APS News

August/September 2019 (Volume 28, Number 8)

Office of Government Affairs

APS Advocacy Helps House Pass "Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act"

By Tawanda W. Johnson

The majority of legislation introduced into Congress never reaches a committee hearing. But that wasn’t the case with H.R. 36—the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019. Within seven months, the bill went from being introduced in the House to passing the full chamber in July. The APS Forum on Graduate Student Affairs (FGSA) and staff in the APS Office of Government Affairs (OGA) contributed to that terrific outcome by partnering with APS members across the country to contact congressional representatives about the legislation.

“The passage of the House bill is a success on a path that requires continued attention and measures to reach a level of zero percent of individuals being harassed. By creating a working group within the National Science Foundation to collect the data and develop a mechanism for combating sexual harassment, the bill will provide foundational work that is needed to achieve the zero-percent harassment goal,” said FGSA Chair Tiffany Nichols (Harvard University).

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She added, “The bill also creates a similar mechanism in the National Science and Technology Council that will focus on governmental science agencies. I believe all this is a step in a positive direction toward creating safe, diverse, and equitable environments where everyone can thrive and not have to worry about sexual harassment in the workplace.”

Callie Pruett, APS Grassroots Advocacy Associate, said she, too, was thrilled about the bill’s success in the House.

“APS OGA is proud of this success, and it was wonderful working with FGSA on our first sustained grassroots advocacy campaign,” she added. “It went on for 12 weeks, and it gave us time to target our message. It will serve as a model for future campaigns.”

Key highlights of the campaign include the following:

  • APS members wrote more than 550 letters in support of the Combating Sexual Harassment Act of 2019.
  • The letters were sent to 111 House offices and 70 Senate offices.
  • Nearly 40% of the House co-sponsors who joined the bill after the campaign began had been contacted by APS members.
  • APS members held in-state meetings with staffers representing House members and senators in multiple states. For example, in Tennessee, two physics professors from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, along with a graduate student from the school, led the effort during meetings with staffers from the offices of U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn. Alexander is chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, which now has jurisdiction over the bill, and Blackburn is a supporter of anti-sexual harassment issues.
  • APS members supported the bill through its hearing in the House, helping it to pass unanimously in the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

During the House Science Committee hearing, U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30th), committee chair, touted the bill’s importance.

“This is a moral issue—one that demands action to ensure women have equal access to their career of choice. It is also an issue of our economic and national security. The public investment in research needs to draw on all of our nation’s talent to return the best possible science for the benefit of society. To reach this goal, we must do more to ensure that all researchers have access to a safe work environment. It does no good to invest in programs to encourage more young girls to pursue STEM studies if they end up in a research environment that drives them away,” she said.

Nichols said FGSA members enjoyed their experience working with OGA on the campaign.

“OGA has extensive experience in influencing national policy that physics, and more generally, STEM fields can benefit from. Additionally, OGA is attentive to the pulse of its constituents—APS members, the physics community, and the larger STEM field, so it is in a position to organize effective grassroots campaigns that yield positive results,” she said.

Nichols added, “FGSA looks forward to working with OGA on future campaigns when they fall within the purview of enhancing the experience of graduate students in physics and related fields.”

The successful partnership between FGSA and OGA serves as an excellent example of how OGA strives to ensure that APS members have their voices heard in science policy arena.

“We understand that the best campaigns involve our helping APS members make contact with their congressional members, so they can influence policy decisions that are important to advancing not only physics but the entire scientific enterprise,” said Francis Slakey, APS Chief Government Affairs Officer.

The work toward getting H.R. 36 enacted into law is unfinished, and APS OGA will continue to aim for the goal.

The author is APS Senior Press Secretary.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik

August/September 2019 (Volume 28, Number 8)

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Articles in this Issue
2020 APS Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research Awarded to Myriam P. Sarachik
Physical Review Research Publishes its First Papers
APS Membership Unit Profile: The Division of Soft Matter
APS Innovation Fund: Inaugural Winners Selected
Seven Apker Award Finalists Show Off their Research Skills
Matthew Blackman Named 2019 PhysTEC Teacher of the Year
John Robert Schrieffer 1931-2019
Education and Diversity News
This Month in Physics History
Outreach and Public Engagement
Office of Government Affairs
FYI: Science Policy News from AIP
Letters to the Editor
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