Monday, August 12, 2019

Student Responses to the 2019 ASPA Conference

Five students from John Jay College’s MPA program participated in the 2019 ASPA Conference. The ASPA Conference took place in Washington, DC from Friday, March 8, 2019 to Tuesday, March 12, 2019. This academic conference provided opportunities to present research, participate in panels and workshops, and engage with colleagues in networking events. Below are reflections from the conference written by Evana Alam, Xiomara Guerrero, Eunice Lee, Segun Olaniyi and Gwendolyn Saffran.

Evana Alam
This was my second annual ASPA Conference 2019, held at our nation’s capital, Washington DC. The event presented numerous conference tracks ranging from social equity, ethics, management, and problems in public administration. Scholars of public administration arrived from all over the country as well as other nations, who shared the same interests and vision of the field’s future. 

I was pleased to attend this conference with my colleagues at John Jay College, some of whom are fellow MPA students and many distinguished faculty from the department. They shared their research, which composed of gender equity, corruption, and performance budgeting to name a few. Some of the research were complete while others were a work in progress.  It was exciting to join in the research discussion held in various rooms and listen to presenters talk about their specialized research and network with professionals who were eager to learn about me and other prospective students.  

One research that stood out to me in the conference was during the social equity track. There, one of the scholars discussed how rampant sexual harassment against female humanitarian workers exists, supported by a survey from Humanitarian Women’s Network. Moreover, this problem was amplified in nations where there is conflict and forced displacement. The scope of the problem was very high in the public sector and people were afraid to talk against it based on several factors.  The research was an example of how important our work towards gender equity and public administration is. To provide recommendations and solutions to these problems, academics gain much by collaborating in public administration conferences such as ASPA. 
Next year, I plan on proposing my developing research on gender equity as an MPA student of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. I encourage all public administration professionals and students to participate. It will not only jump start your career, but it will connect you with the right people in the field.  See you in Anaheim, California for ASPA 2020!

Evana Alam is a graduate student in the Masters of Public Administration Program (Public Policy and Administration), with a dual specialization in Human Resource Management and Management & Operations. She has a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) from East West University from Dhaka, Bangladesh and is certified by the International Supply Chain Education Alliance (ISCEA) as a Supply Chain Analyst.  As a member of the American Society of Public Administration (ASPA), she participated and assisted Women in the Public Sector in the 2018 ASPA Annual Conference at Denver, Colorado. Currently, Evana also works as an administrative assistant in the Teaching and Learning Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her hobbies are photography, traveling, painting and learning about different cultures.  After graduating, she plans to launch an organization that will empower the economic and social development of Bangladeshi women. 

Xiomara Guerrero  
I had the opportunity to attend the ASPA Annual Conference that took place in Washington, DC from Saturday, March 9th  to Monday, March 11thwhere I met with professors and students from John Jay. The conference covered the challenges that are presented in every level of government, whether it’s the national, state, and local government as well as private and nonprofit organizations. Each day was filled with several panels and sessions to choose from that aimed on five impacted areas: global public administration, infrastructure, public finance, public service and social equity. A workshop that I enjoyed and found very informative was the SEDI workshop. The Social Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Workshop (SEDI) presented a discussion on equity, diversity, and inclusion. The workshop delivered strategys on self- awareness, inter-personal interactions and decision-making process that can lead to meaningful engagement with members within a workplace. By closely examining how issues that surround social class, language, race/ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, and religion we are able to understand that these differences can be set as an advantage or disadvantage. Our identity plays a significant role in determining how we understand and experience the world as well as shaping the types of opportunities and challenges we face. In order to develop awareness, the workshop presented an identity wheel exercise, and a cookie person scenario both exercises allowing us to recognize our privilege as targeted and advantaged group. For the identity wheel participants had to indicate if they felt they were a targeted or advantage social group and splitting every social group they identify themselves with. Each table received a distinct “cookie person” with a scenario and how that “person” will feel in the indicated place setting including their ethnicity, gender etc. These exercises made not only myself but my peers have a different perspective on how not only we view ourselves, but how others view us. In conclusion, in order to be more effective in providing future administrators with the knowledge and skill sets necessary to be successful, we must continue to promote the concept of diversity and effectively link our public administration skills. Having people who work in public agencies who truly represent the community has the huge potential to make both working and living spaces more diverse and inclusive.

Xiomara Guerrero is a graduate student in the Masters of Public Administration Program (Public Policy and Administration), with a specialization in Human Resources Management. She has earned her Bachelor of Science in Public Administration with a minor in Spanish from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. During her undergraduate studies, Xiomara interned for Legislator Monica Martinez 9thLegislative District in Long Island. Being part of the staff allowed her to interact within her community—raise awareness toward legislation, and deal with issues that were presented by continents within the district. As Xiomara continues her studies she is seeking internships in non-profit organizations as an advocate to improve policies and legislation affecting survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking, and related forms of gender violence. 

Eunice Lee
I attended this annual American Society for Public Administration conference in Washington, DC from Sunday, March 10 to Tuesday, March 12. The theme for this year’s conference was “A Call for Action: Advancing Public Service,” and sessions were divided amongst five tracks: public finance, infrastructure, social equity, public service, and global public administration. Throughout my three days at the conference, I attended panels and workshops from several of these tracks with a personal focus on social equity, a particularly resonant theme for my line of work in police oversight.

Though discussions ranged from analysis of the toll of emotional labor on first responders to community engagement in long-term policy planning, speakers commonly envisioned a hopeful future for public administration. Many acknowledged the challenges to successfully implementing sound policy, and navigating the political landscape to get there then the inevitable crises that follow. However, panels clearly demonstrated the crucial and intensely collaborative work of practitioners in the field of public administration. Attendees shared recently released publications that could challenge or strengthen research with panelists, and noted areas for further exploration or links to other panels at the conference. It was inspiring to see individuals from a wide range of fields rallying together in the aims of making public service more equitable and effective.

ASPA also made a point to gather attendees from around the globe through events, talks, and a specific conference track dedicated to their work and subject matter interests. It also provided opportunities for different sections and chapters to meet. One such opportunity was a reception hosted by John Jay’s own Women in the Public Sector, which was attended by several John Jay alumni (as well as this year’s conference attendees). The reception was a highlight and wonderful reminder that we all have so much to learn from each other, and that this work cannot be pursued in silos. This was a unifying theme to my time at ASPA – I observed and benefitted greatly from the passionate, creative, and brilliant public servants who were actively advancing the field of public service, including our own faculty and my colleagues at John Jay.

Segun Olaniyi
Having the opportunity to attend ASPA 2019 was truly inspiring. Being able to listen and engage with students and professionals in their respected field was an eye opener. We as public servant have a responsibility to find innovative approaches to solve issues that impact our live. I was able to speak with professionals throughout the United States and just spoke about issues that are important. One of the topics that connected with me was a session on Efforts and Impacts of Community Organization, Nonprofits and Local Government Service Delivery. This topic addressed how there are misbalances within non-profit boards and management compared to the direct workers. He addressed the racial diversity in the organizational chart and introduces the questions of understanding how their should be more emphasis put on diversifying the amount of minorities on non-profit boards and within leadership. 

In addition, the conversation I had with program director, Malcolm Oliver, who works at California Lutheran University that turned out to very uplifting. He gave some amazing advise on how to continue to grow my leadership skills and thrive in my field. Overall, the closing speech from Vice President Biden left me leaving the conference with more motivation than ever.

Segun Olaniyi is a native of New York but was born in the United Kingdom. He moved to the United States with his family at the age of 9. He is a senior at John Jay College of Criminal Justice working on his Masters in Public Administration. Segun also attended John Jay College for his undergraduate degree and served as the President of African Students Association (ASA). He was a member of the Malave Leadership academy and worked on volunteer projects that involved non-profit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity. He currently works at Center for Court Innovation and serves as a member of the Organization of the Advancement of Nigerians (OAN) and American Society of Public Administration (ASPA). 

Gwen Saffran
From March 8-10, I attended the American Society for Public Administration’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. The theme of the conference was "A Call for Action: Advancing Public Service,” and panels and presentations focused on topics including advancing social equity, innovative and collaborative governmental action and services, diversity, and the future of public administration. All of themes converged in one panel I attended, Perspectives and Approaches for Promoting LGBTQ Equity. Panelists presented on a range of LGBTQ+ identities in various contexts. Most pertinent to my work as a research assistant was Dr. Roddrick Colvin’s presentation, “Nonbinary Gender Policies: Understanding How Agencies Adopt and Resistance to Change.” At a time when more and more jurisdictions are recognizing non-binary identities and providing third-gender options on identity documents, it was exciting to see other academics asking similar and important questions. 

Following that panel, I presented as part of a panel titled Governing Toward Social Equity. Also part of the panel were Kirk Leach (assistant professor at the University of Arkansas) and Hannah Lebovits (doctoral student at Cleveland State University). The name of my presentation was “Emergent Non-binary Gender Identity Policy: Governing Toward Social Equity.” I discussed seven jurisdictions in the United States that offer an X gender marker (as opposed to an F or M) on some form of state-issued identification documents, as well as the findings of our qualitative analysis of these seven policies and the implications for public policy, public administrators, and public service values. It was exciting to present alongside academics asking hard questions and making important recommendations for public administrators to advance social equity. 

Shortly after I returned home from the ASPA conference, 50 Muslim people were murdered in New Zealand while praying in their local mosques. There is, of course, no remedy to the loss experienced by the Christchurch community and the rest of the world, but it underscored the importance of the conversations being held at the ASPA conference. Continuing to ask hard questions about injustice and proposing and implementing policies and actions that promote equity and celebrate diversity is as important now as it was half a century ago. I strongly encourage other John Jay students to join the conversation. 

Gwen Saffran is in her second year at John Jay College pursuing an MPA studying Public Policy & Administration with a specialization in Criminal Justice Policy. She works as a research assistant with Professor Nicole Elias studying sex and gender in the public sector. Gwen is also a Tow Policy Advocacy Fellow through John Jay’s Prisoner Reentry Institute. She is placed at the Vera Institute of Justice, where she works on the Center for Sentencing and Corrections’ Safe Prisons, Safe Communities Initiative. The Initiative works with state and local departments of corrections to reform and reduce their use of solitary confinement.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Closing Thoughts on the Implications of the #MeToo Movement for Academia

Nicole M. Elias @NicoleEliasPhD
Maria J. D'Agostino @MJDPHD

In January 2019 we invited public administration scholars to contribute to our spring blog series, Implications of the #MeToo Movement for Academia. We asked bloggers to respond to the following questions: What does #MeToo mean for the world of higher education? What are the issues, dynamics, power structures, and practices that are taken for granted and make sexual harassment and sexual assault so prevalent in higher education? At the time, we were not certain what types of blog submissions we would receive. The responses were eye-opening and thought-provoking, ranging from personal #MeToo experiences to structural and policy recommendations aimed at mitigating sexual harassment, assault, and gender inequity.

The blog contributors acknowledge that the culture in academia, especially in academic departments, needs to be recognized and addressed in order to move from reactive to proactive #MeToo solutions. As the anonymous contributors illustrate, their choosing to be anonymous is mainly linked to their untenured status, department culture of silence, and potential repercussions of speaking out. These contributors are not alone in their experience, and the culture of silence is one that resonates with many women in academia. This pervasive culture sustains sexism, gender discrimination, and sexual harassment and assault in higher education.

Several practical suggestions have been made to move forward in order to break this silence and create safe, civil workplaces, particularly by moving us from a reactive to a more proactive approach to addressing #MeToo. David Shapiro emphasizes the barriers to reporting #MeToo incidents: “A detailed itemization of reasons not to report publicly need not be exhaustively recited (e.g., personal relationship with the offender, fear of retaliation, lack of belief in the helpfulness of the criminal justice system). In fact, BJS statistics for years 2015 and 2016 suggest that almost one-half of serious violent victimizations, including sexual assault, are not reported to the police. Unfortunately, obstacles to reporting may not be limited to the U.S.” As suggested by Shannon Portillo, senior colleagues need “to recognize that they set the tone for what is acceptable and tolerated, and who is seen as belonging to our field. Let’s all ensure that the stories about our field are the ways that we lift each other up and push the scholarship forward.”

One practical approach to address sexual harassment in academia, as discussed by Mohammad Alkadry, is the use of climate assessments as a means of exposing perpetrators before a victim comes forward. This tool would be used as a means to diagnosing organizational “health.” Similarly, Sean McCandless, makes several recommendations for individuals, including querying ourselves about our roles in creating safe workplace environments. Gender responsive budgeting is another avenue  proposed by Shilpa Viswanath. She explains that gender responsive budgeting serves as a tool for reducing the number of sexual assaults. Such an approach highlights that in order to prevent #MeToo incidents, we need to recognize budgets are a reflection of our values and biases, and as such we should use resources to communicate priorities for addressing inequity.

Another practical idea communicated by the contributors referred to addressing the embedded social practices that inhibit inclusion. One example, is Sean  McCandless’s suggestion to incorporate diverse and inclusive readings in course syllabi to emphasize the values of women, in general and to the field, as well as making diversity and inclusion the cornerstone of teaching. Such changes are important as they contribute to questioning deeply embedded biases and taken for granted practices in academia. As professors of future public servants this is a powerful opportunity to change structural and organizational practices. On a similar note, Richard Gregory Johnson advocates for inclusiveness via ally building. This approach entails coming together as a unit across social class, race, gender, etc. but also collaborating in professional organizational spaces in order to increase opportunities for mentoring and career growth for underrepresented scholars. As articulated by Amanda Olejearski, faculty, including women faculty, have to lead by example. She presents a metaphor for women in academia: “It’s like the turtle approach. Keep your head down, and you won’t get in trouble.  But the only way for a turtle to make some headway is by sticking her neck out. Women mentoring one another takes many forms, sometimes the neckless turtle, but sometimes we stick our necks out for each other.  In this era of #MeToo, we stand taller as we stand together.” Clearly, the #MeToo era is not without risk in academia, where reputation matters and stakes are high. Perhaps a way forward is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as suggested by Rod Colvin,  to provide redress for the voices of everyone affected by sexual impropriety and misconduct, and provides the space “to speak openly, honestly and frankly about the complexities of power, gender inequity, and sexism” in order to “remediate ongoing and decades-old incidents between individuals.”

From these rich contributions, where do we go from here? Next steps should include sharing knowledge to address #MeToo. From formal outlets like conference panels and workshops to informally sharing personal stories, knowledge, and resources via social media or dialogue. Second, we need better tools to address #MeToo in academic institutions. Often, our responsibilities and options are ambiguous or unknown. To provide better tools, we should be explicit and proactive. This can take the form of events on campus that empowers students, faculty, and staff. Finally, academia is just now beginning the formal study of #MeToo. In addition to the practical work, we need to apply a scholarly lens to the topic. Given the deeply personal and sensitive nature of #MeToo topics, we should think seriously about what a scholarly agenda for #MeToo looks like. This is uncharted, yet critical, territory.

These are broad first steps, but as scholars we can do more. Along with identifying practical steps and setting a research agenda, we should reflect on the #MeToo movement itself. Specifically, the question of who is not included in this conversion and how can we bring them in? Marginalized populations that fall beyond traditional, heteronormative, white identities are often silenced. Thinking outside of gender norms and recognizing racial dimensions of #MeToo by exploring intersectional identities and questioning how #MeToo can be applied differently to different demographics is a key scholarly task. These are not easy tasks, however. The Reference Tool developed by  AWPA-WPS  beginning to tackle these issues by promoting work on substantive topics targeting underrepresented groups, sharing resources for research and teaching from underrepresented scholars and practitioners, and diversifying resources used in teaching and practice.

We want to thank all of our blog contributors to this series who have added much-needed perspectives to these challenging topics. To continue the scholarly dimension of this conversation, Public Administration Review will publish our “#MeToo in Academia: Understanding and Addressing Pervasive ProblemsViewpoint Symposium in 2020.  

Saturday, June 8, 2019

What's Next: After the accusal, we still need reconciliation

Roddrick Colvin
Associate Professor of Public Administration
San Diego State University

Roddrick Colvin is an Associate Professor of Public Administration in the School of Public Affairs at San Diego State University, where he teaches courses in public administration and criminal justice. His current research interests include public employment equity, police officers’ shared perceptions and decision-making, and lesbian and gay civil rights. His research has appeared in a number of scholarly journals, including the Review of Public Personnel Administration, Police Quarterly, and Women and Criminal Justice. He is also the author of the book Gay and Lesbian Cops: Diversity and Effective Policing (Lynne Rienner Publishing, 2012). Dr. Colvin earned undergraduate degrees in political science and philosophy at Indiana University–Bloomington, a graduate degree in public administration at Seattle University, and a doctorate degree in public administration at the University at Albany (SUNY).

It is March 24, 2025, and  Professor Smith has just received her reconciliation notification as she hurries to teach her public administration class at Big State University. Although she expected the notification to arrive this day, it nonetheless caught her off guard. It wasn't the first time she received a notification, nor was it the first time she had interacted with the Office of the State Attorney General or their Division on Truth and Reconciliation (DTR), charged with addressing cases of sexual improriatey at work and other public settings. In the past, she had offered support and testimony to friends, family, and co-workers via the encrypted online application on cases of sexual harassment and misconduct. She had also participated in scores of online training exercises, webinars, and “open dialogues” that were part of the Division's work. Still, this reconcilitation notification caught her a litte off-guard. 

Unlike her previous interactions with the DTR, Smith had never been asked to submit testimony about her personal experiences. This time she was being asked to recount events from nearly 20 years ago when she was a graduate student. Back then she was forced to rebuff several advances from Professor Xavier - a tenured professor - in her Department before she graduated. While the advances were considered mild by today’s standard, over time, Smith came to understand the inappropriateness of his behavior, and the effects it had on her and other individuals in the Department. She came to understand that his advances created an environment hostile to learning and working, but did not consider them to be life-altering incidents. 

Smith had never discussed these experiences from graduate school. In fact, her testimony was being solicited by the Division at the request of Professor Xavier. He was using DTR’s proactive program to seek out and redress misdeeds that he had committed during his career as a professor and hoped Smith would participate in the process. Smith, for her part, had taken the online tutorial about the purpose and goals of 'truth and reconciliation," provided testimony about her experiences with Xavier, reviewed the testimonies of others affected by Xavier’s behavior (including Xavier), and now she was ready to select her preferred remedies and corrective actions. As she was satisfied with Xavier’s efforts to acknowledge and correct is behavior, she chose to accept his apology and archive her experiences. When asked by a colleague about her experiences with the DTR and Xavier, she said, “Look, I remember when the ‘Me Too’ movement started, we spent a lot of time and energy sorting through claims of inappropriateness and being made uncomfortable, from actual sexual misconduct. It was tedious, inequitable, and time-consuming. We needed a way to let the accused and accusers come forward and be heard outside of the criminal justice system and outside of the court of public opinion. The DTR provides that system. As my mom always said, when we know better, we do better … Xavier knows better, now he can do better.” 

A systematic and transparent approach to addressing sexual impropriety and other hostile incidents is possible if we accept the following as true.

First, the ‘me too’ movement has been an undeniable force for good by giving voice to individuals who might not otherwise have their voices heard about the nature of sexual impropriety, including assault. 

Second, by calling out and holding accountable individuals (mostly men) who have used their power and position to take advantage of others, no field or occupation has been immune to this social movement. Thus, we can expect more people to come forward and seek redress.  

Third, despite various laws and policies, our current systems do not adequately prevent, protect or redress much of the bad behavior that spawned the ‘me too’ movement. This includes much of our criminal justice system which onerously places the burdens of proof on accusers, uses narrow definitions which cause many issues to fall outside of the law, and applies arbitrary statutes of limitations on many of the activities that are considered crimes. 

As the 'me too' movement exposes bad actors and behaviors within our academic field, our professional discipline, and society in general, our approach and response should be more systematic, transparent and orderly. 

I propose something like a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This Commission would be a forum for the accused, accuser, and bystanders. This is not a place for victims and survivors of illegal sexual harassment, assault or violence. We retain the criminal justice system for those cases. This forum is for any encounter that needs a resolution but falls outside of our criminal justice framework. It captures the voices of anyone affected by sexual impropriety and misconduct, which includes all of us. 

Beyond turning our attention to this important issue, the ‘me too’ movement has created an opportunity for us to create a system for redress that we probably needed long ago. We need a system that allows us to speak openly, honestly and frankly about the complexities of power, gender inequity, and sexism. We need a system that can remediate ongoing and decades-old incidents between individuals. We need a system that supports and encourages everyone to come forward and bear witness to the misdeeds of the pasts, included those who perpetrated misdeeds. 

The incidents that occurred between Smith and Xavier are not uncommon. Unfortunately, we have never really had a system to properly adjudicate such cases. Now is our chance to create a new system; a system that allows for real truth and reconciliation with our past. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Turtle Approach to Academia in an Era of #MeToo

Amanda Olejarski
Associate Professor in the 
Department of Public Policy and Administration
at Westchester University

Dr. Amanda Olejarski is Associate Professor in the Department of Public Policy and Administration at West Chester University. She teaches courses in the MPA and DPA programs. Olejarski’s research interests include administrative discretion and communication, normative public policy implementation, and organizational learning and motivation.
Her research has been published in American Review of Public Administration, Administration & Society, Public Integrity, the International Journal of Public Administration, and the Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management. She recently published her book, Administrative discretion in action: A narrative of eminent domain.
Olejarski serves as President of the Keystone State ASPA Chapter and as Chair of NASPAA’s Pi Alpha Alpha governance committee.  She is MBTI certified from the Myers-Briggs Foundation and certified in Public Performance Measurement from the National Center for PPM.
Originally, from N.J., Olejarski lives in King of Prussia, PA, with her hubby, son, and their cats. She enjoys patio gardening, and she loves Wawa.
Associate professors are in a weird space in the academy.  We know enough to mentor our graduate and doctoral students— and maybe help junior faculty find the bathroom.  But we still need mentors ourselves #fullby40.  Issues of gender bias in evaluationsthe mommy penaltythe baby before tenure question gender wage gap in academia  are just some of the pressures facing female faculty members. Fortunately, many senior female faculty members, like the group over at @awparocks, embrace a supportive mentoring environment lightyears beyond the advice they received.  Think back to some of the career advice you’ve received over the years, in light of #metoo—   was it gendered?  Disheartening?  Make you consider an #altac career?  Female faculty are more empowered than ever, and we have to attribute some degree of our success in advocating for ourselves to the #metoo movement.  Leading by example enables all of us to be stronger, to be more confident in advocating for ourselves, our mentees, and our mentors. It’s like the turtle approach. Keep your head down, and you won’t get in trouble.  But the only way for a turtle to make some headway is by sticking her neck out.  Women mentoring one another takes many forms, sometimes the neckless turtle, but sometimes we stick our necks out for each other.  In this era of #metoo, we stand taller as we stand together.    

Monday, April 22, 2019

Reclaiming Space/ Reclaiming Voice: Resisting Sexism in the Academy

By: Anonymous Authors

“You won’t believe what he said to me. Please don’t tell anyone. Please don’t say anything to him.”

Sexism takes many forms, and as a result impacts individuals, communities, and work spaces differently. As women working in a space where sexist discourse was often used in the protected space of an advising session, a private conversation, or a classroom to minimize and marginalize women, we found it critical to think purposefully about how diverse tools can be deployed in varying contexts.

Sexism in academia is well-documented. Cole & Hassel’s recent edited volume, Surviving Sexism in Academia, provides a wealth of evidence that sexism is alive and well in the halls of higher education. In the opening chapter, Maldonado and Draeger outline the contours of how sexism is manifested in the academy, illustrating that “sexism can take the form of acts, attitudes, and institutional structures.” In other words,combatting sexism necessitates a multifaceted response, one that acknowledges systemic power, raises consciousness, and emphasizes diversity (10-11). Building off of this work, we argue that because the formsthat sexism takes to structure space and silence voices may shift over time, the responsemust reclaim space and voice in similarly multi-modal and adaptive forms.

A bit of background. We are both not-yet-tenured women in academia; we both entered the field/s of political science/ public policy/ public administration as professors just before the #metoo hashtag went viral on twitter in 2017, calling attention to sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. We thought—maybe now, finally, our concerns will gain traction! But alas, we remain anonymous as the backlash has been powerful. 

Yet, this post is not about the #metoo movement on a national scale, but about how calling attention to sexism, in all its forms, including but not limited to sexual harassment and sexual assault, comes at a cost—a backlash that requires adaptability and resilience—or, we suppose, a willingness to relocate or withdraw from academia(sadly). More specifically, this post serves as (brief) casestudy in responding to sexism and effecting change in academia through leadership and mentorship that is grounded in a feminist reflexivity. Social change, after all, is rooted in reflexive learning that is grounded in solidarity, intersectionality, and critical praxis (Freire).

What follows is a brief account of the persistent sexism—sometimes obvious, but often subtle— that we have encountered since entering the academy as faculty members at a mid-sized university. We outline the tactics we have used to respond; note that these tactics are both multi-modal and adaptive over time and audience. 

Our experience, anonymized
To start, it is important to acknowledge why we have chosen to write this as “anonymous and anonymous.” We have agreed to forego any recognition or credit, as we have been indirectly threatened with lawsuits for speaking out about our experiences. After all, as one colleague stated, and weparaphrase here: “we are putting their [the male faculties’] jobs at risk by talking openly about sexism.”

Sexism & Resistance 
Years ago, before we entered the scene, the context for women working in thisacademic department was defined primarily by words weaponized for marginalization. The marginalization dispersed through patriarchal directives (“advice” and “requests”) and patronizing commentary (“compliments” or “simple questions”) defined an environment in which women graduate students and faculty came to share their experiences in whispers, often in the bathroom.
Not all of the men in the department thought or spoke this way. Some were appalled by hallway conversation, but still silent in response to “And of course I’m going [to this conference overseas], because they are paying for me to attend. I’m like a prostitute, pay me and I’ll come.”

The fact that conversations among women were whispered, shared in the bathroom or behind a closed office door, are testament to the marginalized status of women in the department. These conversations felt dangerous. “He’s going to write my letters of recommendation for the rest of my life,” said one student. “You cannot repeat this. I will lie and deny it,” said another woman. At the time, all of the tenured professors were men. They oversaw the dissertations, wrote the letters of recommendation, wrote the peer reviews for teaching, filed the tenure ballots.

This power dynamic encouraged the formation of layered protections for perpetrators. It reinforced perceptions that women were victims or resigned to the system, and in so doing women made themselves complicit in reinforcing sexism. Like many other settings,women were not likely to report harassment due to the risk. But in this department it wasreally more complicated than this. Women maintained and demanded silence of others (“trust”?) when they did share our experiences. 

Women in the department, before we arrived, recognized and resisted sexism through communities of trust, but were unable or unwilling for any number of reasons to speak out—there were just too few women and too few vocal allies. The culture of the department was one of silence.

Eventually, some changes began to unfold and the sole-tenured woman in the department was hopeful (as she reported to us years later)—maybe there would be real change. An ally became chair. Frustrated with the silence, but also wanting to protect identities, he invited various offices around campus to speak to the department about climate and how it couldbe improved. The department heard presentations from HR (EOE) and the school’s Diversity office. Specific instances and names were excluded from all conversations. Speakers addressed issues in generalities, ineffectively. Over time, it became clear that no amount of conversation or information would challenge the behavior, much less the structures that protect it. The entitlement that served as the foundation for all of this sexism was girded by a strong sense of self-righteous indignation but also by power differentials, and the layers of protection those create. 

After a training on how to enhance diversity while maintaining quality candidates led one male colleague shouting “I guess we just don’t hire white men here!” (please note that at the time the department had only one T/TT woman), finally, a TT woman was hired (Anonymous #1)!

Mentorship & the “women in academia” reading group
With one newly-hired TT woman and one tenured woman, we started a “women in academia” reading group. Our womengraduate students were facing myriad challenges. There was the sexist discourse in our department, and the structures and sexism rampant in academia. We wanted to give our students thetools for success despite the obstacles. So we read about sexism in course evaluations, and had a workshop on how one can communicate teaching excellence in a portfolio despite gendered quantitative evaluations. We read about gendered citations and instructional readings, and how to incorporate women scholars in our classrooms and in our publications. We read about imposter syndrome and how we can recognize and combat it.

The “women in academia” reading group, which met at monthly intervals, provided a formal setting to (1) communicate strategies for pursuing teaching excellence in a context that relies on evaluation metrics which are known to be gendered, (2) present tools for identifying and overcoming imposter phenomenon [or syndrome], (3) explore techniques for interrupting sexism in the classroom and the workplace, and (4) determine ‘best practices’ for transforming spaces to be unwelcoming of sexism.

In addition to creating a formal setting for structured mentoring, the formation of the reading group also had the unintended consequence of opening up additional space for informal, unstructured mentoring. This informal mentoring was not a replication of previous responses, where safe spaces allowed women to discreetly divulge their stories but in doing so ultimately protected the status quo; this was a venue for women to share and learn to navigate shared experiences of sexism in the department. Following the first meeting of the reading group, several women graduate students individually expressed to women faculty how grateful they were to hear that they were not alone in their experiences. In many instances they were uncomfortable publicly disclosing events, but sought assistance in how to navigate them; women faculty were able to identify shared concerns and connect these with readings offering techniques to address them. These informal, unstructured mentoring sessions also revealed to women faculty inadequacies of the academic program in preparing graduate students for professional success. Women faculty then returned to formal, structured mentoring to determine preferences for alternative program features, and present these alternative program features to faculty in consideration for adoption. Group mentoring via formal structures and individual mentoring via informal structures, together, provided a mechanism for breaking the silence, exposing sexism, and preserving the safety of those in precarious positions. Most importantly, the “women in academia” reading group was adaptive--moving back and forth between formal and informal mentorship. 

It was during this time that we heard from a trio of womengraduate students.They had had enough. Their male peers were interrupting them in classes. One was told she was “cute when she did math.” One was repeatedly called “sweetie,” and when she objected was told “you’re cute when you’re angry.” Another, on her way to reading group, was asked, “Are you reading Fifty Shades of Grey?” The question was posed in front of a Woman of Color there for a job talk. One was told she would never get to TA the quants class. That’s not for girls, was the insinuation. The chair spoke with a few perpetrators individually, focusing on the unprofessionalism and sexism. He sent an email to the graduate students clearly indicating such behavior was unacceptable, unprofessional, and would not be tolerated. Faculty were cc’d.

In response the department again invited the diversity office to come in and conduct diversity workshops for the graduate students. At one point, a senior male colleague suggested it was “enough,” and we ought to stop “talking about climate and focus on professional work.” He was reminded that we were not dealing with an isolated case but with an environment. “Sexism in the workplace isa professional issue.” He agreed. In one of the workshops, the students collectively came up with climate priorities: Respect, Honesty, Trust, Empathy. A few days later a student returned to their space to find “STFU” [shut the fuck up] written on the board next to the priorities. When senior male scholars do not think of the productivity setting as an issue of professional development, neither will their protégés. 

Modeling Power & Building a Critical Mass
Later that same fall, our newly hired, TT woman professor was sexually harassed. She (Anonymous #1) reported it to Title IX at the request of the faculty. Title IX investigators asked her what she was wearing. Behind closed doors, male colleagues insinuated that it was her fault. The offenderwas found “not guilty” of violating university policy,but was verbally admonished for his behavior - it was inappropriate and should not happen again.Our last meeting of the reading group that year focused on sexual harassment in academia, and the failures of Title IX.

While ultimately unsuccessful, use of the university Title IX complaint process worked as both a behavior modeling tactic – in that it specifically drew on institutional processes to call attention to inappropriate behavior in lieu of silencing it as had previously been done – and as a mentoring tactic. Title IX and internal complaint processes are particularly complicated to navigate; few in the department had prior experience with them and could not offer advice with regard to ‘best practices’, let alone offer perspective on the timing and steps involved in the process. Having experienced the process, the woman faculty member was able to assist graduate students in navigating it for themselves as the need arose. 

With each wave of backlash, we found new footing and pushed forward; though a bit more angry and jaded, we persisted in pushing for a department the reflected the values that the members of it claimed to support.

There was also positive news; another search committee that year also hired a woman — we were up to three! For those who think a “critical mass” is important for mobilization, we were nowhere near it, but certainly closer than we had been. More importantly, perhaps, this round of hiring was not nearly as openly sexist as it had been previously.

That spring, the university’s campus-wide climate study results were unveiled. The chair used those as a launching point for a faculty meeting. The study revealed the impact of sexism and racism across the campus. Now with data to support the claim that sexism existed in our department, the chair said, “This is US.” One male colleague, an ally, said as we left the room “now thatwas leadership.” Later that evening, at a bar, in front of (now two!) newly-hired junior women faculty members, the formerly deflecting and rejecting full professors proclaimed the chair was “too harsh” and out-of-line. “The N is too small.”

Just months later, our department hosted another training, this time on how microaggressions marginalize. The facilitators emphasized the “impact, not intent” message. One full professor silently stared at his screen working on a syllabus. Another argued “it’s so much worse at other places;” “it’s much better than it used to be!” Deflection and rejection were the highlights of that meeting.

Ignorance of the problem was slowly replaced with disdain and hostility for attention paid to it. 
            Nonetheless, “We used to just exist. Now we exist with agency,” said a female grad.

Reclaiming Voice/ Reclaiming Space
The informal and formal meetings among a growing number of women in the department provided a space for mutual support, and also (over time) created a space for shared action. Years of pursuing things the “right way” through proper procedures and top-down trainings had only gotten us so far. In the safe space of the reading group we felt heard and valued, but in the department we were still marginalized and silenced. 

Then, after one of the newly hired women faculty members’ office was vandalized with a drawing of penis on her wall, another’s car tires were slashed (likely unrelated incidents), and the third forced to relocate her office to avoid her harasser, we organized a campaign to call attention to the pervasive sexism--this time using grassroots activist tactics.

We again asked the women in the department to give examples of how they have experienced sexism within the department--we anonymized the stories (both victim & perpetrator) and posted them on a small area inside the department. The goal: transform the space from one that was unwelcoming for women into one which is unwelcoming of sexism. 

Prior to the organization of this activity, silencing women’s voices in the department had become routine; this silencing came in several forms, most commonly by questioning their ability to be ‘objective’ and rejecting their experiences as meaningful or reflective of larger issues of sexism within the department. There was a distinct lack of willingness to carry-on a broad discussion regarding the structures of marginalization in the department, especially those which targeted women. Women faculty in the department needed a mechanism to publicly share their experiences and expose the patterns of sexism, and this mechanism needed to be simultaneously quiet and deafening. They were also cognizant of the precarious position that participating in such an activity – which publicly exposed inappropriate behavior of many senior men in the department (although anonymously) – may place junior faculty in. Finally, they considered how such an activity could be a mentoring tool, allowing women graduate students to share their own experiences, hear about the (potentially similar) experiences of other women, and present these events in a manner which highlighted a collective approach to reclaiming space. 

Toward a Reflexive Feminist Leadership Model of Resistance
The tactics we employed were rooted in critical praxis, wherein we were committed to developing among ourselves and among our allies a critical awareness of our shared reality. We did so through reflection and action. Within our groups, whether in women faculty-only spaces or in shared spaces, we emphasized purposive dialogue and equality amongst participants. 

Reflecting on our cumulative experiences—the good, the bad—there are a few relevant takeaways—lessons learned.

1.  The tactics that we employed were adaptive, responding to the changing dynamics of the department (climate and structure).

2.  Our ongoing attempts to respond to and address sexism in the department were met with varying levels of backlash from men in the department. Some members of the faculty dug their heels in and resisted change, suggesting that we were wrong-headed in our concerns. Tactics such as the anonymous notes were viewed as a direct attack on our colleagues, and, to some, was viewed as unnecessarily antagonistic. Others minimized the action as “being dramatic.” There was a cost to taking on an adversarial role and demanding change. As individuals we have experienced the psychological stresses associated with working in this space.

3.  Although little has changed internally, we have created a close network of trusted allies. There is a shared sense of community, a sense of solidarity among the women in the department and a growing contingent of allied-men. This stems from our efforts to be self-reflective. The process of talking through problems and reflecting on the shared experiences as a group gave us a space to examine how our actions may inadvertently support (or in some cases fail to challenge) the existing power dynamic.  Our actions now carry intentionality with regard to identifying power imbalances and challenging their status through strategic, collaborative action.

4.  We were responsive to the needs and vulnerabilities of faculty and staff. This was vitally important, as only one of the women involved in this organizing effort was a tenured faculty member—the others were tenure track professors and doctoral students.

5.  Outside of the department, there has been some move toward change. Our work has been supported, at least verbally, by many across campus. Our willingness to take action has been celebrated, though often behind closed doors, as important but risky.

So, what next and what costs are we willing to incur? In other words, how will we continue to claim space and reclaim our voices within a department resistant to change in an institution that is slow to change? We don’t have the answers, but we do argue that in the process we must both resist sexism, adopting tactics that foster agency, and adapt to the ever changing backlash.


The multiple means by which sexism structures marginalization requires a multi-modal response. Yet, responding to or challenging these structures can place women in even greater isolation. The casepresented here  provides ample evidence of the ways in which pushback by those perceiving a loss of power as the space and voice of women expanded and redefined parameters, and therefore prompted adjustments and creativity by women and their allies. 

We offer that resisting sexism in the academy-- especially in the #metoo era-- must be reflexive.We suggest that we, as women faculty, look to feminist models of leadership that seeks to reclaim space and reclaim voice, while navigating backlash. We propose that a feminist leadership model should be manifest in mentorship as well as decisive activism grounded in solidarity.   

Works Cited

Cole, Kristi, and Hollie Hassel, editors. Surviving Sexism in Academia: Strategies for Feminist Leadership. Routledge, 2017. 

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Bloomsbury Academic, 2012 [1970].

Maldonado, Heather, and John Draeger. “Surviving Sexism in Academia: Identifying, Understanding, and Responding to Sexism in Academia.” Surviving Sexism in Academia: Strategies for Feminist Leadership, edited by Kristi Cole and Hollie Hassell, Routledge, 2017. 

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