Thoughts on Why #MeToo at #ExpBio is So Important

This year I have been glad to return to my usual meeting stomping ground, Experimental Biology. I have been an American Physiological Society member, one of the societies present at the meeting, for 12 years and can say without a doubt that the society has been transformative for my career. I have made so many good connections with people who are genuinely kind, have looked out for me, and have advanced my career. I’ve had great women mentors. They’re good people who I think want to make science and society better, and they have always had a strong commitment to trainees.

But, I wrote the other day that even from a society with a strong commitment to junior scientist development, there are too many symposia on diversity and inclusion that are targeted at trainees. Teaching trainees how to fit in and navigate academic culture. How to deal with uncomfortable situations, act professionally, manage career and life. Trainees attend, but there’s only ever a smattering of senior faculty. There aren’t enough talks aimed at faculty and senior members, teaching them about the challenges that young women face, the prevalence of sexual misconduct, and ways that we can make science a more hospitable place.

But this year, friend of the blog and boot lover @mclneuro came to Experimental Biology to share her experience. I arrived after her talk, but did as I usually do when I get to the meeting – I went to the lobby bar to see who I could find. It warmed my cold, cold heart when @mclneuro was the first person I saw, holding court among the people that had attended her talk. We met, hugged for about 10 minutes, and she said some incredibly kind things and I was my typically socially awkward self in response. That’s when I really noticed that the people sitting around her were my colleagues. People I have known for at least a decade and interact with every year, but with whom I had never really had a conversation about sexual harassment, discrimination, and misconduct.  

And these people were seriously engaged. They listened to stories and asked how they could help. We talked about the different barriers that exist for the advancement of women – everything from rape and sexual abuse to the insidious bias that permeates so many corners of academia. It made me emotional to hear my colleagues talking and listening, and sincerely wanting to be part of the solution.  The thing is, it took a talk and a visit from an outsider to bring these people together

I am so sorry for the path that @mclneuro has been forced to walk, but I am so proud of her for being a warrior and using her experiences to make science better. It’s not easy to share your pain publicly and to put yourself in a position where you are so vulnerable.

I’ve been asked many times since I started blogging in 2008, “Why do you write about your life? Why put your struggles on display?” and my answer is always because the community needs to see it. Others may find value in seeing how others are dealing with the struggles we all face, and at the very least to know that they’re not alone.  There are no words for how heartbroken I am for the struggles @mclneuro has had to share, but I’m grateful that she came into my community and opened so many of the eyes around me. She’s important and the work she’s doing is important.  I am eternally thankful to her for coming to us and hope that other groups will see the wisdom in listening to her story. As @mclneuro might agree, it’s time to stop suffering in silence and time for our colleagues to wake the fuck up.

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