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By Linda E. Strubbe, Electra Eleftheriadou, Sarah B. McKagan, Adrian M. Madsen, Dimitri R. Dounas-Frazer
A recent article by Aycock et al. in the APS journal Physical Review Physics Education Research [1, 2] presented survey results revealing that 3/4 of undergraduate women in physics in the US report experiencing sexual harassment. Moreover, gender minorities also experience high rates of harassment [3, 4]. Discussing these issues thoughtfully requires care.
Although the focus of sexual harassment discussions is often on the experiences of straight cis-women, physicists who are gender and sexual minorities (GSM) also experience high rates of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is often experienced differently by gender minorities, sexual minorities, and straight cis-women. In the APS LGBT Climate Report , gender minorities reported the most adverse climate in physics, relative to sexual minorities. The report also found that GSM women experienced exclusionary behavior at three times the rate of GSM men.
Rates of harassment are also particularly high among women of color, for whom harassment may be sexual and racial in nature. In a recent study across racial and gender categories, Clancy et al.  found that women of color in astronomy and planetary science experienced the highest rates of negative workplace experiences. Understanding intersectionality (i.e., the experiences of individuals with two or more marginalized identities) is a crucial part of addressing harassment in our field.
Many physics departments and research groups will want to discuss these articles and findings, with the ultimate goal of making our field a positive and harassment-free place. However, when entering these discussions, they need to recognize that most of the women and gender minorities in the department have experienced and may currently be experiencing sexual harassment and bullying, possibly even perpetrated by other participants in those conversations.
For women and gender minorities (and potentially members of other marginalized groups), these conversations are likely to be re-traumatizing and require significant emotional labor; such discussions may well cause them a level of harm. Following a parallel with anti-racism dialogues , these discussions may even be unavoidably unsafe for women and gender minorities. For these reasons, discussing the findings of Aycock et al. the way one might discuss a regular paper for journal club or agenda item for a faculty meeting will not work.
Here are a few questions we would encourage organizers of discussions about these papers to reflect on and read more about. Lorimer  explains some of these challenges further.
We encourage anyone who wants to discuss these issues to start by reading about harassment, oppression, and difficult conversations and to reflect and think critically about what you learn. There are many resources accessible online and in libraries. Experts in anti-sexism and other contexts (e.g., anti-racism ) have thought carefully about how to have difficult, potentially re-traumatizing conversations.
Beyond educating yourself, here are a few ideas to help departments start thinking about how to facilitate discussions of sexual harassment.
We close by acknowledging that this is indeed difficult. But being difficult does not mean our community should give up on the greater work our field needs to engage in to create a harassment-free environment for all.
We are grateful to Eleanor Sayre and Lucy Buchanan-Parker for helpful suggestions on this article. We would like to acknowledge that much of the writing took place in Vancouver, British Columbia, on the unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.
Linda E. Strubbe is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Kansas State University, an Educational Consultant at the University of Central Asia, and Co-Director of the West African International Summer School for Young Astronomers. Electra Eleftheriadou is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of British Columbia. Sarah B. McKagan and Adrian M. Madsen are Director and Assistant Director of PhysPort at the American Association of Physics Teachers. Dimitri R. Dounas-Frazer is an Assistant Professor at Western Washington University.
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