well This past weekend, the annual meetings of the Society of American Archaeology provided an example of the #MeToo movement playing out in real time, in real space. Already, a session was set to share anonymous stories of #MeToo in archaeology (co-organized by one of my dear colleagues, Chelsea Fisher). In addition to that hot moment, several others unfolded over the course of the conference weekend that challenged many scholars, particularly those in my Alaskan circle, to reflect on ways they had fostered or ignored problematic behavior in their careers.
When many hear #MeToo, it triggers suspicion among many, particularly those in the sciences. Well, you might think, I have been in the field for dozens of years and everyone has always felt safe at my field sites. We've never had any problems, you say to yourself. And yet, the data suggest that over half of all women are sexually harassed at their field school, and not a small proportion of men too. So, is it only happening at the other guy's field site?
Unfortunately, the problem may lie with these innocent PIs who have seen no wrong at their field sites. With no mechanism for reporting field misconduct, many victims simply do not know where to turn and don't have a means to report problematic incidents. Similarly, with no training on what field misconduct looks like, victims of harassment in particular may blame themselves for the abuse that they suffer from. Or, you, a man, and the two young men who serve as your TAs may not seem like a friendly ear to someone who has experienced sexual trauma. Wrapped up in this constellation of issues lies the complex power dynamics of a field site: students are frequently scared to speak up, no matter how banal their question or comment.
Field projects are, nominally, research endeavors. Some feel more like spring break. The line between work and fun sometimes blends queasily into the back dirt pile. Many blame environments like these on overlooked but extremely problematic (or even criminal) behavior that is increasingly associated with field sites. Unfortunately, the most restrained and professional environment can also hide inappropriate (or illegal) actions from potential allies.
So how can you make sure that no one comes away from your field project saying "Yeah, me too."? First, you must set guidelines for professional behavior and ways to hold students, TAs, and yourself accountable. Sharing what is and isn't appropriate and how to seek help will empower those with little power (students) if they have a problem. In Alaska, all field projects now carry In-Reach devices that have a variety of University contacts students can reach out to if they need to. This is a way of circumventing power structures that might otherwise silence a victim. But, hopefully, you will have a respectful and collegial atmosphere that makes students feel comfortable coming to you and your TAs for help.
We also need to recognize that students can experience harassment beyond the sexual variety. Grad students in particular suffer from depression and anxiety at shockingly high rates. Creating a community at your field school where everyone feels comfortable sharing their opinions and needs goes a long way towards stopping any kind of harassment before it starts. Set up a field conduct policy. Talk to your research team. Establish a respectful dialogue. Say: Not me, too.
Bree is an Alaskan Archaeologist and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wyoming.