English Matters

Sexual Harassment in Canadian English Studies: What Can ACCUTE Do?

by Manina Jones, President of ACCUTE

We at ACCUTE ring in the new year on a solemn note. As the troubling public disclosures about sexual harassment documented recently in the news and on social media turned to the realm of the academy, we saw existing controversies at Canadian universities and colleges augmented by a flood of contributions to academic blogs, hashtags, and sharing sites, testifying to demeaning, intimidating, and sometimes violent instances of sexual misconduct in departments of English and Creative Writing in Canada. As a community of scholars, we are accountable for such conduct in whatever form it takes, at whatever scale it occurs, whenever it happens. It diminishes our discipline and our profession. We acknowledge that under the guise of creativity and openness in our work culture, behaviors that cause harm have sometimes been given tacit licence.

ACCUTE’s purpose as an association is to promote the interests of those teaching and researching in the various fields of English Studies in Canadian colleges and universities. A key component of its mandate is the exploration of professional issues, and support for the interests and aspirations of members entering the profession. Sexual harassment is a professional issue. In addition to infringing on academic freedom, violating the culture of collegiality and respect, and fostering an inequitable learning environment, sexual harassment has had devastating consequences on the personal lives and the professional aspirations of students and colleagues. It has tangible outcomes in relation to how our discipline is shaped, who is welcomed within it, who is silenced and excluded.

As an article in The Chronicle of Higher education indicates, “the fury the #metoo movement has tapped into could have a longstanding impact on higher education.” Could and should. Universities and colleges, of course, have sexual harassment policies, faculty and graduate student unions (where they exist) have grievance and accountability processes, and campuses have access to police forces to intervene when violence or the threat of violence is present. It is important to recognize, though, that we are part of the professional community that is responsible for how such regulation is created and practiced at our own institutions, how complaints are heard.

ACCUTE can, further, assume a leadership role in taking stock of the disciplinary culture and work environment of English studies across institutions. This culture is represented in formal policies at the university, college, and faculty level, but also in the informal ways we talk about — or fail to talk about — offensive comportment. As Alison Phips writes,

Changing behaviour instead of policing it means addressing dysfunctional cultures and gendered (and many other) forms of entitlement. Tackling sexual harassment doesn’t end with punishing individuals; it’s about changing culture at institutional and systemic levels. Working from this place, where the institution is considered not as neutral but as deeply gendered, raced and classed, means being careful about wielding disciplinary powers and daring to imagine something different.

As a community, ACCUTE can use its networks, resources, and expertise to imagine something different. In the face of problematic conditions in the current work environment (or, as they were long-ago termed in a study of Canadian academia, a “chilly” academic climate for women), we seek to foster what Marta Figlerowicz and Ayesha Ramachandran call “an informal pedagogy of ‘climate change’” around harassment, one that works through the grass roots of the discipline through dialogue with our members, conference panels, and resource-sharing. More broadly, our members must begin to conceive of what “bystander intervention” looks like as a disciplinary practice, and put our deep understanding of the power of literary narrative into the service of those who are speaking to us unequivocally from within our own ranks and beyond about their betrayal by the academy.

We want to keep the lines of communication with our membership open about steps ACCUTE can fairly and productively take within its sphere of influence. We hope to initiate some uncomfortable conversations on such questions at our annual meeting at Congress 2018 by including a conference panel on this issue, and a statement about appropriate conference conduct in our program. We will also advocate for the inclusion of issues of sexual harassment as an element of graduate student professionalization. Finally, we will consult with our members and those of other scholarly associations, including the Canadian Association of Chairs of English, to identify other effective modes of response.

Respectfully, and with gratitude to the ACCUTE Board for their input,

Manina Jones

President, ACCUTE




Selected Sources

Bannerjee, Sidhartha. “Concordia University says sexual misconduct ‘will not be tolerated’ after allegations surface.” Globe and Mail (10 January 2018). https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/concordia-university-says-its-taking-sexual-misconduct-allegations-seriously/article37558510/ Accessed 10 January 2018.

Concordia Association for Students in English. “To all members of the Concordia Association for Students in English.” WordPress. https://caseconcordia.files.wordpress.com/2018/01/case-statement.pdf. Accessed 12 January 2018.

Chilly Collective. Breaking Anonymity: The Chilly Climate for Women Faculty. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1995. Print.

Figlerowicz, Marta and Ayesha Ramachandran. “No more ‘toughing it out’: Let’s end sexual harassment on campus.” Washington Post, 29 November 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2017/11/29/no-more-toughing-it-out-lets-end-sexual-harassment-on-campus/?utm_term=.1ae05b2cf345. Accessed 10 January 2018.

Gluckman, Nell, Brock Read, Katherine Mangan, and Bianca Quilantan. “Tracking Higher Ed’s #MeToo Moment: Updates on Sexual Assault and Harassment.” Chronicle of Higher Education, 13 November 2017, https://www.chronicle.com/article/Tracking-Higher-Ed-s-MeToo/241757/. Accessed 10 January 2018.

Healey, Emma. “Stories Like Passwords.” The Hairpin, 6 October 2014, https://www.thehairpin.com/2014/10/stories-like-passwords/. Accessed 10 January 2018.

Kelsky, Karen. “Sexual Harassment in the Academy: A Crowdsource Survey.” The Professor Is in, https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1S9KShDLvU7C-KkgEevYTHXr3F6InTenrBsS9yk-8C5M/edit#gid=1530077352. Accessed 10 January 2018.

McIsaac, Julie. “And Then a Man Said It.” WordPress. Jan. 11, 2018. https://andthenamansaidit.wordpress.com/. Accessed 12 January 2018.

Modern Language Association. “Appropriate Conduct at the [2018] MLA Convention.” https://www.mla.org/Convention/MLA-2018/Information-for-Attendees/Policies/Appropriate-Conduct-at-the-MLA-Annual-Convention. Accessed 10 January 2017.

Phips, Alison. “Tackling sexual harassment on campus is about more than naming and shaming.” The Guardian, 13 Dec. 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2017/dec/13/tackling-sexual-harassment-on-campus-is-about-more-than-naming-and-shaming. Accessed 10 January 2018.



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