to it.  This is unacceptable.

In fact, all crimes can be falsely reported and there is no evidence that reports of sexual assaults are more likely to be false than other reports of other crimes.  The sparse research is inconclusive: some find that sexual crimes are more often reported falsely, some find less.  So Veitch is on shaky ground suggesting that the college has a right to treat reports of sexual assault as hypothetical.  Moreover, the OxyAlert system is not judge and jury.  In all cases — whether it informs the community about a mugging, a stolen car, or a sexual assault — it simply states that there has been a report.

While I will admit that sexual assault is often complicated, this is a very black-and-white issue.  Sexual assault is a crime, Occidental has a system for alerting people to reports of crime, when a person reports the crime of sexual assault, that report should be included in this system.  To do otherwise is to allow college policy to be driven by the belief that women are uniquely untrustworthy and prone to malicious lies.  That is bias against women, plain and simple.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

“We don’t know how the results were obtained. The post-doc who did all the work has since left to start a bakery” reads a tweet with the #overlyhonestmethods hashtag. The hashtag is being used for scientists to discuss the elements of their methodology that do not get discussed in “proper” scientific papers.

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In response to this series of tweets, others have been reassuring readers that #overlyhonestmethods is a “‘joke” hashtag, and should not be construed to reflect the actual state of scientific work. Why? What’s the big deal?

Part of it is about the ways in which we like to consider science. The societal discourse is that science (particularly lab science) represents a “pure” form of knowledge, unbiased by human perceptions, relationships, and pragmatism.

In some ways, that may be true (if I mix Flourine and Francium, for example, the result is likely to be explosive whether I believe it to be or not), but that does not mean science isn’t shaped by social, cultural, and institutional forces.

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For example, the choice of what to research is highly political. During wartime, scientific research is devoted to things that may aid the war effort, from weaponry, to vehicles, to food preservation. Political priorities in certain regions, likewise, direct research dollars into forestry management instead of ecological preservation. The scientists who do this research direct their efforts in this way because that is the research they can get funded.

#Overlyhonestmethods is, among other things, exposing the very real social nature of scientific research, pointing out that scientists may time their experiments so as to avoid being the lab on evenings and weekends. Or that it is sometimes difficult to know how certain results were obtained because people leave the profession and can’t tell you.

These concerns — about recording knowledge, and people’s quality of life at work — exist in every other profession, but in most cases we don’t need to discuss those statements as a “joke.” This is because most other professions do not make the claim of presenting absolute truth. In telling the “unpublished” stories of scientific research, #overlyhonestmethods makes it obvious that scientists are people who face constraints — personal, relational, practical, and institutional — potentially shaking the trust people put in science to offer “the” Truth.

Anastasia Kulpa teaches Sociology at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Her research interests include the sociology of post-secondary classrooms and cultural vehicles for transmitting ideology (class, music, television, etc).

This week Neil DeGrasse Tyson tweeted the following, along with a photograph of suspiciously gendered AP exam study guide covers:

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I’m going to take this to mean that Tyson is as big a fan of sociology as I am of astrophysics.  Made my day.

Thanks to Jay Livingston for the tip!

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.