Emerging Research Report

The under-studied research questions of Identity-based Harassment

Identity-based Harassment 

Reporting on Emerging Research Themes

The ADVANCE Resource and Coordination (ARC) Network convened scholars from multiple disciplines for a 2-day Emerging Research Workshop to prioritize under-studied research questions within the general theme of Identity-based Harassment. The Research Advisory Board of the ARC Network, a National Science Foundation-funded program hosted by the Association for Women in Science, identified this theme as a primary area in need of further research exploration in academic science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workplaces.

Members of the workshop planning committee nominated scholars working in this area who represent a diverse array of disciplines, research specialties, institution types, career stages, and social demographic backgrounds. Twenty-three scholars were convened in July 2019 and participated in a series of facilitator-led discussions designed to culminate in a research agenda of under-studied questions that will advance understanding of identity-based harassment.

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By Joan M. Herbers, Heather E. Metcalf, and Rochelle L. Williams

Defining Identity-Based Harassment

Identity-based harassment refers to denigrating behavior targeting individuals on aspects of identity including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, citizenship, socio-economic status, disability, and other social demographic categories. It can range from verbal slights or exclusionary behavior to full-out assault and physical violence. Identity-based harassment undermines the individual, and those belonging to more than one marginalized group can suffer in non-additive ways. Such harassment also shapes STEM workplace cultures in complicated ways, influencing productivity, sense of belonging, employee well-being, retention, field-level commitment, and more.

Its Most Urgent Themes

Scholars identified four under-studied areas that will advance understanding of identity-based harassment if explored. Researchers should consider pursuing these topics and exploring the questions described within this report, especially in collaboration across fields and with practitioners.

Put “gas on the fire”

Accelerating and putting to practice research on effective, intersectional interventions, prevention strategies, and response models that are centered on the perspectives and needs of those who experience identity-based harassment in whatever forms it manifests.

Value all knowledge production

Inter-, trans-, and multi-disciplinary approaches to identity harassment are needed to solve urgent problems, with perspectives from all disciplines and all forms of knowledge production equally valued. Given that marginalized scholars often work in marginalized research domains, it is imperative that we incorporate these ways of knowing to fully understand experiences of harassment and effective remedies.


Spotlight research at Minority-Serving Institutions

Much harassment research comes from and focuses on research-intensive institutions which are also often predominantly white. Because MSIs encompass the full range of higher education from two-year and four-year colleges to research institutions, they also provide opportunities to study how a range of institutional missions affect experiences of harassment, as well as prevention and response strategies. In particular, the experiences of STEM women of color at MSIs can provide important insights to intersectional research, especially on the roles that gender, race, ethnicity, and institutional setting play.

MSIs include Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and more.

Shift the focus from institutional liability to harm mitigation as the framework for responding to harassment complaints

The concept of harm mitigation puts the victim at the center of harassment complaints and provides a departure from emphasis on liability that currently drives policy development in higher education. Approaches based upon harm mitigation have transformed medical malpractice and community engagement, and research on how that can be incorporated into investigations of identity-based harassment has the potential to radically shift the landscape for victims and perpetrators alike.

Report Authors

Joan Herbers, PhD

Joan Herbers, PhD

ARC Network Co-PI, ARC Research Board Chair, Ohio State University

Heather Metcalf, PhD

Heather Metcalf, PhD

ARC Network PI, AWIS Chief Research Officer

Rochelle L. Williams, PhD

Rochelle L. Williams, PhD

ARC Network Co-PI, National Society of Black Engineers Senior Director of Programs

Association for Women in Science
National Science Foundation
ARC Network Logo

Funded by the National Science Foundation ADVANCE Program, Awards HRD-2121468 and HRD-1740860, the ADVANCE Resource and Coordination (ARC) Network seeks to achieve gender equity for faculty in higher education science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. As the STEM equity brain trust, the ARC Network recognizes the achievements made so far while producing new perspectives, methods and interventions with an intersectional, intentional and inclusive lens. The leading champion in North America to propel the inclusion of women in the field of engineering, the Women in Engineering ProActive Network (WEPAN), serves as the backbone organization of the ARC Network.