Chang on Sexual Harassment in Philosophy

Ruth Chang (Rutgers) is interviewed at 3am Magazine. Apart from a good discussion of her work on incomparability, the interview also includes some thoughts from Chang on sexual harassment in philosophy. Here’s one excerpt:

It’s not that we have to blog about it or call up the victim, whomever we might believe him/her to be, but even casual remarks to colleagues in a department go a long way toward establishing a departmental culture or professional community where, eventually, people in that community have the sense: ‘We are a place that cares about the harm sexual harassment does to junior people in the profession and will take that junior person seriously’ or, to take just one possible alternative, ‘We are a place that cares more about the possible injustice done to an alleged perpetrator of sexual harassment and will stand behind such a person until he is proven guilty’. Context really matters here. Given that sexual harassment is a very real and serious problem in the world, I would much rather be in the former culture than the latter. Of course, we can be wrong about any particular judgments we make. But that wouldn’t be the end of the world since most of us aren’t saddled with decision-making authority over the relevant parties. It’s time to stop pretending that we are university disciplinary committees and quit creating a passive ‘due process’ professional culture. Failure to build a welcoming, safe, and caring culture for the profession – one that reflects the realities of how the world usually rolls and thus errs on the side of supporting the alleged victim of sexual harassment – is, in my view, crucial to the health of the profession.

Via Feminist Philosophers.

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Christopher Gauker
Christopher Gauker
10 years ago

Earlier in the same paragraph, Prof. Chang writes: “The real world is one in which none of us is ever going to get all the evidence and data needed to make the kind of well-informed, dispassionate judgment about a case, and — crucially – people who tend to be on the receiving end of harm require the profession’s support rather than silence. So I think each of us has to make our own judgment, on the basis of whatever data we can be reasonably expected to get, including our understanding of how things typically roll in the world, and take a moral stand on cases of alleged sexual misconduct in the profession.” Here she seems to be saying that we should be prepared to make accusations and condemn a person even if all we know about the case is what we have read in blogs and superficial news reports. Maybe that is not what she means, but if not, her meaning could be clearer. If that is what she means, then I have to say, no, that is certainly wrong. In order to create an environment that is supportive of women, it is not necessary to make accusations that we can not ground in any reliable way.