We’ve Moved!

Big News!

Dear readers,

Conditionally Accepted is now a biweekly career advice column on Inside Higher Ed.  Our new blog posts will appear on our IHE column, located here: http://www.insidehighered.com/users/conditionally-accepted.  In our first blog post, I remind readers what it means to be “conditionally accepted” in academia — the marginalization, bias, discrimination, and accusations of conducting “me-search” that oppressed scholars face regularly in the academia.

Be sure to tune in to our IHE column every other Friday for new posts from me (@grollman), and regular contributors Dr. Jeana Jorgensen (@foxyfolklorist), Dr. J. Sumerau (@jsumerau), and — introducing — Dr. Manya Whitaker (@ivyleaguelady).  We continue to accept guest blog posts, which can be pitched or emailed to us at conditionally.accepted@insidehighered.com.  (See our suggested guidelines for guest blog posts here.)

Also, you can continue to keep up with us on Facebook and Twitter (@conditionaccept), as well.

Finally, a note of thanks.  Thank you to our thousands (tens of thousands?) of readers for your time and interest, for sharing our blog posts with your friends and colleagues, for returning multiple times to see our latest content.  Thank you to the few dozen guest bloggers who have given away a piece of themselves on this blog.  Thank you to my department and university colleagues who repeatedly reminded me that it was silly to fear that my secret-public blog would cost me my job and, instead, that this work is important and actually valued.  Thank you to friends and family who have encouraged me to fight with my passion, not against it.  And, special thanks to my partner Eric (yes, with the same first name), who has never grown tired of hearing about blog posts, intellectual activism, trolls, the traumatizing experience of grad school, R&Rs, IHE, and everything else related to being “conditionally accepted.”  And, now thanks to Inside Higher Ed for taking a chance on us, taking this little project prime time.

In Solidarity,
Eric Anthony Grollman

The Cost Of “Intellectual Passing” For Minority Scholars

"Mask" by _da.Costa

“Mask” by _da.Costa

I am keenly aware of the ways in which I am “conditionally accepted” in academia as a fat Black queer non-binary feminist intellectual-activist. Conformity — intellectually, politically, and physically — is rewarded; non-conformity is punished. As an eager, yet naïve college senior, I was already aware of some of the more obvious hierarchies in the academy. I knew well enough to apply to PhD programs in sociology because that degree would allow me to later join the ranks of gender studies scholars, but the reverse was not possible. What seemed a mere matter of practicality proved to be the first of a series of decisions to “soul out” in academe. But, at what cost?

In their preface of their foundational book, All the Women are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies, Akasha (Gloria T.) Hull and Barbara Smith wrote the following:

Our credibility as autonomous beings and thinkers in the white-male-run intellectual establishment is constantly in question and rises and falls in direct proportion to the degree to which we continue to act and think like our Black female selves, rejecting the modes of bankrupt white-male Western thought. Intellectual ‘passing’ is a dangerously limiting solution for Black women, a non-solution that makes us invisible women. It will also not give us the emotional and psychological clarity we need to do the feminist research in Black women’s studies that will transform our own and our sisters’ lives [emphasis added] (p. xxiv).

They go on to call for creating spaces and networks for Black women in the academy, and to reject “objective” scholarship as “an example of the reification of white-male thought” (p. xxv).

“Intellectual ‘passing’?” When I read this passage, I felt Hull and Smith had called me out directly. Though they wrote this preface in 1979 for the book, which was published in 1982, they named a trap that I (and other marginalized scholars) still fall into in 2016. I know that I am “conditionally accepted” at best, so to minimize the disadvantages I face, I have often made decisions to downplay what makes me differ from my politically-moderate, “objective,” middle-class, white, heterosexual, cisgender, men colleagues.

The most obvious is my decision to wear ill-fitting men’s suits to work, though I have publicly griped about it and am out as a fat queer non-binary person. I reasoned that I could at least get into the door if I looked the part (of a professor), and then would challenge the hell out of my colleagues and students. Less obvious is the way in which I frame my scholarship to be more palpable to the mainstream of my discipline, relying on quantitative methods and fairly uncritical theoretical perspectives.

Damn, if Hull and Smith aren’t right! The decision to act and look like the dominant group, with the conscious and sometimes unconscious attempt to avoid discrimination and violence, is the very definition of passing. The qualifier of “intellectual” is necessary here to highlight that I am not attempting to be perceived as a white heterosexual cis man; rather, I have been attempting to pass as one intellectually. My actions and appearance have served to make it difficult for colleagues and students to discern how I differ from the dominant group as a scholar and teacher. That is, as a matter of earning tenure and keeping my job, and thus my survival and livelihood more generally, but also — at least I told myself — “so they never see you coming,” as my mother would say.

I am confident that this strategy works for some marginalized scholars. Respectability politics would have fallen out of favor if they did not at least offer the promise of acceptance by dominant or mainstream society. But, I have countered my efforts to pass intellectually by speaking so openly about intending to do so, and being out and open as unapologetically different from the mainstream. You cannot start a blog that is critical of mainstream academe and expect to convince others that you are “Good As You” or even just like you. The joke has been on me since all in the Land of Oz can easily see the drag queen behind the curtain.

I am inclined to I agree with Hull and Smith that “intellectual ‘passing’ is a dangerously limiting solution” for any marginalized scholar. For me, traumatized by my graduate training, I found that there was no limit to the pressure to conform. Where and on what to publish became where to work, which entailed “advice” about how seriously to prioritize my relationship and to remind search committees that I am Black (yet downplay how I differ from whites). I conceded in forgoing the joint PhD in gender studies, then the graduate minor in gender or sexuality studies, then the qualifying exam on gender, sexuality, or race/class/gender, then the dissertation on transgender health. Now in my fourth year on the tenure-track, I am finally returning to sexualities research that I was steered away from in my first two years of graduate school. But, I still frequently have days where I no longer recognize the scholar and activist I have become.

In my classes, I have increasingly felt that I am failing my marginalized students — especially the queer people of color and women of color — in standing before the classroom behind the mask of conformity. I have been sending them the message that I am only allowed to teach at this wealthy HWCU (historically white college or university) because I look, act, and think very much like their other, privileged professors. I am able to keep this job to the extent that I continue to conform, year after year. What good is my presence if I contribute only to cosmetic diversity, while leaving intact moderate-to-conservative ideology and curricula that uphold the status quo?

Collectively, we marginalized scholars who pass intellectually do nothing to disrupt the academic structures and cultures that marginalize us. We continue to get jobs on their terms, earn tenure on their terms, get promoted on their terms, publish in their journals, apply for their grants, and so forth. We are complicit in our own marginalization, signaling to our privileged colleagues that their way is, indeed, the superior way to be a scholar — in fact, it is the only way to be a scholar. We are complicit in the practices in higher education that reinforce the status quo.

I cannot afford to pass any longer. I tried, and still ended up traumatized, medicated, and dissatisfied with my scholarship. I passed so long I no longer recognize who I am. I know the risks are real — you do not have to remind me that people have to eat! But, we cannot afford to have another generation of conforming marginalized scholars, so that future embattled intellectual-activists read things we write today in 40 years wondering why nothing has changed.

Opposition To “Trigger Warnings” Reinforces The Status Quo


Source: Everyday Feminism

Please don’t be fooled by the surprisingly firm assertion made in this post’s title.  I prefer to pose it as a question because I do not actually know for certain.  You see, I decided to stay out of the debates over the use of “trigger warnings” in college classrooms since first reading an argument against them.  I know too little about the experience of being emotionally or physiologically triggered, as my training is not in psychology and I have very little personal experience with sexual violence; so, I have remained silent on the issue, assuming it was a fad to discuss it in academic circles that would ultimately pass.  (Aren’t there more pressing matters, like access to college, diversity, sexual violence on campuses, making curricula accessible, etc.?)

Trigger Warnings Are A Threat To Academic Freedom???

I am making an exception to my self-imposed silence about trigger warnings today.  Alice Dreger’s Aeon essay, “Without tenure, professors become terrified sheep,” caught my eye, with an obvious, yet bold claim in her title, and an associated picture of a University of Wisconsin building — subtly pointing to state’s decision to do away with tenure in the traditional sense.  Dreger makes important points, most significantly that academic freedom goes out the door when faculty lose job security — something of urgent concern, considering the adjunctification of the academy.  But, she mentioned examples of threats to academic freedom that not only surprised me, but also greatly concern me:

Meanwhile, on the left, identity-politics activists are using devices like ‘safe spaces’ and ‘trigger warnings’ to shut down speech they believe to be offensive and dangerous. In my campus visits around the US – aimed at emboldening the students, faculty, and administrators to push for academic freedom – I’ve been told time and time again about staff being reported by left-leaning students for teaching ‘uncomfortable’ ideas that have been taught for generations.

For example, one faculty member at a prestigious liberal arts college told me about a colleague who was reported for teaching the ancient Greek tale Leda and the Swan. The alleged discriminatory offence? Not first warning students that the story includes a symbolic rape. Others at public universities described being reported for stumbling over students’ preferred pronouns. Some historic women’s colleges have given up trying to produce The Vagina Monologues because of complaints that the 1996 play doesn’t reflect the breadth of transgender experiences. (It doesn’t; it wasn’t written for that purpose any more than The Federalist Papers were.)

I want to note that these examples seem out of line with Dreger’s argument about tenure.  Are tenured faculty freed from the pressures to create safe spaces for oppressed students?  From offering preemptive warnings that some content covered in their courses may be triggering?  Are tenured faculty no longer expected to make efforts to include transgender students in campus events, as well as their classes and curricula?

One could infer from these comments that Dreger’s version of tenure grants faculty freedom to practice discrimination, or at least to ignore oppressed student groups’ demands for equality, inclusion, and safety.  And, tenured faculty can stop being concerned about the well-being of survivors of sexual violence — as though there was an institutional mandate to care while they were pre-tenure.  It’s problematic to conceptualize these examples as mere politics (i.e., left-leaning versus right-leaning students); survivors demanding a safe classroom environment and trans students demanding inclusion is not the stuff of political games — it’s about their survival and well-being.

Faculty Are Clueless

I will grant Dreger and others who have taken the time to publicly oppose trigger warnings this.  The responsibility falls on faculty to appropriately warn students of potentially triggering material. And, the responsibility to articulate the need for such a warning falls on students.  Thus, I understand the concern about how far we should go to offer trigger warnings.

On a few occasions, I have had a student approach me to express concern about material that was triggering for them.  “Will the [research methods] textbook keep using examples of research on domestic violence?”  “Can we avoid talking about suicide today?  Today is the anniversary of my friend’s death.”  Initially, I was annoyed by these students’ comments, as they came just moments before class started; textbooks were already assigned, lectures were already prepped.  Besides the last-minute nature of the concerns, I wondered whether the students’ triggered reactions were enough to change my classes to accommodate them; indeed, I felt the implied or actual requests that I change my classes in a major way were imposing, if not inappropriate.  What I offered instead was that the students could continue to advocate for themselves — they could drop the class (since there were no alternative textbooks, and coming up with alternative material seemed too demanding of my time) or skip the classes they felt would be triggering.

In hindsight, offering for them to just leave feels insensitive; but, my limited teaching training left me with no other appropriate courses of action.  Rather than leaving it to faculty to decide whether and how to use trigger warnings, an ideal approach would be to teach graduate students how to handle these issues.  To me, accommodating the needs of survivors of sexual violence and other traumatic events fits within the broader initiative to make classrooms accessible.  Colleges and universities might expand their sexual violence prevention work and disability services to include resources for survivors to avoid or at least cope with triggering classroom material.  These offices, as well as teaching and learning centers and professional development centers could offer training for faculty to support survivors of sexual violence, and other students who have experienced trauma.  That is, one way to ease the burden on students to speak up for themselves (risking some ill-informed faculty member of dismissing them as overly sensitive), and the burden on faculty to devise proper warnings for triggering material, is to make it an institutional effort.  (And, by that, I don’t mean an institution-wide ban on trigger warnings, and a letter to students to toughen up.)

Opposition To Trigger Warnings Is A Defense Of The Status Quo

But, I want to return to my title’s claim — that the opposition to trigger warnings reinforces the status quo in higher education.  I believe the rise of trigger warnings reflects success of survivors and their allies to call attention to the ways in which college classrooms may be a part of the problem of rape culture in higher education.  And, like Dreger’s dismissal of students’ demand for the use of correct pronouns, those in the mainstream — or specifically members of the dominant group — often react to change with anger.  They dismiss the demands for change by saying things like Vagina Monologues need not include transgender people (not even trans women) because “it wasn’t written for that purpose any more than The Federalist Papers were.”  In this case, trans people have no right to demand inclusion because it has always been that way.  They resort to mocking the group demanding change — how silly these trans people, demanding that we use pronouns in an inclusive way.  I suspect that is what we are seeing in the opposition against trigger warnings; there is a knee-jerk reaction to defend the way it has always been, to ignore that a sizeable minority of students have been raped, sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, or experienced other forms of violence.  Generation after generation of students has been reading [X “classic” text that includes triggering material], so why should we eliminate it or assign it with a warning now?

I would argue that the opposition to trigger warnings is part of a larger trend of belittling college students, particularly their political efforts.  The flip side of concerns about entitlement and helicopter parenting is critiques of students who challenge the status quo on their campuses.  We now have the term “crybullies,” dismissing contemporary forms of protest as a mere demand to protect one’s feelings and presumably fragile ego.  The following cartoon perfectly captures this patronizing sentiment:


The supposed consequences of these “crybullies” — that logic, reason, actual education, and academic freedom go up in flames — is captured in this more damning cartoon:


Wow.  The underlying logic is that women, queer students, students of color, and others who have demanded safety, protection, and inclusion are the equivalent of overly sensitive babies — pampered babies, if you see the noticeably tan child holding the social justice sword and “racist!!” rattle.  Clearly, these groups have no right to challenge the status quo because, well, these must not be serious problems.

Some of this strikes me as the tired “us vs. them” generational divide — in this case, a war waged against millennials by… well… every other generation.  These babies are pierced, tattooed, and have colored hair.  Eventually they’ll grow up and have real concerns!  Maybe I haven’t resorted to this kind of finger wagging because, by some accounts, I am a millennial myself.  I’m pierced and tattooed and have carried the sword of social justice and demanded safe spaces and leaned into my “special slowflake” identity.  But, I haven’t chosen a side because it’s played out.  The hippies pictured in the first cartoon were criticized in their day, too.  Their political demands were mocked and criticized by older generations.  Suddenly, their demands for peace and love seem reasonable compared to demands for safety from violence and triggering material, and for inclusion and equal treatment.

Closing Thoughts

Can we pause for a moment on the trigger warning debates?  Even well-intentioned liberal professors who have taken issue with these warnings are merely echoing the larger conservative opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement, efforts to identify and eliminate microaggressions, to demands for justice survivors of sexual violence, to demands for safe spaces for queer students, to recognition of and access to facilities for trans students, and so on.

At this moment, we — as faculty — have a choice.  We can choose to be dinosaurs and old-farts who mock students who are advocating for themselves, who are following the tradition of protest on college campuses for greater inclusion.  Or, we can actually listen to what the students are saying, we can find ways to support them and navigate around (and dismantle) institutional constraints.  Too few of us understand trauma to adequately decide how to support traumatized students; so, we should be figuring out how to support them rather than dismissing or mocking their concerns.

Further Reading


Call For Blog Posts: Sexual Violence In Higher Education


We invite guest blog posts on the topic of sexual violence in higher education, hopefully to be featured as a series of posts in late 2016/early 2017.  We can look no further than the fact than nearly 300 US colleges and universities are currently under federal investigation for mishandling reported rapes and sexual assaults to know that victims of sexual violence are being failed in higher education and that this crisis is poorly understood.  The emphasis on bare minimum legal compliance to Title IX policies has distracted from understanding rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment as expressions of power, often manifesting from systems of oppression (namely sexism, but also racism, xenophobia, classism, fatphobia, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and ageism).  Academics stand to offer a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the crisis of sexual violence in higher education, and hopefully to propose solutions that are appropriate.

We specifically call for guest blog posts that address the following regarding rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, and/or intimate partner violence:

  • Advice for what students, staff, faculty, and administrators can do to support victims of sexual violence, eliminate rape culture, and prevent sexual violence.  In particular, how university communities may work together on these issues (e.g., staff and faculty, faculty and administration).
  • Reflections on Title IX and staff and faculty (mandated) responsibility for reporting sexual violence.
  • New models for sexual violence prevention education (e.g., consent, healthy relationships) and prosecuting/punishing perpetrators, and/or critiques of existing models.
  • Institutional practices and arrangements that facilitate or even reward sexual violence (e.g., lenient regulation of Greek Life, alcohol use, minimal or no punishment for sexual violence).
  • Rape culture on campus and how it affects everyone, not just those who are victimized.
  • Sexual violence as a manifestation of systems of oppression other than sexism, and sexual violence at the intersections among systems of oppression.  Also, sexual violence perpetrated against LGBTQ people, (cis and trans) women of color, (cis and trans) men, people with disabilities, and fat and plus-size people.  And, sexual violence as a means of policing nonconformity among marginalized groups.
  • Sexual violence as a manifestation of hierarchies in academia (e.g., student-professor, student-staff, junior professor-senior professor), as well as “contrapower harassment” (i.e., lower-ranking perpetrators and higher-ranking victims).
  • Attention to sexual violence that occurs among/that is perpetrated against staff and faculty.  Also, threatened or actual sexual violence perpetrated by students against staff and faculty or by staff/faculty against students.
  • Effectively teaching about sexual violence, and navigating the controversial subject of warnings for potentially triggering content (“trigger warnings”).  In particular, how faculty survivors can teach on a subject that is very personal and possibly triggering for them.
  • Advice for doing critical research on sexual violence.
  • Professional and personal backlash against anti-sexual violence activists.
  • Addressing sexual violence at academic conferences and other events, and what academic organizations can do to prevent sexual violence and support survivors.

You can see our guidelines here.  We ask that blog posts range between 750-1250 words, and are written in a manner that is accessible to a broad academic audience.  You may email pitches or full blog posts to conditionally.accepted@insidehighered.com.  We will accept submissions on a rolling basis, but ask that they be submitted for consideration by December 1st, 2017 or earlier.

My University Failed Yet Another Rape Survivor And Protected Yet Another Rapist

"Don't Rape" by Richard Potts

“Don’t Rape” by Richard Potts

I want to start this essay by thanking CC Carreras for taking the time to share her story with Huffington Post and the world.  CC graduated from my university — University of Richmond (UR) — in May with a degree in Criminal Justice.  She was in my Sociological Research Methods course a couple of years ago.  I was initially shocked when I realized that she was the author of the HuffPo piece, that she would be so public about such horrific events and her critique of the university.  And, then, I was heartbroken.  CC isn’t a stranger; she is a student I saw twice a week for 15 weeks.  I can put a face to a story.  And, it makes me feel as though I somehow failed her as a professor.

I also want to express a deep sense of respect and admiration for CC’s bravery for speaking up.  We live in a society — UR not exempt — that does not believe women in general, especially about their experiences of sexual violence; that would rather blame survivors for their own victimization than the perpetrators or the society and institutions that enable them; that would rather protect rapists than rape victims; that would rather discredit, undermine, and attack survivors who speak up than to support them.  CC’s bravery has fueled others to speak up, either publicly or privately revealing their own experiences or fears of sexual violence at UR.  CC is a role model in my eyes; she has spoken up about injustice at an institution she called home, only after failing to see justice by going through the “proper” channels.  I hope that every UR alum feels called to speak up against sexual violence at UR and beyond.

Unfortunately, I also want to apologize to CC — as a faculty member, fellow spider, and concerned human being — for such an ugly end to her time at UR, topped only by being further failed by the university.  CC, I am sorry that UR chose to imply that you lied about the mishandling of your reported case.  I am sorry that the university chose not to support you as you bravely spoke up, or to apologize to you for failing you.  I am sorry that it chose to distance itself from you rather than from the predator-student-athlete who raped you.  I’m sorry that the university has not lived up to its desire to be a model institution, instead being one of over 200 that repeatedly fail rape victims.

Already, my words feel hallow.  But, it took working up the nerve to sit down to write this.  For, professors who take to anti-sexual violence activism do not fair well in the academy; some are censured, some are fired, some are merely tolerated.  I already have three strikes against me as a Black queer non-binary person on faculty.  And, I am pre-tenure, though basking in a much needed year-long leave from teaching to focus on my research.  I have already developed a reputation for being outspoken on campus about racism, heterosexism, and transphobia.  And, here I go again.

The fear I feel in speaking up as a faculty member is just another manifestation of a larger problem at UR: rape-culture.  Despite having a feminist, sociological understanding of sexual violence, and sexuality and power more generally, despite having worked with a rape crisis shelter in the past, and despite a desire to work with students to improve our society, there is some chance that I will pay the price for speaking up.  Rape-culture silences victims and their supporters, and it censures those who dare to work against sexual violence.  Yes, rape-culture can exist even in where a campus office has been created for Title IX compliance, where “compliance” sounds an obligatory adherence to the bare minimum standard to ban harassment and discrimination.

Unfortunately, we have further proof: the University of Richmond sent emails to students, staff, faculty, and alumni that effectively implies that CC lied about the mishandling of her case:

While we cannot address specifically the contentions in the recent Huffington Post commentary, given our commitment to student privacy, and we respect the right of all students to express their opinion and discuss their perspective, we think it is important for us to share that many of the assertions of fact are inaccurate and do not reflect the manner in which reports of sexual misconduct have been investigated and adjudicated at the University.

Rape-culture, to me, is writing a two-page-long email to the student body and never once even mentioning the name of the alum — CC Carreras. It is speaking of her in the abstract — an “opinion” to be tolerated — only to say that she is making it all up (because who can trust rape victims, right?).  Rape-culture is never saying a word about the rapist who may or may not still be walking around campus.  It is using the cloak of confidentiality to protect certain details (the rapist’s name, whether he is still a student at UR, etc.) but not others (publicly stating that CC is lying about how her case was handled); it is using the law as a tool to revictimize a survivor and protect a rapist.

I am relieved that CC refused to let the university have the last word.  She took the time to write an extensive response, in which she shares many official correspondences regarding the case and the many times the rapist violated a (rather flimsy) no-contact order.  If you take the time to read the entire thing, your head may begin to hurt as mine did.  The legalese used to protect a rape victim from further contact from the rapist is quite off-putting and cold; it reads more like divorce papers for a couple that is splitting up property than an effort to protect someone from violence.  I have to wonder — why has the university asked CC to stay away from the rapist, just as it asks the rapist to stay away from her?

More importantly, I am inclined to agree with CC’s sentiment that the rapist received a slap on the wrist from the university, even as he repeatedly violated the no-contact order and admitted to raping her.  He admitted to committing a violent crime and, as far as I can tell, was never arrested nor spent any time in prison.  He was instructed to avoid certain parts of campus, but his time on the field and gym was not to be interrupted; that proved to be more important than CC’s safety and well-being.  Further, the university has effectively allowed the rapist to attack other people.  Indeed, there is research that is now 15 years old that highlights the reality that rapists tend to be repeat offenders.

As I dug through the many documents in CC’s second HuffPo piece, feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, I was reminded of the ways in which the university is perhaps complicit in facilitating sexual violence.  There is sociological research that highlights the ways in which institutions and organizations either fail to genuinely prevent sexual violence and punish perpetrators or actually enable rapists to attack people.  The Hunting Ground, a recently released documentary, highlights the ways in which the promotion and protection of Greek Life and athletics provide free reign for college men to make a sport of sexually assaulting college women.  It is naive to assume that campus rape is the “good guy” who slips up or goes to far or got a little too drunk, or that an obligatory three-hour-long workshop on drinking is enough to prevent rape, or that the university is a neutral party in this crisis.

As a professor at UR, I am quite troubled by the position the university has put me in.  I vehemently disagree with the official statement that the university sent out to dismiss CC’s story as lies, and, instead, pat itself on the back for how well it handles sexual assault cases (despite being under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases).  This is blog post serves as my statement — I speak for myself.  Believing CC was never a question; my only question was how do I support her and ensure that students are able to do their work on campus free of harassment and violence.

The university’s email to faculty and staff, unlike its letter to students, gave no indication of responsibility or how I might get involved to prevent sexual violence and support survivors.  It seemed as though the sole purpose of the communication was to let me know I could sleep easily at night because CC made it all up.  It gave no reminder of my obligation to report to the Title IX office any instance in which a student has disclosed that they have been sexually assaulted.  It made no mention of how I might navigate contact with the rapist, or even who he is.  (Just last year, a student and advisee of mine mysteriously withdrew from the university — something about “for Title IX” reasons I learned.  Was he a rapist?  Since there is little punishment for perpetrators, how many of my students have been rapists?  These questions are unsettling.)

Rather than keeping faculty in the dark, instead relying on staff tasked with “Title IX compliance,” the university has right at its finger tips a wealth of expertise about sexual violence, sexualities, gender, oppression, law, the criminal justice system, and so on.  Rather than relying exclusively on peer-to-peer sexual violence education, the university could be employing professors to give talks, host workshops, teach courses, consult Title IX affairs, etc. Even outside of those of us with research-based expertise, it should be giving faculty more opportunities to work on sexual violence prevention.  I know from private conversations that many of us are concerned, and now outraged in light of the university’s statements about CC’s original post; we are ripe with passion, concern, and conviction to see that UR reverses its reputation as being one of the must unsafe campuses for women.  Can you imagine a university that has a reputation for a near-perfect record of punishing perpetrators, for supporting and affirming survivors, and for truly practicing a bystander intervention approach to sexual violence prevention?  That could be us, UR!

We have to do better.


GrollmanDr. Eric Anthony Grollman (they/them/theirs) is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Affiliate Faculty of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Richmond in Richmond, VA.  They teach courses on gender and sexuality, sociology of health and illness, social inequality, and sociological research methods.  Their research examines the impact of prejudice and discrimination on the health, well-being, and worldviews of oppressed communities.  They are also an intellectual activist and maintain the blog Conditionally Accepted — a weekly career advice column on Inside Higher Ed for marginalized faculty.

Sexual Violence At The Sociology Conference

"Don't Rape" by Richard Potts

“Don’t Rape” by Richard Potts

At last week’s American Sociological Association (ASA) annual meeting in Seattle, WA, two women of color graduate students separately disclosed to me that they had been sexually assaulted or harassed at the conference. Beyond courageously sharing their experiences with me, they do not feel brave or protected enough to report their experiences to the ASA. For, their vulnerable positions in the profession (graduate students) and in society (young women of color) present the very real concern of professional or personal backlash if they were to report the sexual violence. We live in a rape culture that denies the prevalence and impact of sexual violence; that does not believe victims, but rather blames them for their own victimization; that celebrates predators and excuses their violation of others’ bodies and space. ASA and the discipline of sociology exist within that culture. Why should we expect different results from them?

The perpetrators of the sexual violence in both instances are senior men faculty members – but, from different institutions. As such, the responsibility to pursue these cases – were they to be reported – falls outside of a particular institution. These incidents occurred at an ASA meeting, and thus are the organization’s responsibility to pursue.  As one of the two women pointed out to me, had she reported the assault to local police, she would be offered no support by local police at the next ASA conference as the location changes every year.

I took to social media to ask my fellow sociologists what resources existed to prevent sexual violence at ASA meetings and to support survivors of violence at future meetings. Few colleagues responded, all to say they wanted to know the answer, too. I did receive a response from ASA’s twitter account (@ASAnews) to look to page 2 of this year’s annual meeting program guide:

Ethical Conduct during the Annual Meeting:

It is unethical in any professional setting, including the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, for sociologists to use inequalities of power which characterize many professional relationships to obtain personal, sexual, economic or professional advantages.

Sexual, sexual identity or racial/ethnic harassment is also unethical behavior under the American Sociological Association Code of Ethics.

Attendees are encouraged to immediately report instances of harassment during the Annual Meeting to the ASA Executive Officer at Hillsman@asanet.org or through the ASA Annual Meeting Office.

To read the American Sociological Association Code of Ethics in its entirety, visit www.ASAnet.org and follow the link to “Ethics.”

I should note that I never read the front matter of the annual meeting program guide, and I imagine few other attendees do.  It is a thick book!  I only use it to find out when and where my sessions are.  Some attendees exclusively use the phone app, which won’t force them to flip through the front matter.  More importantly, it seems naive to assume that the above statement would stop a predator from assaulting or harassing others at the conference.  (Sexual violence is already illegal, yet the law doesn’t seem to stop it from occurring at alarming rates.)

I responded, pressing ASA about what is actually done to prevent sexual violence at these meetings, and to support survivors of sexual violence that has occurred at past meetings. I was informed that the Committee on Professional Ethics deals with reported instances of sexual violence on a case-by-case basis.

I felt underwhelmed by this response. When I returned home, I sent an email to the Sociologists for Women and Society (SWS) listserv to ask what feminist sociologists knew of existing resources and strategies for preventing sexual violence at academic conferences. I also contacted the ASA Committee on the Status of Women in Sociology and the ASA Committee on the Status of Racial and Ethnic Minorities in Sociology to ask that they take on this issue.

I had not anticipated Sally Hillsman, Executive Officer of ASA, to catch wind of my emails; she chimed in on the SWS listserv to emphasize that victims of sexual violence could confidentially report these events to her, and that this approach to handling such reports was voted on by ASA members. I pressed still to highlight the enormous fear that victims experience that prevents most of them to report sexual violence, and that these reporting mechanisms still do not address my concerns about sexual violence prevention and supporting survivors. Sally responded again to offer the following:

For the women who experienced sexual harassment at the Seattle, Chicago or recent meetings:

Please call me WITHOUT REVEALING YOUR NAME IF YOU CHOOSE at my office. I will return to my office this Wednesday August 31 to discuss your experience ANONYMOUSLY. If I am away from my desk, leave a message when you will call again and I will be there.

202-383-9005×316 goes right to my desk; no one else will pick up.

This is standard operating procedure. If you didn’t know about how ASA handles these situations it is good–insofar as confidentiality has been maintained–but bad that we have not been as available to sociologists as we could be.

The ASA has a Code of Ethics that everyone who is a member of the Association FORMALLY AGREED to abide by, and ASA has investigation and sanctioning ability within the scope of the Association.  These include confidential (non-public) and public sanctions for those found by COPE to have violated the Code.  Council is not involved.


I appreciate that ASA has allowed (which seems like a problematic verb here…) victims to report sexual violence without revealing their names. However, as others pointed out in the SWS discussion, eventually anonymity would become confidentiality, which eventually be disclosed to perpetrators if ASA pursued the reported case. This system does little to protect victims of sexual violence from being further victimized. And, given the horrendous reputation of other institutions, there is little reason for the discipline’s most vulnerable members to expect they won’t be victimized by ASA itself.

Rethinking Sexual Violence In Academia

I bring these events and conversations to the public stage not to criticize ASA, though I am clearly underwhelmed by its handling of sexual violence. Rather, I want to further contribute to the conversation about sexual violence in academia. There is fear that prevents many of us from talking about it, reporting it, criticizing it. Hell, even some sexual violence prevention activists have been censured or worse by academic institutions. Indeed, they are complicit in the production of rape culture within the profession.

There are many points that I wish to make – others have already said this, but it bears repeating. Sexual violence is an expression of power. Academia is obsessed with power and hierarchies. The profession enables predators to prey upon vulnerable members with little recourse. Those same power-dynamics leave victims and witnesses with few options to seek justice and prevent future instances of sexual violence. Professional hierarchies are laid upon social hierarchies; it is no coincidence that women and people of color are overrepresented among contingent faculty who – perhaps – have the fewest resources and least amount of support to avoid being victimized.

Just as academic institutions facilitate sexual violence among undergraduate students, it does so among graduate students, staff, faculty, and administrators, as well. There exists a rape culture on many campuses, and within disciplines and professional organizations. Victims are either blamed for their own victimization or not believed. Predators go unpunished, and are often times rewarded; their behavior is excused because of their professional status (which is likely enhanced by the privileged statuses of whiteness, masculinity, heterosexuality, wealth, older age, etc.). I once sat in a conference meeting that seriously considered naming an award after an older white man professor from my graduate program who has a long, loooong history of sexually harassing women students and colleagues; with great trepidation, I spoke up to oppose such an honor, but I believe he will still be honored in some other way. Others in that meeting were hesitant to entertain “hearsay,” but conceded when I stressed that I was privy to more than mere gossip about him.

Sexual violence exists at the intersections among racism, sexism, cissexism, heterosexism, classism, fatphobia, ableism, religious intolerance, ageism, and xenophobia. White heterosexual cisgender women are not the sole victims of sexual violence; sexual violence is not merely a “white woman’s issue” or a feminist issue (with the necessary critique of the white, cishet, and middle-class biases of each wave of feminism). We fail many, many victims of sexual violence when we rely on ways of addressing it that are typical among white middle-class women; for example, there are racial differences in even naming one’s experiences of sexual harassment as such, and in reporting these incidents. A focus on sexual violence against white cishet women (presumably by white cishet men) ignores the gross unwanted sexual attention I (a Black queer non-binary grad student at the time) received from two white gay cis men professors at a Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS) conference years ago. Such a focus ignores nuances of sexual violence in queer spaces and in communities of color, to name a few – especially across racial, gender, and class lines within those spaces communities.

We need to take seriously the bystander intervention approach to prevent sexual violence in academia.  That means it is not merely the responsibility of potential and actual victims of sexual assault and harassment to seek justice and support survivors.  It is everyone’s responsibility.  Yes, everyone.  Sexual violence is a systemic issue.  It is an expression of systems of oppression.  It operates within the very social institutions each of us inhabits everyday.  We must each challenge victim-blaming, rape-myths, and institutional practices that either ignore sexual violence or that even facilitate it.  We must intentionally support all survivors of sexual violence, even those who do not come forward.  Predators must be banned from our academic spaces so that they do not perpetrate violence again (because there is a good chance that they will).

I could go on. And, all of this is coming from someone with limited scholarly expertise on sexual violence and minimal personal experience with it. There is a great deal we can learn from the experts and survivors to actually prevent sexual violence in the academy. Right now, it is a crisis. In these first few weeks of the semester, countless undergraduate students are joining the statistics of victims of sexual violence; universities are continuing to be complicit in the predatory practices of perpetrators of such violence. And, graduate students, staff, and faculty are returning for another year – some to continue to be harassed as they suffer in silence. Who are we to offer guidance to the rest of society on ending sexual violence when hundreds of schools are currently under federal investigation for the mishandling of reported sexual assaults?

Further reading and resources:

My Gender Is A Journey


This essay was originally posted on my personal site, egrollman.com.

Over a year ago, I wrote a short essay to reflect on the dynamic and fluid (rather than fixed and static) nature of my gender identity.  Similar to Dr. Betsy Lucal’s essay, “What it Means to be Gendered Me” in Gender & Society, I drew on personal experiences to demonstrate academic conceptualizations of gender and, in turn, used these conceptualizations to make sense of my own gender identity.  But, the essay lacked one critical thing: the bravery to share it publicly, as I had initially intended.

Recently, an opinion piece in Out magazine, “Snoopy and Me” by Michael Narkunski, caught my eye.  Narkunski reflects on being distressed by feeling that his sense of gender does not fit with the narrow (heterosexist and cissexist) definition of a “man.”  He sought the care of a therapist, whom he assumed would finally “diagnose” him as transgender.  Instead, she offered him this:

“Being gay is hard,” my therapist said. “You have a dearth of role models, and you’re constantly subjected to gender norms that don’t apply. You have to work more on learning to be happy and creating an identity to be pleased with, not transferring yourself over to a whole new one.”

I see myself in Narkunski’s essay.  And, I admire his bravery for sharing such a painful and personal story.  In fact, his bravery has inspired me to finally share my own below.

My Gender Is A Journey

I do not see gender as destiny anymore than I see sex-assigned-at-birth as destiny. These are crude categories and identities to distinguish one set of characteristics, experiences, expectations, and opportunities from others. While they do include predictions about what one’s life will be like, they are not sophisticated enough to determine how one’s life will transpire. Gender norms change, both because of changing expressions of one’s gender identity and changing how one can express one’s gender identity. And, gender norms, identities, and expressions are deeply tied to other axes of oppression: racism, heterosexism, classism, ableism, fatphobia, and xenophobia. So, in addition to changing gender norms over time, there is variation in who we are as gendered people by virtue of our other identities and statuses – and these, too, change over time.

For me, my gender identity and how I express it are both cause and consequence of my body, my experiences in this world, my ideology and values, and my relationships with other people. Let me describe each in greater detail.

Gender As Cause And Consequence Of My Body

I became a fat child around age 8. Since then, my body has never been one that reflects hegemonic masculinity. Even after losing an extreme amount of weight before my senior year of high school, I was still flabby and unmasculine in the normative sense. The greatest struggle of all regarding my body has been my breasts. I rarely go swimming and, when I do, I tend to wear a black t-shirt. (There is a reason wet t-shirt contests feature white shirts. I learned that lesson first-hand, unfortunately.) I was teased as a child because I had breasts as large as, if not larger, than girls my age. Though I have a hairy chest, I still have a part of my body that is a visible betrayal of my maleness.

Me - GI Beyonce

Halloween 2009

At one point, I seriously considered surgery to have my breasts removed. Throughout my adolescence, my primary physician repeatedly offered to have “those” removed – never explicitly naming that I had breasts. The first time I visited Richmond, VA was to meet with a cosmetic surgeon. The cost was prohibitive, and there was no guarantee that I would keep fat off of that part of my body, or that the scars would not prevent me from going shirtless in public. So, I decided against it. Funny, before my then-HMO agreed to pay for some of the mastectomy, they had to verify that I did not develop breasts due to intersexuality (or Disorders of Sex Development [DSD]). They provided an ultrasound examination on my testicles, and a hormone test to assess levels of estrogen and testosterone via my urine. Thankfully (by their standards), I was not intersex – just fat. Looking back, it was an interesting moment: fatness or intersexuality were two possible causes of my non-normative male body.

Ironically, having breasts as a male-bodied individual is a benefit when I wear drag. I do not need to stuff a bra, nor don a breast plate, because I am naturally endowed in that area. Still, my body image issues as a fat person limit how far I go with my drag. Too fat to fit the ideal image of a man translates into way too fat for the woman I would like to portray in drag. So, I do not shave. I have embraced my genderfuck self – high heel boots, a revealing top, and a blonde bombshell wig.

Clothes, too, have a way of reminding me that my body does not fit (sometimes literally) into society’s ideal image of a man. The most common gripe I have when clothing shopping is the unflattering fit on my chest. Men’s shirts and dress clothes are not designed with breasts in mind. The clothing-related body image issues have been heightened lately because dress clothes demand a tighter fit. You will never, ever, ever find me in a dress shirt without a suit jacket or a vest (or both).  The breasts must be hidden, and a necktie will not cut it. In casual clothes, loose button down shirts are a staple in my wardrobe. If men were socially “allowed” to have breasts, maybe I would be showing them off with pride, rather than hiding them in shame.


Gender As Cause And Consequence Of My Experiences

From age 5, I knew I was not like other boys. Girls and their worlds always seemed more fun, interesting, and evolved. The only close male friend whom I had only wanted to wrestle. I did occasionally, but it seemed boring to me. How were we to discuss current events (albeit through a child’s eyes) and get to know one another at a deep level if every time we played I ended up in a headlock? In elementary school, I hung with the less popular girls at recess. We discussed plans for a play with an anti-violence message, but the plans never came to fruition. Boys remained of little interest to me (not even romantically) because they seemed incapable of meaningful interpersonal relationships.

I should not have been surprised that my parents kept pushing sports, especially football. I attended basketball camp a few summers, just until I complained enough to get them to let me attend the regular day camp. Yes, I chose arts and crafts over yet another game of “shirts and skins.” In their final ultimatum, while I was in high school – football or JROTC – I chose the latter. Interestingly, I loved it. There was an academic component with emphasis on citizenship and character-building. And, I loved having the opportunity to take on leadership positions. I even served as president of the Kitty Hawk JROTC Honor Society. (No, I did not name it that. I would have been subtler than “kitty.”)

But, at a younger age, they bought me gender-neutral toys, and even a dollhouse. My action figures, including X-men and Power Rangers, would go on dangerous missions, but not without steamy romances and personal struggles. While there were elements of boy, girl, and gender-neutrality, they all blended together in ways that made sense to me – an emphasis on people and relationships. I suppose that is the ticket to raising a sociologist.

Gender As Cause And Consequence Of My Values

My gender identity has evolved alongside my gender ideology. In college, exposed to new ideas about gender, sexuality, feminism, and queer politics, my understanding of my own gender and sexuality changed. I began to accept that “man” reflects too little of my own experiences, interests, and values. So, I adopted a genderqueer identity. And, I better understood my attraction to masculinity as an expression, rather than male bodies. So, identifying as gay no longer made sense because I do not see myself as a man who desires other men; “man” and “men” are deceptively simplistic. Queer as an identity better reflects my own gender identity and the gender expression of those whom I find attractive. Also, queer reflects my intersectional, radical politics about gender and sexuality in ways that “gay” does not.

However, I have wavered somewhat from my queer and genderqueer identities in recent years. I have become more aware of the infinite ways in which I am privileged as a (presumably) cisgender man. So long as I dress, act, and relate to others as a man, I am privileged as a man by society. So, it has felt disingenuous to identify as genderqueer in absence of a genderqueer expression.

Admittedly, I desperately cling to what little masculinity I wield for safety reasons. In everyday interactions, I would fear the violence, harassment, and discrimination that would come if I were more visibly queer. I fear that I would take a major hit to my status at work. Being a man feels like the only resource that I have available to overcome the oppressed statuses of being queer and Black. The other challenge is not knowing what expressing a genderqueer identity would entail. I am balding, so I cannot adopt a queer hairstyle short of wearing a wig. I have moved away from piercings and tattoos to keep my professional (i.e., middle-class) credibility. Frankly, many things that come to mind simply express femininity atop masculinity (e.g., earrings, nail polish, women’s clothing).

The Journey Continues

To be completely honest, I have wondered whether I am trans. The question has been raised in my mind, but then dismissed because I realize I have no interest in changing my body. My issue is with how I adorn and use it. Once, riding a train home from a night out with friends, my brain screamed, “shit I’m transgender!” I woke up the next day hung-over, laughing at the idea. But, I really cannot say with confidence that being trans is outside of the realm of possibility. I do not say this to make a mockery of trans people’s experiences, identities, and struggles. Nor do I mean to suggest that my dilemma is anything like that of a trans person. I just cannot say for certain who I will be in the future, especially in feeling disconnected from the rigid categories of man and woman.

Maybe the time has come when I should begin playing with gender with more bravery and intentionality. Rather than going along for the ride and trying to make sense of who I am, I should start defining and expressing my gender for myself.  I imagine that will be the only way to carve out a space for me to exist outside of the rigid gender binary.