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SCS Newsletter - May 2019 (Harassment Survey)

Report on the SCS Harassment Survey
Submitted by the Members of the Committee on Gender and Sexuality in the Profession

The Survey: Background

In January 2018, the Committee on Gender and Sexuality in the Profession (COGSIP) resolved to create a survey to gauge harassment and discrimination in the field of Classics. The survey was carried out with the Committee on Diversity in the Profession (CODIP), the Women’s Classical Caucus (WCC) and the Lambda Classical Caucus (LCC). The Society for Classical Studies (SCS) contracted the Bureau of Sociological Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to help design and administer the survey, together with an ad hoc committee of members from COGSIP, the WCC, LCC, and CODIP. 40.9% of the membership of the SCS responded to this survey (1,153 responses) – an unusually high response rate for a survey of this kind.

Members’ Reactions to the Survey

Many members expressed anger and frustration at the survey in their comments. Some disagreed with the Society engaging in what they saw as a political act and doubted in their comments that harassment and discrimination were a “real” problem. Others disagreed with the way the survey was conceived (see more below). Some respondents commented that completing the survey itself was difficult in several ways. The goal of the survey was to reveal a range of possible experiences, from being made uncomfortable by racist or sexist language to feeling a threat of physical violence or a threat to one’s career. Some members thought that they had suffered too many incidents of harassment and discrimination to be able to report them adequately in the survey; this problem, however, underlines the reason for doing the survey in the first place.  Some respondents also questioned the use of the phrase “uncomfortable or afraid” in the first survey question, and they specifically objected to the fact that the question did not ask “have you faced harassment or discrimination?” The survey intentionally avoided the words “harassment” and “discrimination” in part because research shows that using such language raises the likelihood of positive responses, and in part because of the difficulty in defining “harassment” and “discrimination.” The survey’s follow-up questions about the consequences ensuing from individual incidents provided nuance about the range of problematic workplace experiences that respondents have encountered. In this respect, the two adjectives “uncomfortable” and “afraid” proved especially effective in prompting respondents to offer details about their experiences of harassment and discrimination. It is important to note also that many untenured and contingent faculty expressed appreciation for both the wording of the survey and the opportunity to speak about individual experiences.

We would like to acknowledge the validity of the particularly frequent comment that harassment and discrimination cannot be measured as incidents but are the product and reflection of an environment of structural inequality.

Harassment: A Problem of Power

Despite the inherent problems and ambiguities outlined above, the survey produced a great deal of valuable data. The data we received through the survey demonstrate clearly that harassment and discrimination are a serious problem. These data will now be a valuable resource in making policy changes within our Society and our field.

48.9% of respondents reported incidents of harassment that made them feel uncomfortable or afraid. Of that number, 80.4% reported five or more such incidents. According to respondents, only 3.2% of harassers have faced any consequences. 76% of these reported incidents were based on the gender of the respondent and occurred on college and university campuses or at professional conferences. 85.4% percent of these incidents occurred when the respondents were in untenured positions, either as students or non-tenured faculty positions. These incidents were perpetrated by people in positions of higher rank. At the root of our harassment problem, therefore, are issues of power.

Harassment in Graduate School and on the Job Market

Over half of the harassment that the respondents described took place when they were students. 6.3% said that they had experienced harassment as undergraduates, and 44.4% as graduate students. Respondents also emphasized their particular vulnerability in graduate school, since they frequently worked in close quarters with their advisors and depended on their support in finding a job. Many people reported predatory behavior and demeaning or sexual remarks at events that graduate students typically feel pressured to attend: dinners after talks with visiting professors, drinks after departmental events, end-of-year parties with students and faculty. The “off-the-clock” nature of these events made them a danger zone for threatening or inappropriate behavior.

Many respondents also wrote about invasive and hurtful personal remarks by faculty who criticized students’ life choices. In particular, negative remarks about the choice to marry or have children while a graduate student frequently made respondents feel as though they were less “serious” or less devoted to their work as scholars. Many of the respondents wrote, too, that hurtful comments made by professors about their gender or appearance – comments often regarded by others as jokes – left a lasting imprint. Although faculty were reported to be the aggressors in the majority of incidents of discrimination and harassment (62.8%), some wrote about the demeaning remarks and sexual advances of other graduate students, or by the graduate students’ own undergraduate students. This could be a particularly recurrent form of harassment, since it happened week after week in class, and remained invisible or ignored by professors.  

Incidents related to the job market were frequently detailed. Respondents reported that 4.1% of incidents of harassment and 9.3% of experiences of unfair treatment took place during or in connection with job interviews, a context that has historically been a crux of problematic dynamics within the discipline. Respondents described negative incidents in job interviews at the annual meeting of the SCS, which involved compromising or humiliating situations as well as inappropriate comments, invitations and gestures. The prevalence of such incidents relates to the power dynamic involved in the job interviews. As one respondent wrote, “How can someone report on what an interviewer says to an interviewee? The power dynamic completely prevented any reporting, since I was seeking a job.” Respondents also described discriminatory comments, which suggest that minority and female candidates are being interviewed only to check institutional boxes, while not truly being considered for positions. The SCS has worked to improve guidelines in its Placement Service over the past two decades, and anyone who has experienced harassment in this setting is strongly encouraged to report it to the Chair of the Committee on Career Planning and Development or the Executive Director of the SCS. We acknowledge, though, that it is often difficult or impossible for people to do so. The comments about this issue on the survey suggest the continued need for vigilance and attention in this area.

If one is fortunate enough to secure a job, the stresses involved with contingency and working towards tenure are often compounded by sexual harassment and discrimination. 34.6% of all reported incidents of harassment were suffered by non-tenured and contingent faculty. A relative minority of reporters specifically identified themselves as contingent faculty, only 11%. Perhaps this was because this survey, sent to paying members of the SCS, may have already excluded many such colleagues, especially those whohave left the field because of unemployment. That does not in any way suggest that contingent faculty are less likely to have been harassed than assistant professors. Bullying by colleagues of higher rank was reported by many respondents. Regularly this involved men of higher rank bullying women of lower rank; this took the form of forced work overloads (for example, mandating that untenured women serve on multiple committees beyond what is required) and respondents being asked by men of higher rank to help students with their emotional needs. Many reported overt sexual harassment and sexual assault by male colleagues of higher rank.  Untenured women, in particular, reported a high frequency of disrespect in faculty meetings and a lack of attention to their research and contributions. As is true for many other fields, their service burdens were disproportional compared to male faculty at similar ranks. Some respondents wrote that male colleagues of higher rank demanded sexual favors in return for professional assistance, and as a condition of professional advancement.  Contingent faculty members are especially vulnerable to these forms of harassment and said that their contingent status disincentivized reporting what they endured.

Marginalized Groups

There was a clear disparity in the gender of people who reported harassment or discrimination. The data from this survey show that only 19.7% of those who identify as male report having experienced harassment, while 58.9% of those who do not identify as male (i.e. as female, non-binary, other, or prefer not to say) report having experienced harassment. Moreover, only 15.2% of those who identify as male report having been treated unfairly because of their identity, while 49.4% of those who do not identify as male report having been treated unfairly. This means that 80.3% of those who identify as male report having never experienced harassment and 84.8% of them report having never experienced discrimination.

The data also indicate that being a classicist from multiple marginalized groups (as defined by race, gender and sexuality) adds to the likelihood of harassment and discrimination. For example, 61.4% of respondents who do not identify as male or straight report incidents of harassment, but when only sexual orientation is taken into account 51.5% report incidents of harassment. The intersectional aspect of harassment was initially invisible on the report from the Bureau of Sociological Research, and so COGSIP requested further demographic data, which is available to members in the additional spreadsheet that has been released with the report. Unfortunately, due to financial considerations, the SCS was unable to secure a complete demographic breakdown of the survey results. It is important to contextualize discrimination and harassment within multiple aspects of identity, and we encourage readers to examine these additional data together with the main report.

In their comments, some respondents described being “tokenized” and being forced to speak for their racial or ethnic group; others mentioned being routinely asked what their race or ethnicity was. Respondents recalled their intellectual ability being disparaged because of their racial status; others wrote that their ethnicity had had a negative impact upon opportunities for promotion and described having to work much harder than their counterparts to achieve professional advancement. Some were treated as hypersexualized on the basis of their racial or ethnic identity or had other negative assumptions made about them on this basis. Antisemitism was discussed by a number of respondents, with many mentioning disparaging comments and multiple respondents describing department events being organized on Jewish holidays. Members of sexual minority groups also experienced harassment, including sexual harassment and the intentional misgendering of transgender and non-binary respondents. Multiple respondents reported pressure not to identify as queer or non-binary due to ongoing discrimination within their own departments and the field at large.

These data are reinforced by the responses of those colleagues who are not from marginalized groups. Several self-identified straight white males commented on the fact that, as a result of their intersectional privilege, they have never suffered harassment or discrimination. The survey did report a significant number of men who felt that they were discriminated against in their freedom of speech or their job searches because of their gender and white ethnicity; however, very few self-identified straight white men reported harassment. No self-identified straight white man reported sexual assault.

Contexts for Harassment

Harassment and discrimination are not confined to home institutions; the survey included many responses that detail incidents at professional conferences and on archaeological digs. Respondents wrote about negative encounters at conferences ranging from inappropriate conversations and behaviors to harassment, including deliberately invading personal space, stalking, verbal abuse, and sexual assault.  These incidents often involved the aggression of faculty of higher rank toward faculty of lower rank.  Respondents reported cases in which faculty of higher rank sexualize scholars of lower rank and demean their work––often in the presence of other higher-ranking faculty who do nothing to intervene, exacerbating the hostility of the environment. Reports of harassment at conferences also show a wide range: from insensitivity in language to, again, assault.  References to sexual overtures toward graduate students and lower-ranking faculty were frequent, as were gestures––large and small––that aimed at fostering a hierarchy of gender, orientation, and status.  Respondents from the LGBTQI+ community reported oppressive environments, conversations in which jokes about LGBTQI+ people were made, discussions in which it was assumed that everyone was straight, and differential opportunities for benefits and advancement. 

While accounts of harassment on digs comprised a proportionately small percentage of the responses to the survey, it is clear that such harassment is an issue, and one assumes that accounts would be more prevalent had the same survey been administered by the AIA. On excavations and other professional activities undertaken abroad, rules of conduct that apply in a campus setting are not always respected, and some directors’ responses to women’s participation are inappropriate, even illegal. In these contexts, women report being bullied by men in positions of authority and enduring gendered and sexual slurs; they emphasize that this abuse takes place publicly. Perceived sex-based and gender-based weakness are used as pretexts for exclusion, attempted exclusion or bullying of women. Digs also offer opportunities for harassers to isolate victims physically. When victims notify home institutions, those institutions are reluctant to call out or pursue action against male harassers. Respondents to the survey, however, report professional exclusion and even harassment by colleagues as a result of reporting abuse.

What Can the SCS Do?

(We thank the SCS Executive Director, Helen Cullyer, for contributing this section of the report). Ultimately, the role of the SCS in this issue is to lead the way by setting standards, expectations, and policies. As a small, non-profit institution, it cannot conduct frequent and lengthy investigations in departments or institutions, but it can apply pressure on institutions and sanctions on individuals in the form of public censure and revocation of membership. The Society can develop new policies and standards for the field, advocate for structural change, and provide opportunities to educate members about how to stop harassment and discrimination. The Society should also increase its capacity for dealing sensitively and rigorously with allegations of harassment and discrimination at its annual meetings and events, by, for example, employing an ombudsperson. AIA and SCS are currently working on a joint anti-harassment policy and procedures for the conference. Further, SCS has committed to keeping its Statement on Professional Ethics and the grievance procedures outlined in its Regulations up-to-date and effective. These procedures can be found here:


The responses to the survey confirm trends illuminated by the #MeToo movement and by the increase in attention given to racial discrimination and harassment on college and university campuses and at professional conferences. The challenge for us now is to use these data as a basis for action in our own departments and within the Society for Classical Studies. Working together, we hope to establish a more open dialogue about putting an end to harassment and discrimination. The survey is only the first step, and now we must all act.

Further Resources

Spreadsheet summarizing demographic data

Data and report by the Bureau of Sociological Research (includes main report and Appendices A and B. Appendices C-E are omitted in order to preserve confidentiality)

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