Sexual harassment in chemistry
The C&EN cover story “Sexual Harassment and Its Aftershocks” (March 15, 2021, page 28) is a greatly appreciated initiation of conversation about ending the long tolerance for sexual harassment of women in US educational institutions. As reported in the story, such an environment distresses and repels students. You did a great job of covering a difficult story.
One dean quoted in your story attributed Gianluigi Veglia’s harassment and the minor consequences he received to “part of the larger US culture—and scientific culture—of devaluing women.” I agree that it is common; at many universities I visited, female students with similar stories sought advice for dealing with such behavior quietly. However, now because students are becoming more vocal and we want to attract and keep them, your article is a timely critical learning opportunity.
One good change the administrators made according to your article was to broaden the conversation to include avoiding inappropriate behavior generally, which would be toward both women and underrepresented people of color. This will give students confidence that multiple issues will be addressed rapidly in the future. Another change was to include many members of underrepresented groups on task forces and committees that are charged to address current issues and create policy for the future. It appeared that all members previously were White males, who are not most knowledgeable to address consequences of harassment of women or people of color.
At the Atlanta American Chemical Society meeting, a Women Chemists Committee symposium titled “Sexual Harassment in Science: Continuing the Conversation” is scheduled. That symposium is another opportunity to exchange additional ideas and formulate more solutions, which will enable us to give future students an environment more attractive and conducive to learning, and less intimidating.
Donna J. Nelson
I’d like to express my gratitude to the editors of C&EN for the recent story using the University of Minnesota as a case study for how the lack of institutional accountability fails to provide an equitable training environment for female scientists. Our university leadership is often represented by men and women who have been trained in the sciences, not law. As a scientist by training, I believe I, like many other scientists, do not have sufficient experience to impart legal judgment on a case such as the one you have detailed with Gianluigi Veglia. This is a large reason why the Title IX office exists. At the University of Minnesota, all staff present at the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) are practicing lawyers. In particular, the investigator assigned to the case regarding Veglia’s behavior has over a decade of experience practicing law. This should provide us with the confidence that conclusions from the EOAA Office are placed within the guidelines provided by the Department of Education and that their recommendations are consistent with current legal precedence. Therefore, the decision for university leadership to blatantly ignore a recommendation from the EOAA Office was, bluntly, egregious. Although the university has now implemented policies to ensure that this does not happen again, the administrators who displayed such disregard toward our students and our legal structure were given no consequences for their poor judgment. This inaction only perpetuates the cycle of apathy and neglect that allowed Veglia to brazenly harass his trainees. More tragically, this sends the message that women in science are not valued, furthering systemic gender inequality in the sciences, especially in positions of leadership, where they are needed.
Editor’s note: Jonggul Kim was a student in Gianluigi Veglia’s lab from 2010 to 2015 and was quoted in C&EN’s article.
This year marks the long-awaited and well-deserved retirement of the University of South Carolina Aiken’s venerated physical chemistry professor Dr. Monty Fetterolf. Dr. Fetterolf has devoted 32 years to the students of USC Aiken and has enriched many a mind with his aptitude and passion for chemistry. Since 1982, he has maintained affiliation with the American Chemical Society and been a devout reader of Chemical & Engineering News. Every Friday, Dr. Fetterolf brings his copy of C&EN magazine to his chemistry classes and shares a few interesting news articles with his students. This Friday ritual has sparked the interest of his students and has often paved the way for long, in-depth classroom discussions. With his forthcoming retirement comes the realization that the students of USC Aiken will no longer have the privilege of listening to his interesting chemical news spiels. Consequently, we would like to personally thank Dr. Fetterolf and C&EN for 32 years of intriguing chemical enrichment. The students, faculty, and staff of USC Aiken will miss Dr. Fetterolf dearly and wish him all the best!
Aiken, South Carolina