Winning Title IX
- Did I win yet? The papers I have in my hand tell me I've won. Liars have been revealed. Gossip spread about me was shown to be untrue. Misdeeds, harassment and retaliation that were all showered down on me when I participated in a Title IX investigation at my university were revealed. The committee that wrote the report got the major facts right. They named the folks who did horrible things. Some of these people opportunistically piled on me for betraying the 'reputation' of my university. And others were paranoid and crazy to begin with and thought they could gain something by just adding some colorful lies. But this little gem of a report I’m holding, it really managed to dig out the truth. Of course, there is nothing in this report saying any of the liars, gossips, slanderers or attackers should face consequences. The report just says I should not be punished. I should not face consequences for having been truthful in a sexual harassment and retaliation case.
- A giant report that spans years of my life is now sitting in my office. It contains my emails. My social media. Testimony about who hates me, and every problem anyone on campus has ever had with me, because disagreeing with me makes me a less credible witness, I guess. The person who ran the Title IX investigation that allowed me to be pulled apart for two years is still working for my university. He allowed my integrity to be openly questioned amongst my peers. What the Title IX investigator actually needed was a statement about what I witnessed. But he took so much more. He took the word of the accused and made me the focus of an investigation. The Title IX investigator took these false allegations to my peers - people who were use to this faculty's harassment, who had justified it to themselves and collaborated with it - just to see if any of them had anything bad to say about me. My report now says the accused was wrong to try to divert attention to me in this way and the Title IX investigator was wrong to pursue me.
- But the committee studying this whole thing says I won. Winning is an odd word to put with having paid a lawyer $10,000 to sit in a room with me while lawyers hired by my university asked about my friendships, my sex life, my funding, my marriage. They were also very keenly interested in knowing why was I such a bitch? I stared straight ahead thinking of the $450 and hour my lawyer was charging and wondered what part of my frontal cortex I could dissect and to not be a bitch under these circumstances. I stared straight ahead answering all their questions. For hours and hours. I wasn’t trying to be friendly. I was trying to be honest to the best of my ability and I was focusing intently on the truth.
- It turns out this kind of intent focus made me both unlikable and, oddly, less credible. Which is interesting from a scientist’s perspective. I mean…..I don’t have to like you to look at a fact and see if it’s supported. I see many people who don’t like each other agree on science and facts. But lawyers, they get to write reports and discuss how much they like you.....how 'credible' you are. I wish I got a chance to tell them I didn’t like them much either.
- Another fun fact about having the tables turned on you and being investigated by someone covering up bad behavior at your university is that you never get to call a single witness on your own behalf. Not a single person who could talk about the minority and mentoring programs I run. No one who can talk about the culture of horrific harassment, gossip and meanness that swirls around here and particularly around ‘women with opinions’. I would have liked to call a witness who could say that maybe this all started when I was at dinner and a senior faculty who collaborated with the accused and he asked me if I was the on top during sex with my husband. And that when I marched into my chairman’s office the next day and told him this was degrading, that I was, in fact, taking on decades of this kind of behavior at my university. That is was not an ignorant comment. It was a hostile culture. I left my chairman to handle it as he saw fit but in doing so, I opened the door to becoming ‘the bitch’. So much for a measured response.
- The 'bad guys (and gals!)', the ones that piled on, have all gotten promoted during this process. The university has their back professionally. Having tenure will do that. But I won. I have a report that says so. What I don’t have is a raise, an apology or even an acknowledgement of what the administrators at this school did in an effort to get me to Stop. Telling. The. Truth.
- The funny thing is, I would have gladly saved their reputation. At the outset, I wanted to be the poster child for how this process could go right. I was going to make damn sure it went right. It would be hard, but maybe I could help people see the bigger picture of what we needed to do for our students. Apparently no one thought of that. No one bothered to think I might want to help. Now I'm just some sort of weird academic PTSD poster child.
- In spite of being a winner, I have to say, I haven’t been very good at my job during these past few years. I have been subject to multiple rounds of investigation. I check the boxes that need to be checked, move up the papers I can, but I use to write 6-8 grants a year. Last year I wrote none. It’s hard to have the energy just to go into work, and with writing a grant I might as well be willing myself to fly. I have no wings.
- The university, well, they found in my favor.....mostly. They did want to mention that when they ask me about small details from 10 years ago that weren't even part of any investigation previously but the accused harasser 'just found', one of them found my answers confusing and insincere. Which seems reasonable since I was sincerely confused. And my confusion on this 'thing', it was a topic that had nothing to do with harassment, yet one panelist was so vexed by this 5 minutes of confusion that they repeat over and over under every 'charge' I faced, that my answers to events 10 years ago made me no longer credible. That, as you know, means that person doesn't like me much either. But here I am. It’s 2 am and I've won, dammit. Which is nice when you’re telling the truth and deans and lawyers have told you are lying for so long that the gaslighting has made you think you are a terrible person for pursuing this in the first place.
- Early on, I was told by emphatically that not to talk to anyone about this case. I was not to talk to anyone to defend myself against these liars. Friends came to me desperate to help. And I told them to leave it. I also had no advocate to help me. No one to help prepare documents that took weeks to write and rewrite. No one to help me read testimony and put together timelines that would show people were lying.
- But, here’s the thing, even in my testimony, I was only telling part of the truth. There’s a whole lot more no one even bothered to ask about. Just between you and me, everyday I walk around feeling like someone is cryosectioning my heart while it beats in my chest. Even worse, I have had people I love walk away from me. Because it’s too much to bear. My tears, my anger and my despair, they are simply too much to bear. They write emails and tell me they support 'my cause' but can't talk to me. I am now a cause. I just wanted my friends back. And there it is...this feeling as though I am having 10 micron sections cut from my heart, day after day, like some freak side show at The Bodies exhibit.
- These three years taught me about how anxiety can take a fully capable and confident young scientists and make them sit in their car hoping to get the courage to go into work and cheer my students on, ever fearful they may see thru me. Afraid that my exhaustion, brokenness and sadness will one day over run my desire to see them succeed. I have cried every day since May 9th and many days before that. Sometimes I cry giant ugly fat tears of rage and despair. Other times hot tears of injustice. I have seven main kinds of crying. When you cry enough and you're a scientist, you start to categorize them. My family and friends have seen me turn from exuberant and engaged to shattered and with no clear career path. No one asks me to give their kids tours of the campus anymore because I just sort of mutter things and point at trees. I don’t have anything to say.
- Tomorrow I'll talk to the Justice Department. They have assured me that they are the best of the best; that I have followed every step as I should have and now they will take on my university’s Title IX office. They tell me my university loves lawyers and fights hard against any punitive action or being forced to acknowledge wrong doing about sexual assault or harassment. I understood that pretty clearly a long time ago, but I guess it’s nice they confirmed it? The Department of Justice has also told me that the most severe punishment they can impose is to require more training for everyone at my university. Nothing public. Just everyone taking more training. I laughed when they said it. I asked them if they knew training didn't work for sexual harassers. People had studied it and it doesn’t work. Yes, they said…they do know that. I then wonder why I was laughing. Maybe I haven’t found tears for when the Department of Justice says you’re screwed even if you win?
- It's 2 am and I’m sitting with my winning report in one hand and knife a friend gave me to protect myself in another. He sent it to me because the person accused of harassment also cyber stalked and intimidated me and my friends. He posted pictures on our account of him with his guns and called us out by name. He told my husband he “didn't have any plans” to hurt me or my children. Others told the committee that yes, he was obsessed with me, but they weren't worried-he couldn't be *that* dangerous. Many a sleepless night I’ve wondered how far I'm going to get with a guard dog and a 3 inch knife and a heart that is barely intact when this man finally goes into his inevitable rage. The knife won't do much. I know this. But I want my friends to know I went down fighting. I wonder when this man's rage will come out fully. Sometimes I’m 100% convinced that will be the day when this all becomes public, and I'll need that knife. On particularly bad nights, when I know he’s been taken to task for his bad behavior that day, I have friends check on me in the morning. To make sure he hadn't killed me in my home. I tell them about what’s happened that day, tell them where my diary is hidden that night and make them remember to tell the police to look him up first. I forbid my children to sleep in my bed. I desperately want to curl up with them, but it seems unsafe for them to be so close to me if he comes. This is what it's like to win your Title IX case.
- Friends and the DOJ suggested I call the police. When I did, a very sweet officer came and sat in my living room and told me the kind of gun I should get. And how, when I had to kill the trespasser I was to say, "I was in mortal fear for my life" when the police come. Apparently juries and judges like that. I am, in fact, in mortal fear for my life. This is what it’s like to win a Title IX case.
- And if, while I’m talking to the DOJ tomorrow, someone on my campus is be assaulted, the investigator who interviews them may be the same one that helped to turn the tables and make a Title IX investigation about me. He still works here. And he can decide to take a manila folder of information from the victim's assailant and investigate her, because maybe she too will have a credibility problem. Because that's how Title IX works. I should know. I’m a winner.