#MeToo with @sbmitche

A big thank you to Sara Mitchell ( @sbmitche ) for chatting with us about sexual harassment, assault, and the #MeToo hashtag that went around Twitter last week.


IR Bitch:      Hi, Sara! Thanks for joining us. We really liked your comments on our #MeToo post. What do you think about #MeToo generally?

Sara Mitchell: On the positive side, I like how it raises awareness of women’s experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment and shows how widespread these experiences are for women.  On the negative side, though, I found it problematic to equate sexual assault and sexual harassment in the copy and paste statement. There is a distribution of assault/harassment experiences and the general statement dilutes that.  I have worked with students and colleagues who experienced sexual assault and rape and those issues have been extremely challenging for me to handle as a female mentor.

IRB: I definitely agree. Harassment and assault aren’t the same. I also think it’s problematic to make a spectacle out of harassment or assault. Hearing people’s stories is good for context, but also can feel kind of voyeuristic, I guess? And women who don’t feel comfortable sharing (either they’re shy, or maybe their experience is so personal and traumatic that they don’t want to “go public”) could feel strangely left out, as odd as that seems

SM: Yes I agree. It puts pressure on women who have experienced awful things to share them, even though that could be a traumatic experience.

Americanist Bitch: I would tend to agree with your statement about hard it is to confront these issues, even for women. For us Bitches, one of us has been assaulted, while the other has been harassed. It was tough conversation between us- both that the assaulted Bitch felt like she had to tell her story, and for the other Bitch who had trouble coming up with what to say.

SM: I didn’t post anything because I feel like my experiences, while unpleasant on the harassment side, do not compare with the experiences of my students and friends who have been raped/assaulted. I was not comfortable putting myself in the same category.
I have seen how rape destroys women’s lives and felt powerless to help.

AB: Yes, I get that. There are situations where men just need to be more aware/cognizant of sexism – many times harassment or sexism in the workplace can be corrected with some education – awareness that they’re creating a sexist or unwelcoming environment Assault and rape require a totally different “fix”

SM:  Yes. At the same time, the harassment end of the spectrum is something we can address more easily in academia.

IRB: So what about the critique that #MeToo is still keeping the focus of the conversation on the women who experience harassment or assault, and not on the men who do it? Women “get harassed” or women “are raped.” Passive voice, as though it’s just happening.

SM: Yes we need to shift the conversation to the assaulters/harassers. But the first step is education which does require victims to have voice. Because several women in my department published research on gender issues in academia and engaged in mentoring programs, this helped convince some of my male colleagues to become more active allies.

AB: How did that affect tenure and promotion discussions? Generally, “gender issues” are not a prestigious field to research in political science.

SM: Most women working on the issues were already tenured, but I am fortunate to work in a place that values research on gender/race/ethnicity/etc.

IRB: our last question is – what strategies would you offer young, untenured women in the discipline to navigate a world where #MeToo is still needed, where women still aren’t believed? What can WE do personally?

SM: First, I would keep a record of anything that happens in an academic setting that constitutes harassment or assault (including dates/places/events). Second, reach out to your department chair, dean, or ombudsman office if something happens. Don’t just let harassment continue unchecked. Third, find tenured allies in your department or other departments on campus that can serve as your advocates. Finally, it is important to pay it forward once you are tenured, help junior women navigate these difficult issues.

AB: That last step is one of the most important ones! Well, thanks so much for contributing this conversation. We could probably go on for hours, but at least we have a good place to start 🙂


Academic Council or 1st Grader?

Quotes from my 1st Grader. And from people on Academic Council. Anybody’s guess which is which.

“I can’t even read that.”

“You’re not the boss of me.”

“That’s for a totally different class.”

“She doesn’t count.”

“Guys, there’s a really big problem here.”

“Where is my folder?”

“It’s so long from now, do we really have to worry about this today?”

*General Whining and Crying*

“How do I make it show up on the screen?”

“I still can’t find my folder.”

“Thank you!”

“See you next time!”


Conferences · You Know You're a Political Scientist When...

You Know You’re a Political Scientist When… (#APSA2017 edition)

  1. You are praying there isn’t an earthquake/tornado/fire/hurricane/swarm of locusts in San Francisco next weekend, because everyone knows APSA is cursed.
  2. You are still frantically writing the second paper you’re presenting (why did you commit to 2 papers?!) and are still laughing at APSA for demanding you upload it last month.
  3. You bemoan, for the 57th time, why the f*#& we have a major conference on Labor Day weekend right after the semester has started. (Thank God we know how to petition to change that shit.)
  4. You are wondering if you can squeeze in a trip up to Napa while you’re there, and how you could word it that so your institution will pay for the rental car.
  5. You are looking forward to seeing your friends- the ones that could afford the million dollars it takes to conference in San Francisco, that is.

party time

Departmental Politics · Hilarious But True · Nature of Academia · You Know You're a Political Scientist When...

If Job Talks Were Honest…

During the Skype Interview…

Interviewer: So, tell us why you applied for this job.

Candidate: LOL, are you kidding? I applied for every single job on the market right now. Even ones I’m not remotely qualified for.  You’re my third Skype interview this month. I will literally take anything at this point.

On-Campus Introductions…

Faculty Member: Do you have any questions for me?

Candidate: I went online and found your name and one research project you’ve worked on. I don’t care about you at all, but please tell me about that project so I can act interested and seem prepared.

At Interview…

Search Committee Chair: How do you feel about moving to this crappy city?

Candidate: Well, I would never move here in a million years, but tenure track jobs are impossible to find, so I’m going to use this as a stepping stone.

*interviewers nod and take notes*

Candidate: Also, I got divorced and want to get as far away from my ex as possible.

*audible impressed sounds from room*

During Job Talk…

Faculty Member: Tell us more about this project.

Candidate: It’s actually a failed chapter of my dissertation. The topic sounds sexy, but I will never revisit it once I have a job.

At Dinner…

Search Committee Member: Would you like red or white?

Candidate: Anything that can get me absurdly drunk, so that I can complain about my current department and regret everything at 4am.

*wine glasses clinking*

During Last Meeting…

Search Committee Chair: What’s your perspective on diversity, and how will you contribute to our mission of inclusion?

Candidate: I am a woman/minority/LGBTQ/not-old-white-man.

Search Committee: You’re hired!

Candidate: Excellent. I’ve just used this to negotiate a retention offer at my current institution. Thanks for the help!

You Know You're a Political Scientist When...

You Know You’re a Political Scientist When… (end-of-summer edition)

  1. You are desperately trying to gather the final data, run the last model, and/or corral your co-authors for your APSA paper(s). You almost certainly have not started writing yet (that’s for the plane ride).
  2. You haven’t taken a vacation yet, and you never will, because look away for five seconds with this administration and someone is sucking his own cock or entire departments are eliminated.
  3. You are trying to come up with ways to justify your summer binge watching of Game of Thrones. “I’m doing preliminary research on what happens when women take power in unstable regions that are facing natural disasters…”
  4. You are thinking about going on the market again… or maybe not… but you’d like to move somewhere nicer… but these ads are asking for the literal moon… hmmm let’s check Political Science Rumors… never mind, abort, abort.
  5. You have no idea what the fuck you’re going to teach this fall because norms are dead and


Being a Woman · Nature of Academia · Teaching Political Science

Why Should I Care?

I got a student evaluation comment this term that really made me think. Not about my teaching or courses, but about my students and what my role is to them vs. what they perceive it should be. The eval was something to the effect of:

“She is passionate about the content and subject matter, but she doesn’t seem to really care about her students.”

At first, I kind of shrugged and thought, yes, that sounds accurate. I care about the content and what my students learn, but I’m not sure I care about my students. Well, let’s get specific here.  I care that they all receive the same equal opportunity to learn the content in my course. I care that they are provided with all the information they need to understand how to succeed.  I care that they are exposed to the material that I need them to learn.

But do I care about THEM?  I don’t know.  Is it my job to care about them?

We see that women in academia are penalized when they don’t exhibit nurturing behavior toward their students in a way that men aren’t.  Students are, perhaps, looking for their women professors to act more like mothers than professors/bosses/authority figures.

I have always held the firm and well-thought-out belief that there are other institutions both on campus and in their personal lives who exist to “care” about them.  Their families or friends. College counseling centers or Student Life offices.  And I do think part of my responsibility is to guide them to those resources if they need someone who can provide the “care” that I feel is beyond the scope of my profession.  The kind of “care” that could, perhaps, require someone more personally invested or professionally trained. The “care” that is absolutely never reflected back toward me (imagine me complaining to them that they don’t care enough about me!)

And also, the “care” that I am certainly never being rewarded for when I’m working toward tenure.

A recent Chronicle piece was slammed pretty heavily because the author seems so nonchalant and annoyed at what could potentially have been a real tragedy in a student’s life.  I understood that this was written in sarcasm/hyperbole.  I also understood the criticism:  that this woman was far too callous and “didn’t care about her students.”  But I also understood where she was coming from.

There are some students, those who have sought and created a mentoring relationship with me, about whom I care on a more personal level.  After many office hours visits or semesters in class, through voluntary independent study courses in which they write lengthy papers under my guidance, these students have shown that they really DO care about the course content, the information, and the discipline.  When those students have a work/life balance question or a personal crisis, I have certainly offered a listening ear or advice that would certainly fall under “caring.”

But there are students who would try to take advantage of the “caring,” like the student the author describes in her article.  So when a student that I have seen in class just a handful of times approaches me, asking for some sort of extension on an assignment, etc., either because of a personal crisis or just for no reason at all, my response is always the same:  I guide them to the university/community resources that can help them with whatever problem they’re experiencing, and I remind them of the very specific policies laid out in the syllabus for how extensions or late work will be handled. No judgement call on my part. No unfairness. No . . . caring.

Maybe it’s true.  Maybe I don’t care enough about them.  Our students are adults who are learning to navigate a world independently, where they must deal with adversity and learn how to find resources to overcome it.  My job is to teach them political science.  And while I certainly don’t mind providing information on resources available to my students, caring and nurturing students is a burden, sometimes a futile one or one that students will take advantage of.  It is a burden that is expected from women far moreso than men, and we aren’t rewarded for it.  So why should I care?

Nature of Academia · Teaching Political Science · This Week in Bad Journalism

Breaking News: Students with Higher Grades Give Higher Evaluation Scores

This article on the Chronicle defends student evaluations as “not worthless.”

We’ve talked about evaluations before, and the Poli Sci Bitches have strong beliefs that they are, in fact, worthless and biased against women.

But I just want to stop for a second and examine the claim that there is a 0.5 correlation between evaluations scores and student learning, because when I saw that, I was thinking, “I wonder how they measure student learning…”

It turns out, they measure student learning with grades.


Yes, I took a look at a few of those studies linked, and while they do acknowledge the problem of using something like final exam grades to measure student achievement, that’s pretty much what many of them do.

So, there’s a 0.5 correlation between student evaluations of you and how well they did in your class. And this means that evaluations are measuring that you’re a good teacher?  Actually, I think the causal arrow goes the wrong way. You’re getting good evaluations because the students got good grades. Maybe you’re an easy grader!

But wait, it gets better.  In the blog post linked by the author of the Chronicle piece, there is a lovely chart showing a 0.53 correlation between course averages and evaluations.  But it’s a HYPOTHETICAL chart.  It’s hypothetical data, based on “what we would expect based on previous studies.”  Check it out. Hypothetical data.

hypothetical data

I get the point that the blog was trying to make with this hypothetical data scatter plot – that professors with low evaluation scores aren’t necessarily worse, that they don’t necessarily give worse grades (pardon me, they don’t necessarily “fail to incite student learning”). I heartily agree with the notion that ordinal evaluations of professors cannot be compared or used to say whether one professor is better than the other.

But to me, this is exactly the reason why student evaluations are worthless.