September 25, 2022

Women in space science reveal troubling stories of harassment using this hashtag

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gettyastroshBy Miriam Kramer From Mashable

Scientists and students are sharing their stories of sexual harassment using #AstroSH on social media.

Scientists and students are sharing their stories of harassment in the space sciences using the hashtag #AstroSH on social media, after two prominent cases of sexual harassment in astronomy were brought to light this week.

These cases follow another high-profile harassment case in October involving a prominent astronomer who had been mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Physics.

[Last January], Rep Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, spoke on the House floor about a sexual harassment investigation from 2004 that found then-University of Arizona astronomy professor Tim Slater violated the school’s sexual harassment policy. Mashable published an investigation into the Slater case that day as well.

Science also revealed that astrophysics professor Christian Ott had violated the California Institute of Technology’s harassment policy, leading the university to ban him from campus without pay for one year, and Buzzfeed posted a lengthy piece looking at the Ott case on Tuesday night.

Those very public sexual harassment revelations inspired some to speak out about their own experiences.

Jessica Kirkpatrick, who posted her own stories on the hashtag, told Mashable about her motivations for speaking out on Twitter. “I wanted to make the #astroSH hashtag about more than just these three high-profile cases going on in the media right now,” she said.

“I wanted to show that this is a pervasive problem that has effected (sic) more women than not. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed about the fact that I’ve experienced harassment, and if my past experiences can help others feel less alone, or educate people about the extent of the problem, then I see that as a very good reason to share them,” she said.

“Finally, I wanted to let the latest women who came forward know that they weren’t alone.”

The hashtag #AstroSH, which stands for “astronomy sexual harassment,” appeared to gain prominence after the news in October 2015 that famed exoplanet hunter Geoff Marcy was found to have sexually harassed students over many years without significant repercussion. Marcy later resigned under pressure.

The hashtag resurfaced in recent days, this time in response to the Ott and Slater cases.

While some scientists have shared short anecdotes to the hashtag in the last couple days, others posted multi-part stories about the harassment they have faced as women in the male-dominated field.

People posted about feeling good when a supervisor or other student would seem interested in their work, only learning later that those people had ulterior motives for that attention.

Early career researchers may be afraid to speak up about harassment — whether it is related to race, gender or other factors — for fear that they could be labelled a trouble-maker, limiting their chances of getting jobs within specializations, according to those familiar with the issue.

Survey results presented at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society earlier in January showed that harassment is a problem for at least some people in astronomy and planetary science. Although the scope of the survey was limited — it only had 426 respondents — it still shows what may be a problem that is rather pervasive in scientific fields.

Twenty-four percent of those surveyed said they have felt unsafe because of their genders in their current jobs in the last five years, while 57% of respondents reported they had been verbally harassed in their jobs due to gender.

Eight percent said they had been verbally harassed because of race or ethnicity, and 20% of survey respondents said they heard racist remarks from their supervisors.

“This is not an issue we’re seeing with one or two people,” Christina Richey chair of the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, said during a presentation on Jan. 5.


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