by Loren G. Edelstein | October 03, 2018
Association meetings are environments where rude and/or harassing behavior is all too common, as evidenced by surveys conducted across several industries within the past year.
In the field of higher education, such meetings feature large power imbalances, with young scholars seeking jobs and senior scholars doing interviews, as reported by Scott Jaschik, editor and co-founder of the journal Inside Higher Ed. Furthermore, many of those interviews take place in hotel rooms, and some academics see these meetings as a chance to drink to excess and to encourage a philosophy of "what happens at the annual meeting, stays at the annual meeting," according to the article.
 
The problem occurs across disciplines, and a number of associations have conducted research to bring the issue to light. The American Historical Association recently surveyed members about experiences of sexism they had encountered at AHA annual meetings over the past five years. A summary released last week found that nearly 28 percent of the 1,656 respondents reported being disparaged or condescended to at an AHA conference at least once. Almost 15 percent have heard sexist comments, and 10 percent have been the object of behavior that made them uncomfortable, such as leering.
 
A second set of questions asked AHA members about behaviors that amounted to sexual harassment. Five percent have received unwanted attempts of sexual activity at least once. Slightly more than 1.25 percent have felt "bribed" to engage in sexual behavior with the promise of a reward or special treatment; about 1 percent have been threatened with retaliation for not being "sexually cooperative," and 5 percent have been touched in a way that made them uncomfortable. According to the AHA's summary, "Even though relatively few respondents recounted such offensive behaviors, the Association regards these reports as revealing unacceptable and unprofessional conduct unworthy of members of the historical profession."
 
The AHA based its survey questions on a similar initiative by the American Political Science Association. Summary findings, as published by Inside Higher Ed in January, were similar to those of the AHA. Forty-two percent of women and 22 percent of men said they had been "put down" or "experienced condescension" at the APSA's meeting. Thirty percent of women and 10 percent of men said they had experienced inappropriate language, sexist comments or suggestive remarks. Eleven percent of women and 3 percent of men reported "inappropriate sexual advances or touching, such as unwanted attempts to establish a sexual relationship despite efforts to discourage it, being touched by someone in a way that was uncomfortable, or experiencing bribes or threats associated with sexual advances."
 
In M&C's research on this topic, released in January, nearly half of 250 respondents (27 percent of whom were male) said they had experienced sexual harassment at meetings. The nature of the incidents included inappropriate comments (cited by 90 percent), unwanted sexual advances (53 percent), inappropriate touching/groping (52 percent) and forcible sex acts (4 percent).
 
A breakdown of responses by gender revealed that 58 percent of women and 30 percent of men said they had experienced sexual harassment during a meeting.