This week, the Ivory Tower Boiler Room’s special Wednesday podcast-episode deals with the difficult but necessary subject of #MeToo cases at the university. Our guest, Dr. Helana Darwin–author, mother, award-winning scholar, qualitative research specialist–has entrusted us with her story of abuse at the hands of her own dissertation advisor.
Dr. Darwin is currently writing a memoir about her experience as a survivor. Nevertheless, we feel proud and lucky that she has entrusted us with helping her to broadcast her story, because it’s a necessary one. People need to know that:
- The modern university may teach feminism, but is far from practicing it. Her abuser, Michael Kimmel, is, ironically, particularly well-known as a feminist scholar. He retired as soon as her allegations became public, and has suffered no civil or criminal consequences for his actions. And to this day, sociologists, both in her own department at Stony Brook and in the greater academic community, have offered silence in place of support.
- People who are experiencing trauma are not ok; it’s not fair to expect them to be. As you will hear, one of the hardest things about Dr. Darwin’s experience is that it was so isolating, not just because a powerful and influential feminist scholar was abusing and gaslighting her, but also because being unable to extricate herself from that abusive relationship meant she was constantly in a kind of fight-or-flight mode. Her personal and professional relationships suffered, and that, in turn, made her more reliant on her abuser’s power and influence within her chosen scholarly field.
- Speaking her truth has not been an easy road. Dr. Darwin’s story is downplayed by people who use the cover of digital anonymity. After an arduous job search, she recently found employment in the private sector. Despite her numerous scholarly accomplishments, she found, after she came forward with her accusations, that the scholarly community had callously closed its doors to her. She is also regularly subjected to death-threats and other online bullying.
When you listen to the recording, you’ll hear two distinct parts: The first part is the usual format: Adam and Andrew listening to Dr. Darwin as she tells her story, and interjecting questions and comments. Usual interview stuff. After that, Adam and Andrew are joined by Erika and Mary for a roundtable discussion in which the four of us try to process what we have heard. The roundtable discussion after Part 1 of Helana’s interview is a way for us to curate and emphasize certain themes that were brought up, but it’s also our way of engaging in self-care; of taking time to process the emotional difficulties raised in ourselves by listening to Helana’s story. We extend this invitation to our readers: as you listen, please be aware of your emotions, and don’t be afraid to listen in chunks. This recording will be too much for some people, for others it will be difficult but doable, and for others–particularly for people who have not had to endure this kind of trauma–it will be all too easy not to emotionally engage. All we ask is that you stay present as you listen, and that you give Helana Darwin the fair hearing she has been denied by the university, the greater community of sociologists, and the justice system.
A final note. Andrew and Adam reached out for comment to the administration of Stony Brook University. In the course of the roundtable discussion, you will hear Andrew, who is himself a sexual assault survivor, discuss his frustration with their response. For the sake of full disclosure, we are including all of our correspondence with the SBU administration here, with only the names and titles of our correspondents redacted.
You can follow Dr. Darwin on Twitter (@HelanaDarwin) and see more about her work at helanadarwin.com.
The correspondence between the Ivory Tower Boiler Room team and the Stony Brook University Administration is linked below: