Note: this blog post was originally published on our Inside Higher Ed career advice column (here). Dr. Meghan Krausch is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin Superior. Meg studies race, gender, disability and other forms of marginalization throughout the Americas and in particular how grassroots communities have developed ways to resist their own marginalization.
Earlier this week, Meg wrote about being stalked by a student on campus; below, Meg offers advice to colleagues to support victims of campus stalking.
10 Tips For A More Humane Workplace
In the fall 2016 semester, one of my students began stalking me. I pursued all available resources, but I quickly found myself very isolated. Being stalked by a former student meant that I no longer felt safe going anywhere on my own on campus. Originally, that meant seeing my colleagues more often, as they accompanied me to my classes. But as I advocated for the institution to take more formal responsibility instead of the informal responsibility of my department, I began to see my colleagues less and less. Being escorted around by security guards seemed to give me an aura of unapproachability, and I felt that people avoided me, although that was the last thing that I wanted.
Then there was the fact that I simply spent as little time on campus as possible, since time on the campus became so complicated. I did not want to walk through an empty corridor alone to get tea or go to the bathroom without arranging for an escort. Going to events in other parts of the campus seemed out of the question, because there was no guarantee that the stalker would not also be present, plus I needed to arrange special escorts to remain with me. I needed to be sure to leave the campus before the building emptied out later in the afternoon. I needed to keep track of when the stalker had classes downstairs in my office building. And, I needed to keep my office door closed and locked at all times in an open-door office culture.
My office had simply been ruined for me as a place where I could sit calmly and think. I felt physically ill coming in to what had once been a relatively happy workspace, having to close and lock the door behind me. Meanwhile, my interactions with my colleagues were reduced to a minimum as my movements through the corridors decreased, and when I did interact with them, my anxiety at being “out in the open” was hard to conceal and negotiate.
I wish that my colleagues had been more proactive in counteracting this isolation. I tried to put a cheery Post-it note on my door saying, “Please feel free to knock!” And I tried a weak smile when I saw people, but I am sure that the anxiety and sheer fear that I felt at being on the campus made my emotions hard to read.
I know that my colleagues wanted to support me, and I think they did their best, but they were simply unsure of what to do. Because of the limited range of emotional conversations possible in professional spaces, and because of the extremely emotional nature of traumatic events, it can be really confusing to know what to do.
Here are some recommendations for how faculty members can better support each other when a colleague is being stalked on campus.
- Go out of your way to say hello every day. It does not need to be a long conversation, and be ready to accept news that they are having a bad day. Take a Pomodoro break from your work and pass by their office; leave a note to say hi if they are not there. Do not wait until you pass them in the hallway as you normally do, because it is less likely that you will see them while they fear for their safety on campus.
- Ask if the stalking victim needs a walk or a ride somewhere on a regular basis (and then do not ever forget them). Safety planning is time-consuming and emotionally exhausting, and it really sucks to ask people for help all the time. You can significantly relieve the burden by offering to be a regular calendar event.
- Ask whether the colleague who is being stalked needs any help taking their books back to the library, making photocopies, washing their dishes or other tasks that require leaving one’s office, as they may be embarrassed to ask for help (including a walk to the bathroom!).
- Ask your colleague how the university is reacting to the situation and then listen for ways that you can support them. Do not wait for the stalking victim to tell you what to do; think about what problems this situation highlights on the campus in general, and then raise those problems in the appropriate forum yourself.
- Try to avoid, if you can, the generic “What can I do to help?” I did not know this before, either, but it turns out that having a lot of people asking you that question at once is kind of overwhelming. Try to think of something to offer, and if that is the wrong thing, it will at least give the stalking victim a starting point for an idea of something you can do.
- Help your colleague reschedule as many of their other work responsibilities as possible. Work life should not be expected to go on as usual while someone is being stalked.
- If you are a strong advocate or good note taker, ask whether your colleague needs an advocate present at any of the meetings that they are likely to have with administrators (especially if your university does not have a faculty union).
- Offer small, easy concrete plans to get out of the house like lunch or dinner. Depending on the situation, it is likely that the stalking victim will be able to go places with other people but not feel comfortable going many places on their own.
- Be patient. Stalking is traumatic and has a long-term emotional effect on people. Try to catch yourself if you find yourself rushing your colleague to “get over it” or to act as if they are OK for your own comfort.
- Just break the isolation in any way you can. Stalking isolates people at home and at work.
If you do promise to do something (and I hope that you do!), it is crucial that you follow through with it. Stalking is dangerous, and the purpose of all the rides and accompaniment is to make as sure as possible that your colleague is safer.
Looking at this list, I’ve listed many recommendations that would apply beyond the narrow scope of a stalking situation. This experience taught me a lot about the ways that our workplaces fall short at recognizing us as human beings and specifically the ways that we as faculty colleagues do not create support mechanisms for one another. This seems like a deeply achievable goal, regardless of the perilous neoliberal structures in which we work. None of what I have recommended above relies on broad institutional support, and there is little that a department, supportive subgroups within it or even good-willed individuals could not accomplish. While these recommendations are derived from my experience of being stalked and what I would have liked to experience, they give us insight into what would really create a more humane workplace for everyone.
Finally, the above advice is for colleagues looking to support stalking victims, not for victims themselves. If you are a fellow faculty member who is being stalked, feel free to contact me directly so that we can brainstorm together. I do not promise to have all the answers, but having been through it myself, I can try to provide some support and ideas.