Welcome To The Bitchery

When you do the right thing, but you you feel so uncertain after.

Today at work, we had a “training” about the roles and responsibilities of the different groups at our college. Basically roles and responsibilities of us as teachers along with the department chair/co-chair. For some context, we are unionized, so our department chair and co-chair are elected by the department and they teach less of a workload to do the admin duties, but they are not paid more.

For more context, our current chair is terrible. He is the pinnacle of a late 40's white bro who failed up. Being department chair kinda sucks and it can be difficult to find someone willing to do it. So he “stepped up” about a year and a half ago when the last chair’s 4 year term was up. He is terrible at being an administrator - he barely communicates anything until the last minute, causing ire and confusion in the department and asks for “favours” of people instead of abiding by our policies of who gets assigned to what tasks (like volunteering for open house, chairing a course committee - we have points systems for these that are outlined policies of the department that he has just chosen to ignore).

He has also sexually harassed me. He assigned himself as my defacto mentor when I was hired 5 years ago, but his mentoring mostly was him asking about my personal life, and telling me about how he used to cheat on all his girlfriends until he met his current wife. He would try to tell me dirty jokes while we were invigilating exams. At a department meeting a couple of years ago, when he reached out and rubbed my shoulders out of nowhere it was the last red flag and I started to actively avoid him. Then he became department chair and avoiding him became much less easy. The only person who knew about this until today was my boyfriend.


So, we’re in this training and it’s mostly one of those useless exercises from the administration to try to show that they are providing training. The people giving the training are outside consultants from our college, so the whole thing doesn’t apply that much to our department. For the morning, I had to sit through them praising our department chair since they were doing such a good job despite how hard being chair is (they obviously have no idea that our chair is terrible at the job).

Now comes the part where I did the right thing:

Then we get to the conflict resolution section in the afternoon. The facilitators start rattling off generalized conflict resolution strategies that COMPLETELY IGNORE the power and social dynamics that affect conflict in our department (i.e sexism and racism - be aware that we are physics department, we have a good number of women but are still mostly white men). Myself (a cis white woman), and two other colleagues - the only 2 men of colour in the department (one is muslim, the other African American) - point out that this is supremely flawed - you can’t really resolve conflict when someone is racist or sexist towards you. My muslim colleague asked how to deal with when someone does something inadvertently racists, causing a conflict, and the facilitator quite literally told him that he needed to go talk “nicely” to that person and explain that they had hurt him, but to be careful about calling people racist because that can cause conflict.


I don’t do this ever, but I interrupted her and told her that what she had said was very offensive and that expecting someone who is a victim of racism to be “nice” in calling someone out for being racist towards them is not resolving conflict, but re-victimizing the victim. Then (a white male colleague) made a emotional point about needing to be told if he did something racist or sexist because he had no idea when he was being so - I pointed out to him that it was NOT the job of the marginalized person to educate him and that it was the administration’s job to offer us training so as not to burden people who are already oppressed marginalized. My muslim colleague then shared a heartbreaking story about making a complaint about being given an alcoholized drink at a holiday brunch a few years ago without being made aware that there was alcohol in the drink (basically, he just wanted the wait staff to be told that they needed to let people know if there was alcohol in the drinks, since he doesn’t consume alcohol in adherence to his religion), and that he was *laughed* at by the first two people whom he brought the issue to.


For me, what was unspoken was that with our current chair, the situation is rife for there to be conflict between us since he’s so incompetent. But having to resolve any conflict with him would mean having to be alone with him, which I refuse to do.

Our Dean was at the training and approached me after this discussion and asked me to meet with her in January to discuss issues within the department. I am uneasy about meeting with her and telling her what’s been going on with me personally in the department for all the reasons, that I’m grateful I don’t have to explain to all of you, that comes with disclosing sexual harrassement.


After the meeting, I was in my office with my officemate (a trusted male colleague who also has regular conflict with our incompetent chair) and finally caved and told him about my issues with incompetent chair. He very gently pushed me towards telling the Dean - he has misgivings towards the administration but pointed out that she is quite aware and sensitive to these types of issues.

I did the right thing in calling out the facilitators, but it happened in front of the entire department and became quite clear for many of them that something is up. Honestly, all I want is for him not to be chair of the department. It would be a very possible outcome for the Dean to quietly tell him that he would not be accepted as a candidate for next year and our department simply having to elect another person (we have yearly elections, with a maximum of 4 consecutive years). Honestly, they could probably document his incompetence alone as a reason not to accept his candidature as the “public” reason, but I’m still super uneasy about the whole thing.


I just wish I could go to work and not have to wait to go get a pencil or folder until he leaves his office to avoid him (the office supplies are kept in the chair’s office). And I guess this is the insidiousness of sexual harrassment - why the fuck should I be uneasy getting a friggin’ pencil in my own place of work? It isn’t my fault that he’s been inappropriate, but I’m still afraid that it won’t be taken seriously (even though all signs point to the Dean taking this seriously by her response/actions to other such issues)

I’m so glad that the semester is almost over and it’s the holidays.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter