BY: Alyssa Liguori
In light of the #metoo movement and the stories of questionable behavior of men towards women that are surfacing in both popular culture and scientific settings, we can all see that there are more and more conversations among our friend circles on what kinds of interactions are unacceptable. While it is clear that in cases of harassment and assault, there needs to be harsh criminal consequences, what about those “gray area” situations at the opposite end of the spectrum, in which men make women feel unwelcome, uncomfortable, or unsafe through everyday interactions? What should the consequences be for bad, but not criminal, behavior? What conversations do we need to have to begin a shift towards a culture in science that supports all people?
With all of these important questions in mind, we began our lunch discussion by opening the floor to the females in the room to describe situations in which they were made to feel uncomfortable or “less than” by male peers both within and outside of science. As these stories were shared over sandwiches, chips, and coffee, it became clear that everyone had similar experiences, despite being from a range of fields, including physics, computer science, biology, and more. We then moved into the more challenging part of the discussion, in which we pitched solutions and ways to make STEM more inclusive. As we brainstormed how to shift towards a scientific culture that welcomes and supports women through all academic and career stages, a common theme emerged: women need to be allies for each other. Standing up for oneself in abusive situations is extremely difficult and often ineffective in our current culture, therefore, it is critical that other people step in to stop sexist behavior as it happens. It also became clear that the most powerful allies and voices for stopping sexism and shifting STEM cultures can be men. About a third of the discussion participants were male, which showed that women already have some important allies within our graduate departments at Stony Brook. GWISE is working towards even more active engagement with our male peers as we continue to have these difficult and important conversations.