Following the publication of my last blog post on Gizmodo yesterday, I received a lot of comments from women and men who said they had experienced cyberstalking situations similar to mine, some not as bad and some far worse.
So I decided to email the Dean of my alma mater’s College of Engineering this FYI:
Dear Dean Munson,
I attended the College of Engineering from 2004-2006 and ended up transferring to LS&A. I thought you may be interested as to why. I recently published this article on Gizmodo about an experience with cyber stalking that I unfortunately had my freshman year, and I thought you may be interested to know this kind of thing is happening on your campus, and how it affects the targets. I strongly feel that incidents like this are one cause of the enormous gender disparity that exists within the engineering school. I hope you find some value to this, and please feel free to contact me if you would like advice on ways the college could do more to stop harassment against women.
I was surprised to receive the following response about four hours later:
Erika,I am sorry to hear about your experience. Actually, this is the first such experience I’ve heard of in Engineering at U-M. Although I think that cyberstalking is a really bad thing, I have to disagree with your conclusion that incidents like yours “cause the enormous gender disparity that exists within the engineering school.” Our problem regarding gender is that not enough women students from high school apply to study engineering in the first place. This is true nationwide. At U-M, our retention rates for women and men students in engineering are nearly the same. So, once a woman enters CoE, she is very likely to stay and complete an engineering degree.Thank you for sharing your story. I meet with undergraduates often in CoE (including lots of women) and I will be on the alert for the type of misbehavior you endured.–David Munson
Today I sent my reply:
Dean Munson, thank you for your prompt response.
With all due respect though, sir, why would you have heard about such an experience before? When I went to DPS, I was told nothing could be done and was dismissed. With such an “oh well, deal with it” response to my — and any woman in a similar position’s — first impulse in seeking intervention regarding such a matter, why then would a student take the issue up with the dean? When I was a freshman, I never realized that was an appropriate plan of action or even an option. In fact, I never received any kind of notice of a campus resource for addressing instances of harassment in the College Engineering — information that is readily distributed in LS&A. While you are on the alert for this kind of misconduct in the future, I would urge you to also have conversations with the north campus Department of Public Safety in addition to female students. Perhaps they could provide you with statistics about how much this kind of incident is reported so that, rather than citing a lack of anecdotal evidence as evidence that something isn’t occurring, you could cite hard information.
To clarify, I didn’t say incidents like my specific stalking incident cause the gender disparity. I said that incidents like mine (which if you read or even skimmed the essay to the point where I explain why I dropped out you would understand was a reference to the persistent sexual objectification from male students and even once a professor I endured) are *one* of the many reasons I *believe* contribute to the gender disparity. For you to tell me that it’s not is, frankly, offensive. Furthermore, noting that the retention rates are nearly the same for men and women says nothing about the causes of the dropping out. I would be willing to bet that the breakdown of dropout causes are very different for women than what they are for men.
The problem that you cite as being the reason for gender disparity in the College of Engineering — that female high schoolers do not apply to engineering school — is a problem that is often caused by the same factor I cited in my essay that you dismissed: sexism. Unless you think that women are not inherently as good in science and math as men are, in which case I’d urge you to remember the Larry Summers incident, explore and the volumes of research that indicate the contrary, and revisit this hypothesis.
Thank you again for your response. In addition to my own experience in the University of Michigan College of Engineering, I now understand an additional factor that sustains the gender imbalance on your campus: your denialism. Thank you also for making me the most happy I have ever been that I did not pursue a career in engineering.
I also sent it to Kelley Adams, my college friend I reference briefly in the story who is now a Project Manager at MIT’s Violence Prevention Response Center. She linked me to the CDC’s recently-released findings from the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) which contains statistics on many different forms of violence, including stalking.
From the report’s Executive Summary:
Stalking Victimization by Any Perpetrator
- One in 6 women (16.2%) and 1 in 19 men (5.2%) in the United States have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
- Two-thirds (66.2%) of female victims of stalking were stalked by a current or former intimate partner; men were primarily stalked by an intimate partner or an acquaintance, 41.4% and 40.0%, respectively.
- Repeatedly receiving unwanted telephone calls, voice, or text messages was the most commonly experienced stalking tactic for both female and male victims of stalking (78.8% for women and 75.9% for men).
- More than half of female victims and more than one-third of male victims of stalking indicated that they were stalked before the age of 25; about 1 in 5 female victims and 1 in 14 male victims experienced stalking between the ages of 11 and 17.
Thanks for the stats, Kelley. Hopefully when the University’s PR team finds this via Google Alert, they’ll be nice enough to forward this to Dean Munson so he can consider it while he is on the alert.