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NSF takes stand against sexual harassment

Photo By:Sandy Schaeffer for NSF


Taylor Jamison, Staff Writer

A 2018 report by the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine has found that sexual harassment is very prevalent among scientific fields. The report finds that Title IX, the 1972 law outlawing discrimination based on gender, has not managed to reduce the incidence of sexual harassment.

According to Nature, the report finds gender harassment is the most common type of sexual harassment, such as implying women do not belong in a specific workspace or do not deserve respect.

Paula Johnson, president of Wellesley College in Massachusetts and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report, states that these actions are already serious on their own, but can lead to the other types of sexual harassment, unwanted sexual attention, and sexual coercion. Previous research by Nature has even shown that “the prevalence of sexual harassment in US academia, at 58 percent is second only to the military’s 69 percent, and outpaces that of industry and government.”

This is not exclusive just to women. It has also been found in yet another study by Nature that “female graduate students at a public university in the U.S. Pacific Northwest were 1.64 times more likely than male graduate students to have been sexually harassed by faculty members or staff.”

A workshop by the National Academies’ Committee on Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine found that “somewhere in the range of 40 to 70 percent of women had experience sexual harassment during their careers or as students. This range of prevalence was strikingly consistent across different studies.”

The Guardian describes this issue in U.K. science departments as well, wherein it was found that “more than four in 10 students (across all subjects) reported suffering unwelcome advances and assault, including sexualized comments, inappropriate touching and rape.”

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) took a stance against this issue, adopting a 33-page “Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics” policy in September of 2017. This policy, according to Scientific American, “defines harassment as scientific misconduct. This puts it ‘on equal footing with fabrication, falsification and plagiarism in a research environment.’” The AGU is also working on new bystander intervention workshops to help prevent future harassment.

France Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation, is attempting to combat this issue through her position.

According to the New York Times, all institutions that accept a National Science Foundation grant must notify the agency of any harassment by leading scientists working under said grant, and may lose their funding. Any individual may contact the agency as well, which can also lead to the suspension of funding.

The National Science Foundation in 2017 distributed grants to around 40,000 scientists at 2,000 institutions, so this change will impact a large number of scientists.

The Wellcome Trust in the U.K. is following in the footsteps of Córdova, as, according to Nature, “the first major UK research funder to institute such a policy.” The policy, similar to Córdova’s, will apply to new grant applications as well as everyone who previously received a grant, and functions to reduce both harassment and bullying.