November 6, 2017

To the ASECS Executive Board:

Many of us have read—with a combination of reverence, outrage, gratitude, and sickening recognition—the astonishing and searing piece recently published by Dr. Seo-Young Chu in Entropy: “A Refuge for Jae-in Doe: Fugues in the Key of English Major.” It addresses the author’s experience of being sexually harassed and raped by her professor and intended dissertation supervisor when she was a graduate student at Stanford, as well as the ongoing aftermath of that experience. Her rapist, named in the essay, was a renowned Americanist in our field and a member of our professional organization: Jay Fliegelman. Stanford suspended him for two years without pay as a result of his actions at the time, but without publicizing the reason. We understand that this is an institutional strategy, recurrently deployed across academia, for preventing sexual violence and harassment that have occurred within academic ranks from coming to light. The essay also includes the text of the letter Dr. Chu addressed to the ASECS Executive Director in 2016 urging the Society to remove her rapist’s name from its Excellence in Mentorship Award. We know that the Society did subsequently remove his name, but without publicizing the reason. We write now to urge the Society to publicly acknowledge the reason for rescinding his name from the award and to apologize for the shatteringly specific violence enacted, however unwittingly, in naming this award after this person in the first place.

Now that Dr. Chu’s revelations have been published, this violence is reverberating throughout our scholarly community. But from the moment the award was first given under Fliegelman’s name, it specifically reenacted his particular abuses of power as well as the Society’s complicity in the broader professional pattern of celebrating scholars who abuse their power while simultaneously silencing their victims. We certainly do not intend to lay blame for this violation on the Graduate Caucus, which grants the award and voted unanimously to name the award in honor of Fliegelman in 2009, following his death. Nor do we hold any individuals within the organization accountable. But we feel it is incumbent, and urgently so, on the Society as a collective to acknowledge the harm done and to commit to fostering a culture of true equity across its membership and within the profession generally. This entails recognizing, in a public and sustained way, the structures of inequity that enable, and encourage, a spectrum of gendered, sexual, racialized, and status-based violence as a normal, if regrettable, part of academic culture. It also entails taking a collective and unequivocal stance in opposition to such inequities and the violence they engender.

We, as members of ASECS and supporters from the wider scholarly community, therefore call on the Executive Board to state in no uncertain terms that the Society will no longer tolerate such patterns of abusive behavior nor their normalization as part of our professional culture.


Eugenia Zuroski

Associate Professor of English and Cultural Studies

McMaster University

Kirsten Saxton

Professor of English

Mills College

Manushag Powell

Associate Professor of English

Purdue University

Tita Chico

Associate Professor of English

University of Maryland

Kathleen Lubey

Associate Professor of English

St. John’s University

Emily West

Visiting Assistant Professor of English

University of Windsor

Jennifer Golightly

Academic Applications Specialist

Colorado College

Sharon Harrow

Professor of English

Shippensburg University

Peggy Elliott

Associate Professor of French

Georgia College

Emily Friedman

Associate Professor of English

Auburn University
[2008-9 Graduate Caucus Chair, ASECS]

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