Your education in the Washington University Physics Department promises to expose you to a broad range of experiences, in everything from the physical sciences to physical harassment. Boasting a faculty with zero women assistant, associate, or full professors, the department culture sometimes evokes nostalgia for the mid-1900’s, when Compton Hall was built.
The small size of this department, coupled with its close-knit male environment, allows students unprecedented access to and contact with graduate students and professors.
Nowhere else can you get recommendations from faculty as easily as in the physics department! Here, you receive unsolicited “recommendations” and advice on nearly any topic. For instance, one professor will inform a tomboy that she looks “transgender.” A teacher implies to one woman she seems promiscuous. Another mentions that “you don’t have to sleep with everyone you date.” They explain to a single virgin that she “is not yet a complete person,” lacking more experiences with dating and sex.
The physics professors wish the best for their students. Many holistically consider all aspects of a course in providing scheduling advice. For example, one man suggests a female take classes with his “hot” colleague Professor X, because even if she is “bored,” at least she will have “something” interesting to look at during class.
The faculty want you to succeed, and regularly provide encouragement. In class, when one woman took a break from programming and her male lab partner took over, the professorial supervisor joyously exclaimed that finally “The master is in the driver’s seat!”
The professors hope to do fairly by you. One teacher points out that females always perform worse on his second exam than his first, but he seriously assures you that he deliberately tries to make his exams “not gender-biased.” His suggestion for bouncing back after a bad grade? Privately, he gives you “the same advice [he] give[s] waitresses: If you smile more, you get more tips.”
If you are having a bad day, never fear, professors often try to make you smile or laugh, telling jokes with punchlines like “up your ass.” Also, unsolicited hugging, rubbing, touching, grabbing and holding, and propositioning are always complimentary of certain graduate students. Especially after hours.
But the best thing about this department is that it teaches you to have a voice, to speak out and speak up for yourself. Silence has allowed subtle microaggressions, blatant bias, and egregious remarks to occur so frequently, for so long. However, rising voices are starting to effect a response from a willing and open department leadership.
Some physicists deliberately choose their inappropriate words and actions, but most mean no harm: they have just never stopped to contemplate what exactly hurts so badly about unintentionally backhanded compliments like, “You’re good at physics, for a girl.” Awareness and education will prove the two greatest catalysts for change here. Luckily, these physicists live to learn.
Women, don’t be driven away from the ever-evolving field of physics. Join us, stay, and help drive a new and necessary scientific revolution.
The following demands were presented by students on September 24, 2015 at the university wide forum addressing the findings of the AAU survey. The forum was held in Crow Hall.
- Departments must have a higher degree of accountability in response to instances of sexual harassment. Though the physics department has taken strides towards improvement, which we thank them for, there must be harder follow through with professors, and extreme measures should not be required to provoke serious responses. We ask that the administration have a close and strict follow through to ensure departments are maintaining accountability among professors.
- The BRSS must be improved – if professors were not taking the allegations seriously, and if students felt uncomfortable after stepping forward with their stories due to comments made by professors after the fact, the implementation of the BRSS must have been faulty. Similar to our first demand, we ask that there be stricter guidelines added to the BRSS that ensures safety for all students who step forward, and respect from all members of the department.
- Professors accused of sexual harassment and discrimination must be investigated to the fullest extent and reprimanded, regardless of tenure status. As influential figures, they must be held accountable for their actions and the effects they have on the student body. The negative influence they have over the intellectual and emotional growth of students on this campus should outweigh any academic or monetary benefit they provide.
- All departments must be actively striving towards a fair representation of all identities. The homogeneous and tightly knit environment of predominately white men in the physics department is no coincidence in the existence of sexual discrimination.