Ways to reduce or deal with harassment at meetings (Responses)
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7/1/2017 21:21:00My response and proposal to the membership and leadership of Society of Systematic Biologists, in wake of the incidence of misconduct reported in Meredith Cenzer's tweet. The context and more far-reaching implications of inappropriate behaviors like this, especially when it involves a senior researcher and a younger person, are that there is still much injustice and lots of biases in our system and the leadership of academic societies has not done enough to address these issues. I've heard of similar stories in other meetings. Few chose to report or expose the penetrator in public (often because there isn't a culture/way to do it). In a meeting of the Entomological Collections Network, which I was heavily involved in its planning, we adopted a code of conduct. It was seen positively. But we could not know with some degree of certainty if that actually worked at all. Just announcing we have a code and making everybody sign on it isn't quite enough. I’d suggest the following for the membership and leadership of the Society of Systematic Biologists to consider for future meetings. (1) Dedicate a session during a meeting for attendees to debate on "conduct" and educate one another. People often have different understandings what is (in)appropriate. In a entomology meeting I attended last year, a half-nude photo showed up in a talk, but the audience did not feel it was inappropriate (as that audience wasn't quite a 'normal' one). Some men may consider causal flirting with a woman acceptable, but others (men or women) may disagree. Debates and discussions should help all of us achieve a better understanding of misconduct and more importantly, foster a culture of inquiry and respect. (2) Have an *accessible* and effective reporting method. Current method is typically report to a council member or meeting organizer. But why should a victim trust the council member or the meeting organizer? Chances are these people are in senior ranks and what if they have conflict of interest in the matter (e.g., colleague/friend/(potential) collaborator/reviewer(ee) of the perpetrator)? Instead of reporting to a single person, it may be better to have a committee to handle this matter. And this committee should be large and diverse, consisting of at least 5 people, three from students and three from women. The means of reporting should go beyond just a private email. Some semi-public platform can be adopted, such as an open Google doc or etherpad. Victims or observers can report inappropriate behaviors here, which can be publicly viewed and widely advertised. Of course, reporters should remain anonymous and the penetrator should also not be named (to maintain his/her innocence) unless it is felt necessary by the 'conduct committee' or an overwhelmingly large section of the attendees. The content of this document should be displayed on projectors or TV screens across the convention center/meeting venue at a regular basis (twice a day at least). (3) Conduct a survey specifically for behavior-related issues and make the results publicly (but anonymously) available.Guanyang Zhang
7/1/2017 21:21:38If there were easier ways to report and spread the world among societies instead of Twitter Meredith wouldn't have to be dealing with internet trolls. Someone suggested creating a report button on the app where the harassment is reported immideately to a safe group that can come and help.R
7/1/2017 21:21:54I think the most important thing is to make sure no one is in a situation where they feel like they *have* no other recourse but to make a public post. I know we all click through the code of conduct when we register, but I had a look at the mobile interface to the site, and it's really hard to find the info for how to report harassment, to whom, etc. I suggested on Twitter that pinging for help could be part of the mobile app.

There will always be jerks. We will never get rid of all of them. But people need to feel that this sort of conduct is a) unwelcome b) that there is a way to get help, and c) given the nature of the event and alcohol consumption, that (A and B) will be true quickly.

Edit: realized I forgot part of the question. I think the goal should be to get to a situation where people feel the tools to combat harassment are good enough that they don't have to go public to get help. If they want to use that platform to tell their story to inform the greater conversation about diversity issues in science, they can. But no one should feel trapped into a public statement. If you see trolls, don't engage; flag as appropriate.
7/1/2017 21:22:19Agree with AW it was really hard to find the code of conduct in the app. Brian O'Meara posted it on this website and email, so at least all members of this society were well aware of the rules. I also think that the amount of free alcohol might not help people to understand that this is a professional setting and not a party. Maybe considering giving one beer for free and then cash would be at least a reminder of the purpose of social.R
7/1/2017 21:22:35Last year I remember similar stories at Austin and there was no open bar. Vile people will harass regardless of whether drinks are free. Some cases happen/happened at bars outside of the meeting schedule. This would lead to a point of no alcohol allowed on socials and poster sessions, which I don't think is OK either. And alcohol is never an excuse for this behavior; it only brings out one's true self.V
7/1/2017 21:22:55alcohol is never to blame for misconduct but might create a proper environment for the harraser to feel more entitled? Maybe a good idea is for the society to create a survey surrounding better ways to deal with preventing and reporting these situations. Get more anonymous data from students, postdocs, faculty to take decisions and implement easier access to resources and help. Having a safe group of professors with authority to intervene in dangerous/uncomfortable situation might be a great way to start. As Meredith describes it was until her professor friend came for help that the individual bothering her stopped.R
7/1/2017 21:23:15An anonymous survey would be fantastic to get some quantitative data on the prevalence of harassment at our meetings. And having people with academic/moral authority like professors and committee members being proactive to stop these acts would be ideal. I would have responded the same way the professor did even though I'm just a postdoc. I don't care if the perpetrator is somebody with big standing in the community. Maybe if PIs could "train" their postdocs and students on how to act and respond in a difficult situation such as these it could help as well. Stopping harassment and creating a safe environment in academia is everybody's responsibility.Z
7/1/2017 21:23:37i know this all too well. it's disgusting and awkward to deal with. There is also the experience of the men coming back with a vengeance, trying to tarnish my name and future career as a scientist. Most think they are entitled to have or do whatever they wish. No consequences for them, yet somehow I am showered with their consequences.K
7/1/2017 21:24:11Have the police present at the social.L
7/1/2017 21:26:44There are consequences for harassment at meetings. #Evol2017 Reminders beforehand on the policy & how to report will be made for #Evol2018
American Naturalist twitter
7/1/2017 21:27:092 beer tickets max, cash after. might help, but of course could push problem off-site.G
7/1/2017 21:27:26I think it will. Finding code of conduct + reportage instruct hard on mobile. Put reporting in app so people can ask for help immediately?A
7/1/2017 21:27:40In-app reporting is a good idea. I also suggested back to drink tickets & earlier social. I also think we need data to build best solutionsS
7/1/2017 21:27:50I dislike blaming this on alcohol. We need to encourage our community members to behave professionally with or without a few drinks.N
7/1/2017 21:28:07Absolutely & I support all efforts to help address the problem! Hope I didn't imply otherwise. Just hate the "I had a few too many" excuse.N
7/1/2017 21:28:17Would be great to remind people of expectations during opening remarks. Empowering for those experiencing this kind of nonsense!N
7/1/2017 21:28:40I also would hesitate trying to restrict alcohol but I admit that the scene at the max tunnel after the super social wasn't pretty.E
7/1/2017 21:28:53It might be good to make the super social a bit less super but that might push the scene to small groups in town w/ possibly worse dynamicsE
7/1/2017 21:29:17Allot a 30 min or 1-hour session for members to debate on these issues, and to educate one another. @systbiol @sse_evolution @Evol2018G
7/1/2017 21:29:48
How about designating (and training) some ppl as "monitors" (or some such thing) to act as on-site help dealing with such situations?
7/1/2017 21:29:59Ideally we all act as monitors around us, but having some pol be designated (and prepared) to act might not be a bad idea for supersocialE
7/1/2017 22:03:01Some bars have a code phrase w/ staff, written in female bathrooms eg 'ask if Jenny is working' & they divert you from situation or call cabA
7/1/2017 23:11:51It might be worth looking into the Software/Data Carpentry CoC, reporting guide, and enforcement manual (see https://software-carpentry.org/conduct/ and links within). A lot of thoughts and efforts were put into them, and it seems to me that a lot of its structure could be transposed to the evolution meetings.
7/1/2017 23:52:23I'd like to see a diversity lunch focused on harassment and ways to combat it at meetings and other professional settings.V
7/1/2017 23:59:56My university has a student monitor program for parties. Sober people in colored shirts that are trained to help. I'd second that idea from aboveV
7/2/2017 0:02:18I also think clear messages from the top (presidents of societies) at the beginning of the meeting would go a long way to helping to change the culture. Acknowledging this type of behavior is a problem would go a long way to helping.V
7/2/2017 1:29:48Make a best practices document or the like so that people know what constitutes harassment or inappropriate behavior. The code of conduct is probably too vague for some. Could also make diversity issues more prominent in the conference -- like by a devoted section as with the education section.
7/2/2017 4:19:14what about race/gender/sex-orientation microagressions? how many of them constitute harassment? 👀
7/2/2017 7:11:33I met my spouse of ~20 years at a similar function at a similar meeting. What flirtation is bad flirtation? A microagression slippery slope that IMO is silly to codify, and for adults to instruct other adults on. Let adults handle their own business, as in everywhere else that potential sexual partners meet. Some people, of both sexes, like to hook up at meetings. Why make everything so awkward with formal, societal responses? Each adult individual can handle situations as they see fit; Meredith's was one way, and there are obviously many others.
7/2/2017 16:05:48As a young student, I would very much appreciate seeing the leadership of all three societies formally address this at the opening of the conference. Such an address would not have to treat this as a shocking new development or a problem unique to this conference, but simply be a reminder that the leadership is committed to having the conference be safe and welcoming for everyone. It would be a time to review the policy and give quick introductions to everyone listed as taking reports—many of us do not know any of you, whether you actually care about this issue, how to get in touch, even what you look like. This would be a way to familiarize yourselves and show good faith.

There are other things that would be good to include. For some specific examples, I would like to hear it affirmed that:
- The policy covers all conference sessions, the social, and after hours.
- There is no responsibility to report, but that reporting will be met with support.
- Reporters have some say in what options are pursued, if any.
The current policy wording (“The meeting organizers, members of the JMC, and Society executive officers reserve the right to enforce this code of conduct in any manner deemed appropriate”) seems to leave this entirely at the discretion of the leadership, and I can imagine someone being unwilling to come forward for fear of setting off more severe consequences than they wanted. I know that I personally have not brought up some incidents for this reason. At the same time, when the victim wishes of course there should be severe consequences--see below.
- I would like to hear that not only can there be severe consequences for harassment, there *have been*—if people have in the past been asked not to come to future conferences, it would inspire confidence for us to know that (not their names, of course, but just that action has been taken in some cases).

This should be something that we are able to talk about seriously and openly. Harassment should be condemned; responding to it should be normalized.
7/2/2017 16:47:22To the person who met his/her spouse at a conference, Awesome! Congrats! Now imagine you're a young woman and aspiring young scientist that is approached/harassed by some more senior and influential person in your field. This get's awkward, dangerous, and ultimately alienating, very quickly. Sadly, there are many predators in science willing to take advantage of this power differential.

Somehow the solution to these problems needs to be 2-pronged. We need to both empower the junior scientist, and provide consequences for the predator.
7/2/2017 23:20:27I couldn't help but notice that in the thread on this issue at least one person speculated something to the effect of the abundant, free alcohol contributing to this problem. Frankly, I don't buy that. Nonetheless, for those of us who don't drink, or who drink very little, I will note that there was literally no way (so far as I could ascertain) to obtain a non-alcoholic beverage at the super social (except perhaps via a vending machine in the zoo, if you could find one). I know this to be the case because I asked at the bar in the basement 'after party' and, though they had sodas behind the bar, the bartenders were not allowed to give me one because it was not included in our contract!
7/3/2017 5:39:18
7/3/2017 11:48:20While PIs may not be innocent it may still be useful to send a packet/individual letter or something of that nature to PIs asking them to take ten minutes out of a lab meeting to address appropriate behavior at scientific conferences. We could provide an optional script if that would help those who are reluctant. It would be great if we could begin encouraging this to be an individual lab based ("grass roots?") movement. Jodie Wiggins
7/3/2017 12:32:48Seeing this running on twitter, I'm also wondering if we can structure the policy so that there are carrots as well as sticks. Policing or monitoring, which may be a useful addition, is only a stick. If we want education and mentoring, we should think about some carrots. I'm not sure what form those would take -- maybe recognition for those who have taken a leadership with respect to diversity issues. I would love to see a way to not just change the climate but change the tone -- where there is excitement about expanding opportunities and making the field more welcoming. And where everyone feels like there is a way that they can contribute.
7/3/2017 14:06:31Thank you all for responding to the incident so quickly. Making the Code of Conduct Agreement more visible to registrants, and also making reporting as easy as possible are high priorities.

The issue is one that requires constant education, unfortunately. Instead of calling an event a "Social" perhaps "Networking Event" would be less ambiguous to those who don't realize that such gatherings are still professional venues. We need to do a better job of instructing students (and others) that any event with colleagues should be treated as a professional gathering, as much as we want to foster social exchange. What exists now is a very mixed message in which we are ostensibly fostering social interaction, when others perceive it as a professional networking event. I see this frequently: departmental social events, which should be professional, but during which students (and others, male and female) behave as if it is a purely social event among friends, commenting on each other in professionally inappropriate ways. I'm not sure we can have it both ways--both professional and social--or if we do, we need to better educate all participants about expectations. Truth is, once "social" gets mixed up with "professional", some people will always lose out. If they are not easily part of a social group, that also excludes them professionally. I have never liked that. People do not always realize that this confusion makes it extremely difficult for certain populations (e.g. women) to engage in interactions that they hope will be professional, but which are often interpreted as social; by avoiding uncertain social interactions, they (e.g. women) avoid mentorship or collaborative opportunities. If every interaction they have is as likely to be interpreted as social as it is to be interpreted as professional, and if those social interactions become uncomfortable, just think about how many future interactions are ruled out--how many people they need to cross off their list of potential future collaborators or resources, without a lot of extra work to mend interactions.

Not sure what my recommendation is, as it is infeasible and undesirable not to have social events. But there is definitely something unresolved about what these events are perceived to be. Maybe a reminder on the ticket that this is a professional event with colleagues, and that by attending they agree to exhibit respectful behavior, with another reminder of the code of conduct. But of course, we need to do a better job of educating people of professional behavior way before they get to the social!
Kathleen Donohue
7/3/2017 16:52:07
7/3/2017 17:29:16Offer point person with contact info who is available to take down reports of misconduct during or after the meeting.
7/3/2017 20:36:46Enforce CONSEQUENCES for offenders- ban them from the societies and from the conference. Inform attendees that violation of code of conduct will result in a permanent ban no matter how established or powerful they are
7/3/2017 20:39:56Contract a victim advocacy group to create infrastructure for preventing occurrences and facilitating reporting. We are scientists. We are not qualified to know if we are doing this right. Spend the money to hire professionals to help us make this meeting better
7/3/2017 20:41:38Make attendees sign a code of conduct form at registration when they arrive. During registration the booth attendant make them verbally confirm that they understand the policy.
7/3/2017 20:51:41Allies group that would field harassment complaints and work with meeting organizers prior to meeting to plan for participant safetyJessica
7/3/2017 22:18:47Eliminate open bars, switch back to drink vouchers. Switch super-social to a series of shorter socials. Present short video of how to not be creepy when approaching someone, and how to firmly turn down unwanted invitations upon registration.
7/3/2017 23:12:36There are many, many existing policies and procedures used by other meetings. I strongly suggest you reach out to other societies and find out what they are doing. In particular, AGU has spent a great deal of time on this issue https://harassment.agu.org/ Also see Ada Initiative documents.
7/3/2017 23:50:09The National Academy of Sciences is working on a report on sexual harassment that may have very useful suggestions; they've had 3 of 4 meetings. http://sites.nationalacademies.org/PGA/cwsem/shstudy/index.htm
7/3/2017 23:57:44
7/3/2017 23:57:59In Agile software development, "user stories" are used to help focus development. They feel hokey, but could be useful for meeting planning to avoid some problems. For example, a user story for "pregnant grad student", "Muslim postdoc", or "recovering alcoholic emeritus prof" would have led to having non-alcoholic drinks as an option at the super social (if reports are correct that there were no options for that). How will a past assault victim (which, based on national rates, represents a significant component of our membership) react to events? A grad student attending his first meeting? Etc. I'm sure the planning committee does what it can to represent diversity and consider diversity more widely, but setting up user stories like this will keep needs of some groups from being missed accidentally.
7/4/2017 0:29:45Make reporting easier and make it easier for folks who have been harassed to chat with someone immediately to improve their safety and the quality of the reporting. It could be a Harrassment Response Team of just a couple volunteers.
7/4/2017 3:16:14
7/4/2017 7:14:57I think it's important that the community acknowledge this dude was a predator; and make sure that the police contact info is disseminated. There are many tapes with unidentified women still. http://www.nj.com/middlesex/index.ssf/2017/02/nj_man_secretly_videotaped_women_in_his_shower_pro.html
7/5/2017 1:38:51I support the suggestion to bring up policies on harassment during an address early in the conference, or list them somewhere visible (e.g., on the packet at check-in). I also support the suggestion to make reporting easier, perhaps printing contact information on the back name-tags or event ticket. I am not in favor of returning to drink tickets.
7/5/2017 2:57:35Many socially inexperienced students and young professionals cannot recognise sexual harassment from social awkwardness, or do not know how to deal with sexual harassment when it is taking place. Prior-inform conference attendees to educate them about proper and improper behaviour via specific Q & A samples.
For example, there is the difficult question about the definition of ‘social mingle' at a scientific conference—Can academics use this venue to look for romantic relationship? How far can one push it? What should you do when the pursuer is very persistent despite your constant rejection and you are feeling embarrassed about it at such an event? How do you recognize bullies who are trying to exert their dominance via terrorising you? Etc.
7/5/2017 8:46:39no open bar - you cannot control people when they are drunk...
7/5/2017 11:32:57Make sure that a very shortened view of the code is read before each major speaking event - e.g., all the presidents' talks, the opening sessions, etc. The key is to make everyone aware of the code and who to see about an issue.
7/5/2017 11:37:30Also include other "ombudsman" who are not society council members on the committee that oversees the reporting of incidents. These people could change every year or every other year.
7/8/2017 1:02:14I think a clear up-front policy either in the program or when registering reminding people that this is a (fun!) professional event would help make sure people keep their shit together from the beginning. I had a great time at Evol and was sad to hear about the harassment. I'm glad the societies are thinking of ways to address it.
7/13/2017 12:59:22I did not experience harassment at Evolution 2017, but I have experienced it at other similar meetings (with overlap in attendees). Because of that, I've been thinking a lot about how it could be prevented. Many instances of harassment are subtle, and I think it's important to educate all members that attention doesn't have to be "negative" to be harmful. It's also important to hold people accountable for their behavior. I get the impression that some people know their behavior is harmful but feel entitled to continue because they know there won't be repercussions. There are certain people who have a reputation among graduate students of being problematic, but who apparently have never been sufficiently disciplined or incentivized by their peers or superiors to amend their behavior.
It's really important that scientific societies implement reporting channels that are safe and confidential. I'm not sure what current policies are, but some protocols place high demands on the target of harassment (i.e. written reports, interviews, continued follow up) which in some cases might be desirable, but in many cases will probably result in underreporting, particularly of “less serious” instances or when the target is concerned about professional repercussions of reporting. I would advocate for a policy with a clearly designated and confidential reporting channel, an option for targets to opt-out of further contact after reporting, and guidelines in place for the society leadership to warn and/or sanction offenders.
7/13/2017 13:43:25I have been involved in conflict resolution groups, as well as on creating 'code of conduct' rules. While having a code of conduct is important, equally important are the *measures* that are going to be taken in case a person breaks the code of conduct. This has to be accompanying the main code of conduct document, and is usually presented as a table, with what consequences are to be expected when what type of action is taken. For instance, certain types of harassment can be followed by an expulsion from the society, or ban from future meetings.
People should be encouraged to become familiar with these codes of conduct, and some work can be done to increase their visibility and the way this is reported. However, and most importantly, it is key that the societies do not hesitate to take action when the codes are broken. By not doing so, or by just stopping at the 'discussion' step, there is no actual sign of real action taken, and thus the image that is transmitted is of a lack of commitment towards the problem.
And last but not least, there is just so much the societies can do as organizations to solve this. The final solution to this will eventually have to come from the members, and from how they are able to identify and correct their fellows when they are behaving in this unacceptable way. So yes, the societies can do better, but the power and responsibility on fixing this lays on the members' hands.
7/13/2017 16:58:54Limit 2 free drink coupons at Super Social
7/14/2017 20:04:21See how Entomological Society of America handles it. They have good practices.
7/17/2017 2:14:10This is tricky but hugely important. Academic meetings should be the last place where women have to experience sexism. Many people (men) don't seem to recognise this problem is ongoing and what actually counts as sexism. The same goes for all kinds of micro aggression, which is a general problem for all but white (middle-aged) men. I suggest to send an email to everyone before the meeting starts, which would be an effective way to raise awareness and leave some time for everyone to contemplate before coming together, as well as put the weight to the message it deserves. During the meeting posters could be used that display different kinds of typical sexist phrases women encounter that can be ambiguous to ignorant men, with the message that the problem is not in women (being too sensitive/not getting the joke and other bullshit) but men who don't recognise such comments as inappropriate.
7/19/2017 16:06:27provide a 'how to report an incident' procedure and personnel clearly marked and announcedSharon
8/3/2017 14:00:52This issue is pretty important to me because historically most of my grad students have been women, and 7 or 8 of my labbies attending Evolution 2017 were female. We have had a number of frank conversations about these incidents. Some of the folks in my lab were approached at least once during social events, but these were always interactions with other graduate students, and the individuals were not persistent. They also pointed out that such interactions can occur when people are socializing at local bars.
When a women is in an uncomfortable situation at a bar she can go to the bartender and order an 'Angel Shot' - depending on how she orders the bartender will know to order her an Uber. The code drink is usually posted in the women's restroom (probably should be in the men's too).

So the idea came up to develop an Angel Shot App. This would be something people would have on their phone so they could just activate it, and it would send a text to someone on the JMC or Exec committee. It could be set up so we would have control over who the text was sent to, and the monitor would call or text and ask how they could help.
So it's just an idea, but something we might want to make available to attendees at our future meetings. Making it available would also raise general awareness, and maybe discourage inappropriate behavior.
8/3/2017 14:26:29I think when we have a "social" with drinks, it's pretty clear some of our attendees will hit on others. There's going to be a level of this we all think reaches the threshold of harassment (say, a senior faculty member propositioning a grad student, whose papers / postdoc application / tenure he'll potentially be involved with for years, all through the social). However, I think it's a problem for science at a much lower threshold: if a student wants to go to an opportunity to chat with Felsenstein, should she expect that she'll have to also deal with getting propositioned by a couple of grad students, even if they're not persistent? I'd suggest we talk to people about ways to allow informal networking that reduces this -- maybe a brunch works, maybe something else. It's definitely an area where we could benefit from students' insight (maybe I'm naïve to think this is something that can be adjusted much). Those who want to opt in for potentially romantic socializing can go to relevant bars, use dating apps, etc., and those who want to just talk science can do so. [some caveats: I know some people find future spouses at conferences, etc. -- I'm not saying get rid of this, just make it opt in, and don't make it flow naturally from official conference activities; also, being propositioned repeatedly is far from the only kind of harassment]BO
8/4/2017 17:21:01Repeat back what they said to you, asking if you heard it correctly. I bet that most harassers would either realize that their comment came off differently than they meant it to or would immediately backtrack and apologize. e.g. "I'm sorry, did you just suggest for the second time that I leave with you when I already said no?"
8/6/2017 17:04:38I've seen a few suggestions to set aside a separate time for casual socializing (as opposed to professional networking). It strikes me that the term "super social" (and even the society "mixer") might cause confusion then. "Super social" especially suggests that folks are letting their hair down. If we really want activities to be separate (and not have a blanket ban on any expression of interest) why don't we break the social into a "networking dinner" followed by a "social hour" later in the evening. You should still have to sign an agreement to behave properly in the latter (and there could be venues for complaint, etc), but if some people feel uncomfortable with any approaches they could just skip it and go to the former,
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