How not to make women welcome at your institution

Long time readers of my old blog may remember that earlier in my career at my institution, I was the recipient of a number of harassing phone calls. And that the resolution of these calls was largely unsatisfying. But it's been three years since the last one, and so I thought that maybe that was it, that I could start to relax.


I got yet another one this weekend. Same modus operandi as usual. This one, at least, didn't mention me by name, but it definitely sounds as if it was targeted at me.

There is one key difference this time: I have the support of my colleagues. My chair sprang into action the minute I told him what happened. Senior colleagues stopped by all day to see how I was doing, offer suggestions, and ask if there was anything they could do to help. (I should have said, "Not now, but can I call in a favor later when I have to face the deans and explain to them why they shouldn't just sweep this under the rug, again?") Colleagues from other departments have been checking in on me as well. Those of you who have followed this saga from the beginning know that this is a HUGE improvement over the past incidents. So if there's anything positive that's come out of this, this is it.

Of course, who knows how the administration will act, since in the past they have really disappointed me by their inaction.

But no matter what support I'm getting, the fact is that this incident makes me feel unwelcome, creeped out, afraid for my safety, anxious, and frustrated. I have a super-busy week, and I really needed to get a bunch of things done today....but in between dealing with the situation and feeling very, very distracted, not much got done. Certainly not the things that really needed to get done.

I keep coming back to wondering why someone, or a bunch of someones, want me to feel unwelcome and uncomfortable. I mean, isn't the daily subtle sexist stuff enough? Why the need to "put me in my place"? Why the need to intimidate? What kind of f'ed up person does stuff like this? What kind of f'ed up culture indicates that it's ok to do this to a woman professor?

But most importantly, why does this keep happening to me, and how can I get it to stop??

More like this

A friend of mine, a gay guy at University of Western Australia, had something similar happen to him from an angry former student (who failed his courses). In the end my friend had to sue for defamation and notify the police of the threats, and eventually the felon went away. I can't advise you other than to say if threats of violence are being made, it is a criminal matter and you should notify your local sheriff.

I concur with Wilkins. If you feel the least bit threatened, you should forget the administration and go straight to the police. They can get a court order for the call logs from the telco and find out who called you.

I agree. I'm absolutely horrified that this continues to happen to you. While I suppose it is good that your colleagues are concerned this time, I put their responses in the 'too little, too late' category. (I carry grudges and they irritated me when this happened last.)

This person who called you did a hateful, horrible thing. I'm so sorry and hope you find a resolution this time.

Oh yuck, Jane. I got a creepy facebook message yesterday and it nearly ruined my whole day...I can't even imagine what I'd feel like if I'd gotten a phone call. I hope your administration really gets their act together this time, and do call the police if you think the admin isn't doing all they can.

That really does suck. That's good news that it's being taken seriously, and I really do hope that a way is found to track down the offender, not just discourage him from doing it with fear that he'll be caught.

It really seems to me like there should be a way to either:
* trace the calls or
* set your phone to refuse untraceable calls.
* request a new phone that will record call-ID and/or handle refusing ID-blocked calls.

I know this is possible with standard telco lines; I'm not sure about your school's internal PBX -- it could be easier or harder to trace calls (and depending on origin...). If the school is hamstrung by an outdated phone system, I'll bet you can get a few sys admins on your side who've been looking for an excuse to upgrade the thing anyway.

But most importantly, why does this keep happening to me, and how can I get it to stop??

You'll go crazy trying to figure out "why you", I think, and never get anywhere useful. Maybe some fool failed a class of yours (or just got a bad test result...) and raged about it in a drunken haze, and happened to have a friend who had the "helpful" idea of looking up your number and calling it on behalf of his buddy ("I can't do it, she'd know my voice! You do it!"). It was 2am, it's not like you'd be there to pick up, and it's harmless fun -- hey, it's not like he's slashing your car tires or even really threatening you, right? Just telling you off. In the "no balls required" way, since it's anonymous and only voice mail.... And now, since perhaps your number is scrawled on the wall over his phone, the friend who you don't even know "strikes a blow against the fuckin' establishment" whenever he's in a shitty mood, failing a class himself, and drunk.

The only part of this story that has anything to do with you was the original bad grade. Though I imagine your sex and age could make a difference both in how the idiot with the original poor grade & his friend reacted to it, as well as in how you perceive the nasty voicemails.... unfortunately, while you're adult enough to weigh that effect, I doubt they are.

Good luck & courage to you.

wow jane...being new to the blogosphere I hadn't read about all your previous incidents, but I read them all today, and I'm so sorry you have to deal with this stuff. I've never faced a similar situation, so I have no advice on how to get it to stop....I'm sorry....

Best of luck to you.

That's awful! I agree with the other commenters - bring on the hammer of the law if your administration won't support you in a real, concrete way. It's really nice that people are checking in on you, but people who do this kind of thing won't stop if they are left to do it with impunity. "Sorry" wasn't good enough before and it certainly shouldn't be this time, either.

Jane: But most importantly, why does this keep happening to me, and how can I get it to stop??

1) It keeps happening to you partly because you are female, which draws the envy and wrath of some of the idiots in the male population; but also possibly because you are a professor who expects work from your students, which draws the irritation of the terminally lazy. In either case, the harassment should not be indulged.

2) Find out what is necessary to have the calls tracked back. This may include "have the phone system replaced"; more likely, it will merely require a caller-id phone be provided by the administration; possibly, it may only require asking for the incoming call records. (Depends on your phone system.) If the administration will not facilitate this, try asking your school's ombudsman to first identify the appropriate pair of genitalia and then to light a small fire under them. If the ombudsman is unable to help, consider finding a lawyer (the campus one usually can't help you against the school) to light a large fire under a prominent one. Communication with the ombudsman via email (copied to a non-school email address if you are paranoid) may help provide amunition for the lawyer, if needed.

I looked at the links on your site- this has happened to you sporadically since 2005. 2005!!! That's four years. That makes me wonder if it's an ongoing type of abuse by a peer rather than a student. I agree with abb3w- time to call in the shots and get this done with properly. At the very least, caller ID should be installed, but after 4 years, an effort should be made to uncover the perpetrator.
Go to RadioShack or similar tech store and buy a mini voice recorder, the type used in meetings etc (or use a record program on your laptop) and MAKE YOUSELF A COPY of this message before it mysteriously disappears from the phone messaging application. I did this and brought it to court against a harrasser, who was convicted and had to go to an anger management program and be on probation.
You need a safety plan. Someone who is sneaky enough to pull this behaviour over time can get emboldened & escalate. You should consider randomizing your habits, where you park, hours you work. Not easy, but until this jerk is caught & brought into the light of day, your safety is at issue.