Emerging Research Report

The under-studied research questions of Identity-based Harassment

Emerging Research Workshop on Identity-based Harassment Full Report

Executive Summary

The ADVANCE Resource and Coordination (ARC) Network convened scholars from multiple disciplines for a 2-day 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.

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.

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.

Emerging Research Workshop Report-thumbnail

Emerging Research Workshop

July 21-23, 2019
Naperville, Illinois

Suggested reference: Herbers, J.M, H.E. Metcalf, and R.L. Williams. 2019. Identity-based Harassment: a workshop on emerging research themes. ADVANCE Resource and Coordination Network, Washington, DC.

By the end of our time together and with additional input from the larger community of researchers and practitioners, the group prioritized four leading areas:

Put “gas on the fire”

Put “gas on the fire” by 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

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 (MSIs)

Spotlight research at Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs)[1]. 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.

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

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.

Other areas where research is needed

  • Influence of social media in generating and/or ameliorating harassment
  • Influence of local/state policy on how data are collected
  • Faculty views of compliance and management training
  • Effective development of advocates and allies
  • Bystander research
  • Role of professional societies and federal agencies in STEM culture change
  • Effectiveness of university compliance structures
  • Effect of disciplinary, departmental, institutional, geographical, and other contexts on experiences of harassment
  • Methods to balance protecting participant anonymity with meaningful disaggregation, particularly in intersectional research
  • Development of inclusive leaders
  • Relationship between concepts of academic freedom and resistance to culture change
  • Disciplinary norms and experiences of harassment
  • Characteristics of those who remain versus those who leave their positions after being harassed

We encourage researchers to consider pursuing these topics and exploring the questions described within this report, especially in collaboration across fields and with practitioners.

Workshop Participants and Report Contributors

Leslie Ashburn-Nardo Indiana University/ Purdue University Indianapolis
Ramón Barthelemy University of Utah
Canan Bilen-Green North Dakota State University
Kimberley Case Virginia Commonwealth University
Ximena Cid California State University – Dominguez Hills
Danielle Dickens Spelman College
Asia Eaton Florida International University
Stephanie Goodwin Wright State University
Joan M. Herbers ARC Network and The Ohio State University
Eden King Rice University
Anne Massaro Consulting & Facilitation
Allison Mattheis California State University – Los Angeles
Melinda McCormick Western Michigan University
BethAnn McLaughlin MeTooSTEM
Heather Metcalf ARC Network and Association for Women in Science
Sandra Robert Association for Women in Science
Cheryl Rodriguez University of South Florida
Kevin Swartout Georgia State University
Alexandra Tracy-Ramírez HopkinsWay PLLC
Billy Williams American Geophysical Union
Rochelle Williams ARC Network and National Society of Black Engineers

Planning Committee

Ramón Barthelemy University of Utah
Kate Clancy University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Lilia Cortina University of Michigan
Stephanie Goodwin Wright State University
Mary Ann Holmes University of Nebraska – Lincoln
Joan M. Herbers ARC Network
Heather Metcalf ARC Network
Rochelle Williams ARC Network
Anne Massaro Consulting & Facilitation

Top ?


The ADVANCE Research Coordination (ARC) Network is funded by a grant to the Association for Women in Science from the National Science Foundation (HRD 1740860). Its over-arching goal is to curate, disseminate, and support a community that shares research and promising practices for intersectional gender equity in higher education science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) departments. Through ARC’s Emerging Research Workshops, it also has a mission to identify emerging research themes and directions for new research in those areas. Here we report on the latter mission.

The ARC Network is supported by several advisory committees, including the Research Advisory Board (RAB). As part of its work, the RAB is charged annually with identifying important topics emerging in the literature on gender equity in STEM. Subsequent goals include recruiting a diverse cohort of scholars who commit to participating in a 2-day workshop on that topic. The workshop itself is designed to identify important questions for which additional research is needed, using intersectionality as a framework. In the autumn of 2018, the RAB recommended that ARC host its first Emerging Research Workshop on the general topic of Identity-Based Harassment.

The RAB recruited a Planning Committee (see page 2) to further define the theme, outline potential topics for discussion, identify scholars working in the area, and plan the workshop itself. Throughout its deliberations, the Planning Committee focused on recruiting scholars representing a wide range of disciplines, expertise, institutional types, career stages, and demographic backgrounds to participate, and weaving intersectionality throughout the workshop design.

The committee defined identity-based harassment broadly as behavior that serves to denigrate individuals based upon one or more aspects of identity, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, citizenship, socio-economic status, disability, and other socio-demographic categories. Harassment behaviors can range from micro-inequities to violence; some such behaviors are proscribed by law whereas others result from cultural dominance, microaggressions, and explicit and implicit bias. Because all individuals are situated within a complex interplay of systems that inform their identities and influence their experiences with harassment, understanding those experiences requires an intersectional approach. Intersectionality, first coined by Black feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, is a contextual framework for examining how dimensions of individual and group identity are connected to systems of power, privilege, and oppression, which deeply intertwine to influence barriers and opportunities individuals experience (Metcalf & Russell, 2018; Crenshaw, 1989; 1991; Collins, 2015).

The Planning Committee nominated individuals to participate in the workshop by considering a broad range of variables, including discipline, institution type, career stage, and the aspects of identity they study (gender, ethnicity, sexuality, citizenship, socio-economic status, disability, et al). The resulting group (see page 2) included scholars working in anthropology, psychology, sociology, law, biology, physics, geology, and social work; participants included faculty of all ranks, representatives of professional societies, social workers, and an attorney. The identities of the scholars were diverse, as well, which brought added richness and deeper insights to the discussions.

As part of the invitation process, the Planning Committee shared some background research context for the focus of the workshop as follows:

Recent research on STEM workplace culture shows that gender-based and sexual harassment are widespread in STEM fields (Ayock et al., 2017; Berry et al., 2017; Clancy et al., 2017; NASEM, 2018). However, little scholarship incorporates the experiences of women of color, LGBTQ+ or disabled scientists/engineers or other forms of harassment. Harassment research conducted from an intersectionality perspective shows a multitude of ways in which scientists and engineers from marginalized groups encounter identity-based harassment. For example, survey research (n=424) on race, gender, and astronomy/planetary science demonstrated that women of color experience the highest rates of race- and gender- based harassment and assault in their STEM workplaces (Clancy et al., 2017). The American Physical Society’s LGBT climate survey of physicists (n=324) found that LGB women experienced harassment related to their gender or sexuality at three times the rate of LGB men and for gender-nonconforming and transgender scientists, the rate was four and five times more, respectively (Atherton et al., 2016). The study’s supplemental interviews showed LGBT physicists of color encountered additional, unique challenges with exclusionary behavior, like race-related harassment. A 2016 survey (n=327) conducted by the Association for Women in Science showed that women of color, particularly if they identified as LGBTQ+, reported the highest levels of experiences with disability-related exclusionary behaviors in their STEM workplaces (Metcalf et al., 2018).

Prior to the actual Workshop, we asked participants to review the recent report on Sexual Harassment in Science released by the National Academies in 2018 (NASEM, 2018). This important document helped develop a shared understanding of harassment by expanding beyond sexual harassment to incorporate other forms of identity into our definition. Furthermore, we framed many discussions via their metaphor of harassment as an iceberg for which the below-sea-level components are more subtle, numerous, and equally damaging to the above-sea-level components that are more blatant and obvious.

In autumn 2019, we developed a draft of this report and circulated it widely among the community of research and practice. Comments and suggestions received from that audience by December 2019 are included in the text below.

Top ?

Workshop Description

The Planning Committee designed the workshop to proceed from a general overview of identity-based harassment to prioritizing specific research questions. The Committee recognized the potential of this topic to produce difficult conversations, trigger past trauma, and uncover strong differences of opinions. We therefore began the workshop by establishing group norms and shared understandings of purpose in order to create a space where authentic conversations could take place over the course of two days. Participants discussed intersectionality, approaches taken by different disciplines, and how their personal experiences shaped their interest in the topic. See Appendix I for the full agenda.

Day 1

The overall goal for the first day was Developing a Shared Understanding for a Research Roadmap. Participants engaged in four conversations designed to elicit varying perspectives, develop shared understanding, and reach conclusions about emerging research areas on identity-based harassment. We used the technique known as the World Café: for each conversation, participants were in discussion with a new, small group of colleagues. Within each small group, a host was charged with keeping the discussion focused and ensuring that all voices were heard. Once the discussion had concluded, the facilitator asked each group to report out; in that way, everyone had a sense of the communal responses prior to moving to the subsequent group discussion.

The four questions were designed to guide conversations from the general to the specific:

  1. What does inclusion look like in academia?
  2. What do we know today about identity-based harassment and intersectionality in academia, and particularly in STEM disciplines?
  3. What’s missing from the research on identity-based harassment using intersectionality as a framework? About what issues do we need more clarity?
  4. When thinking about creating change in the academy so that inclusion and respect are the norm, what research areas emerge?

Expanded bulleted responses to the four questions are given in Appendix II. Here we summarize the main ideas that emerged. Some responses were echoed across the four questions, and others were not perfectly aligned as they represented differences of opinion.

Question 1: What does inclusion look like in academia?

  • Inclusion is more than the absence of exclusion: it must be affirmative and supportive. Inclusive behavior brings multiple perspectives and identities into the conversation but is not itself focused on identity. A useful distinction can be made between diversity and inclusion: Diversity is having a seat at the table, whereas inclusion is having an equal voice with access to power structures.
  • An inclusive environment is safe for everyone and promotes everyone’s success. It allows individuals to take risks and is transparent about processes and values. Inclusion challenges exclusionary thinking and behavior in ways that are respectful and compelling.
  • Inclusion recognizes and addresses how working/ learning experiences are affected simultaneously by different dimensions of power, privilege, and oppression.
  • How do we recognize inclusion? Focusing on demographics is useful for measuring progress, but all too often it is perceived as the end goal. Diversity is necessary but not sufficient for inclusion. Furthermore, the way demographic data is collected almost always fails to account for intersectionality and the connection between demographic patterns and larger power structures. Equitable access to power is the primary criterion by which we can assess inclusion: pipeline strategies fail because they don’t change the power structure.
  • Those in leadership play important roles in modeling inclusion, but they need training and resources to be effective in those roles (Dobbin & Kalev, 2019). Yet inclusion cannot depend on any individual; it must be engendered by institutional policies, practices, and culture.
  • There’s more awareness of how inclusion might look for students, in part because they do not hold institutional power and have been studied more in the literature. Inherent power differentials between faculty and staff as well as among faculty (rank, probationary status, contingent vs tenure-track) render true inclusion an elusive goal in higher education.
  • Inclusion can only be attained by reaching outside the institution’s walls: an inclusive university is connected to its community and that community’s expertise, lived experiences and perspectives. Furthermore, inclusive institutions value and promote social justice work.
  • Ideally everyone would be encouraged to be their best selves and would be encouraged to do so.
  • An inclusive workplace is one where everyone, no matter their background, sex, gender, culture, age, religion, color, etc., can do their best work.
  • This workplace would contain “woke” employees who understand inclusive language and behavior and when they fail, own up to it and try to do better. There would be no tokens, just people. Work would be equitably shared, even the traditionally feminized labor of communication and sharing. The “other” perspective would be valued and obviously rewarded. Young people could look “up” and see themselves. Everyone just was themselves, no acts, no tension. Just working toward a better tomorrow.

Question 2: What do we know today about identity-based harassment and intersectionality?

  • Harassment has real costs in terms of productivity, self-efficacy, and retention. Most of it goes unreported, for various reasons. Some victims/targets/survivors do not recognize the behavior as harassment; others do not want to or feel safe enough or resourced enough to challenge the power structure; some believe they will not receive redress; others are ashamed and blame themselves rather than the perpetrator. Repetitive micro-aggressions and gaslighting create hostile environments and can be more damaging than a single more egregious event.
  • For some STEM disciplines, individuals work in isolation or small groups (field studies, late-night lab experiments) that create added vulnerability and risk.
  • Social media plays an increasingly large role fueling harassment via trolling, mobbing, doxxing, and other negative behaviors. We do not know yet how to use social media to successfully mitigate the effects of harassment.
  • LGBTQ+ people and people of color experience higher rates of harassment across the board, from micro-aggressions through incivility to violence. Individuals with multiple marginalized identities (e.g. women of color, gay Latinx folks) experience even incidents more frequently and severe.
  • Intersectionality research relies heavily on qualitative methods, which have generated critical understanding of important research questions. Quantitative research, on the other hand, is stymied by the “small numbers problem.” To protect individual confidentiality, data are often aggregated in ways that obscure root causes (e.g. pooling across departments, institutions, or demographic categories). We may need new and/or mixed methodologies to circumvent this problem and thereby complement qualitative research. Critical quantitative methodologies present promising ways for addressing these issues (Baez, 2007; Griffin & Museus, 2011).
  • Current regulations require institutions to self-report incidences of harassment. Institutional culture affects both incidences of harassment and reporting; those that protect perpetrators and doubt accusers are particularly problematic. Institutions have wide latitude on how they collect and report data, leading to unreliable information. Worse, we cannot use cross-institution data reliably to infer trends.
  • Policies concerning harassment are written by administrators, with a focus on protecting the institution from liability. Voices of vulnerable populations are rarely recruited to help draft or inform those policies, and protection against retaliation is weak. Policies focus on gender and ethnicity because these are proscribed by law and create separate pathways for pursuing remedies for each even though individuals often do not experience harassment in mutually exclusive ways. Law and policy typically ignore intersectionality and important other variables like sexuality, social class, political affiliation, religion et al.
  • Research tends to focus on those persisting in the field, ignoring those who have left as a result of harassment.
  • We do not know enough about interventions and leadership trainings that are effective; most are designed and implemented to achieve the primary objective of shielding the institution from liability rather than supporting individuals who may have experienced harassment. We do know that compliance-based training and shaming/ blaming are ineffective.
  • We know that women of color get a double dose of discrimination and exclusion.
  • Research shows a systemic lack of accountability around these issues. There’s an entire empire of denial at major institutions, including federal funding agencies and other outside sources of influence on people’s careers.
  • We know when we focus on compliance-only models that zero in on individual words rather than behaviors and systems that reward those behaviors while minimizing their impact that we set up outcomes that perpetuate harmful language and behavior even when the actual words used may change. Someone may use permissible words, for example, to hide or make difficult to pinpoint impermissible behavior.

Question 3: What’s missing from the research on identity-based harassment using intersectionality as a framework? About what issues do we need more clarity?

  • Harassment research tends to focus on gender in the aggregate, rarely looking at other components of identity simultaneously. This leaves the research community without a holistic understanding of how harassment functions systemically for a variety of dimensions of marginalization.
  • The first responder to an incident is most likely a friend or colleague rather than someone with line authority. How can we train first responders, and what is the relationship of that issue to the bystander literature? What responses are effective in helping the victim understand what happened and framing an appropriate institutional response?
  • Having policies is not enough. How do we ensure widespread shared understanding of the policies’ reach and directives, the impact of these policies and policy awareness, and modes of enforcement?
  • We need better models on how to train individuals on what harassment is and how to respond to incidents: having a web page or once-a-year inoculation is insufficient. Yet we know little about what does make a training effective for first responders, bystanders, and administrators.
  • At present university policy is framed around minimizing liability rather than mitigating harm. We know that policies based on harm mitigation/ restorative justice are very effective in other arenas (e.g. medical liability, student affairs infractions). How can we promote an alternative mindset concerning harassment that focuses on the victim rather than institutional liability?
  • What kinds of compliance structures work to mitigate harassment? We need to understand the impacts of reporting requirements, training effectiveness, how the compliance office is related to other units, and how they navigate legal requirements and institutional policies.
  • Research on perpetrators should focus on correlates of harassment behavior: what attitudes, socialization, institutional structures, disciplinary norms, etc. allow or even foster harassment?
  • Bystander research is central to the topic of stopping harassment, and ally/ advocate training has proven effective in culture change. How can we reframe these research areas to incorporate intersectionality?
  • Professional societies have started to take lead roles in mitigating harassment behavior at their meetings. Do those interventions percolate back to the institutions of meeting attendees? How can professional societies work with universities to further the inclusion agenda? Are there other work sectors from which academic institutions can learn?
  • How is harassment experienced in different STEM fields? How do cultural norms of different disciplines either allow or mitigate harassment behavior? Where does harassment occur, and how does it depend on the working environment (especially for disciplines that require off-campus work)?
  • Institutional research relies almost exclusively on quantitative methods. Yet only qualitative research has been useful to date for understanding the experiences of individuals, as well as probing the structures that allow harassment to occur. How can institutions study harassment at the intersection of identities when disaggregation interferes with confidentiality? We either need new quantitative methods, or we must help institutions and policymakers develop and value qualitative research agendas.
  • Research on intersectionality should be explicitly tied to power dynamics. What are the power implications of different identities separately and together? How can individuals with multiple marginalized identities exploit that power dynamic?
  • How do victims of harassment cope? Are there key differences between survivors who leave the field and those that stay? What are the most effective coping strategies and how might institutions develop policies around them? What resources do victims need? How can longitudinal studies shed light on long-term effects of harassment?
  • Studies of harassment and/or support in social media are badly needed
  • This research is inherently multidisciplinary, requiring collaborations and multiple viewpoints to arrive at insight.
  • Harassment can occur in formal settings (e.g. faculty meetings). How can we best train leaders, especially department chairs, in conflict resolution/ bully control/ setting group norms for behavior/ appropriate use of academic freedom arguments?
  • How do we incorporate other dimensions of systemic marginalization, such as race, class, age, and more, into our analyses and recommendations?
  • How do multiple dimensions of bias and harassment go hand-in-hand and how do they play out in institutions that guide STEM fields, like professional societies and our federal funding agencies?

Question 4: When thinking about creating change in the academy so that inclusion and respect are the norm, what research areas emerge?

  • What are the cultural norms of different STEM disciplines and how can we shape interventions to take advantage of or change those norms?
  • How can professional societies and academic institutions partner to leverage their complementary strengths and knowledge bases to improve climate and prevent and address harassment? How can individuals who feel marginalized in their institution find support in professional societies? How can professional societies instigate change within academic institutions?
  • How can we use results of bystander intervention research to advance the inclusivity agenda?
  • What’s the role of social media in harassment today?
  • What makes interventions effective at multiple levels: department/ college/ institution/ across-institutions?
  • What can or does research on harassment at minority-serving institutions teach us? What are the perceptions, policies, reporting mechanisms, or experiences there? Given the differences in mission and history at different MSIs (e.g. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which have a deeply rooted history and mission, compared to many Hispanic-Serving Institutions, which receive designation based on Hispanic student enrollment), are there important differences across MSIs and between those and Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs)? For example, research could explore experiences of Black Women/Black Women in the LGBTQ community at HBCUs compared to PWIs where black women are more isolated from one another. What training programs exist/could exist to address experiences of sexual harassment at minority serving institutions?
  • Local culture is important. For example, states vary in their laws, behavior norms, and beliefs about marginalized groups; similarly, urban versus rural campuses can have very different community demographics that affect accepted norms. We need data to connect individuals’ experience of harassment to the local culture. Furthermore, we must understand how local laws restrict our ability to collect data that can compare to other locales.
  • What can we do about the informal service and labor analysis of women faculty, especially women of color?
  • What are the unique characteristics, histories and cultures in STEM that moderate the questions we are asking?
    • Intervening – institutional, personal
    • Perceptions of harassment
    • Experiences of those in various social identities
    • Institutional and personal responses
  • What are the responses of faculty/staff/instructors/administrators when a student/colleague comes to them to share a harassment experience? How prepared do faculty/staff/instructors/administrators feel to field these questions and concerns from their students, colleagues, etc.? In what ways do faculty/staff/instructors/administrators cope with secondary trauma? In what ways do these vary by other demographic factors?
  • What Incentives/methods work to address resistance to change by STEM professionals?
  • Where are the major areas of misalignment across laws, institutional policies, training/ compliance programs, and live experiences regarding harassment?
  • We often think of power and privilege as either/or, but we know that people can have privilege around some aspects of their identities in some settings and be marginalized in others. When people have multiple marginalized identities, how can they leverage the varying levels of power connected to each?
  • What impacts do or might social justice or community justice response models have on mitigating harm? What are best practices?
  • How can we convince funders that longitudinal studies have value?
  • What is STEM’s relationship to marginalized communities historically and in the contemporary? How do social issues contribute to the culture of STEM (in terms of values hierarchy)?
  • How do we address identity-based harassment both at the individual behavioral/attitudinal level and at the climate and cultural level?
  • What are the behavioral and cultural interventions that are effective at mitigating bias, discrimination, and harassment?
  • How might we incorporate tools/check-ins into our decision-making that encourage reflection? For example, at the end of meetings where judgements will be made about “best” (teacher, grant, job applicant, etc.), a survey could ask: 1. Did you say everything you wanted to in this meeting? 2. What else do you want to say? 3. On a scale from 1-10 (1 being perfect), how are we doing with regards to inclusive excellence and diversity? 4. Did someone dominate the meeting? 5. Did someone say or do something that sounded like a microaggression? Knowing that this questionnaire is coming could care of some inherent bias.

Across all these questions, the World Café discussions generated important themes for framing research questions, which are given in more detail in Appendix III.

Top ?

Day 2

Participants were asked “What question or set of questions above, if answered, will make the greatest contribution to reducing identity-based harassment in academia?”

Answers to that question allowed us to organize four groups according to personal interest. Each group was asked to refine the research question and then to develop a research agenda to include:

  • What research methods will be most useful for answering these questions?
  • What interdisciplinary perspectives might be helpful?
  • What new collaborations might foster research in this area?
  • How might policies, practices and programs be influenced by research in this area?

Priority Research Area 1: Put “gas on the fire” of harassment research

This group was motivated by urgency, and the desire to move from research to prevention, response, and intervention. The discussion highlighted tensions between implementing prevention programs and providing effective immediate response and support to victims. This group discussed the need for a) high-level context-oriented understanding of harassment (what social norms and cultural practices distinguish different STEM fields and how do these shape experiences of harassment); b) the need to understand resistance to change and how it shapes communication and intervention needs, e.g. how department culture can incorporate understanding of and responses to harassment; c) what moderating influences are likely to be involved in the efficacy of interventions (e.g. enlisting advocates and allies, training bystanders); and d) how to keep central the needs and knowledge of victims/survivors/targets as we study these issues.

Research on prevention, intervention, and response should be attentive to the needs of victims/survivors/targets both in the data collection process and in reporting and use of the findings. When done appropriately, participating in relevant studies can have healing and supportive effects for participants, especially when research findings and implications advocate for specific changes that can be made at the institutional and structural levels to ameliorate harm and prevent future occurrences (Cook et al., 2015). Understanding what makes individuals leave STEM and what allows them to stay after experiencing harassment is an important part of this research. Multiple disciplinary approaches are needed and should include individual, interpersonal, and institutional perspectives.

Priority Research Area 2: Value all knowledge production

This group was inspired by the synergy achieved in the workshop from having multiple disciplines focused on a single research area. Perspectives from anthropology, sociology, psychology, social work, and the natural sciences all contributed to identifying more holistic questions concerning identity-based harassment. The most important issues that require a multidisciplinary approach are:

  • What incentives and currency are needed to engage resistant faculty in individual diversity efforts?
  • How do we keep these issues salient when the rewards system trains faculty to focus on short-term productivity and individual accomplishments?
  • How can we enhance the rewards system to include equity and inclusion work? How can we explicitly align faculty members’ individual career goals with institutional rhetoric about inclusion?
  • How can an institution leverage those individuals who are committed to the inclusion agenda to advance institutional goals?
  • What are the unique values of HBCUs, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Alaska Native Serving Institutions, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions, Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions, and Hispanic-Serving Institutions that have highly diverse faculties[1] and how are the experiences of individuals with marginalized identities different there?
  • How can institutions value and incorporate community knowledge as they address harassment?
  • Are programs like the AAAS Sea Change – which tracks metrics for STEM equity – effective? How can the practice of collecting and reporting such data inform us about the real goal — shifts in local culture?

Priority Research Area 3: Spotlight Research on STEM Women of Color in Minority-Serving Institutions

HBCUs, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Alaska Native Serving Institutions, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions, Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions, Hispanic-Serving Institutions and other Minority-Serving institutions (MSIs) enroll many students and house many faculty members from groups under-represented in STEM. Because many of these institutions have an explicit commitment to racial inclusion, they represent a fertile environment for asking questions about identity-based harassment from an intersectionality perspective. This group focused on the experiences of STEM women of color in institutions that serve large numbers of students from underrepresented groups, collectively labelled MSIs. These institutions encompass the entire range of Carnegie classifications, from 2-year colleges through to doctoral, research-intensive universities, which provides further opportunities for understanding the experiences of undergraduates, graduate students, staff, and faculty WOC as a function of institutional mission. Comparing and contrasting those experiences is also an explicit strategy of this research.

The group’s goal: Understanding/identifying policies/practices/cultures that contribute to inclusion. That goal is served by an explicit research outline that 1) acknowledges that harassment takes many forms, from stereotyping and implicit bias through inclusionary/exclusionary behavior to outright assault and violence; and 2) recognizes that inferences may be constrained by how qualitative data are collected. Thus, questions need to be framed positively (have you experienced positive support?) as well as negatively (what has hindered your progress?) to probe how responses might differ depending on how the questions are framed.

The group also agreed to define STEM broadly, to include the natural sciences, engineering, and social sciences; for some research questions, the experiences of individuals in allied fields (health sciences, agriculture) may be germane as well. They spent considerable time talking about specifics of the research agenda, including sampling techniques, and desired metrics. They identified potential funding sources for the research project and developed a strategy for moving towards the goal of writing a proposal.

Priority Research Area 4: Shift the focus from institutional liability to harm mitigation as the framework for responding to harassment complaints

This group focused on exploring institutional response models. Processes for addressing identity-based harassment should shift from a liability-avoidance compliance model toward an approach that centers on and addresses harm. Of course, institutions must be mindful of regulations, laws, and policies that structure some aspects of their prevention and response work. Yet we could also reduce the harm the processes themselves create and instead focus on the harm individuals affected by harassment are experiencing.

Harm mitigation is already used in some university settings. Academic medical centers, like other hospitals, have learned that admitting mistakes can often reduce liability: patients and their families who feel heard and validated are less likely to sue for damages. Similarly, for some types of student misconduct, community service is accepted as a valid remedy for harm caused to the community (from loud parties, inappropriate behavior in public, and the like). Rooted in the concept of restorative justice, the harm mitigation strategy focuses on hurt inflicted and compensatory behavior. This approach has been applied in the European Union to workplace bullying and harassment with striking results.

The group’s research agenda includes studying those interventions and documenting effectiveness in a variety of contexts. Connecting cost effectiveness to other important metrics like risk reduction or faculty and staff retention will be essential. Reaching out to practitioners and legal scholars will enhance the research programs as well.

Changing the university mindset from liability to harm mitigation will require capturing the attention of numerous groups, including CEOs of university hospitals, the National Association of College and University Attorneys, compliance officers, Student Affairs professionals, and influential organizations like the American Association of Universities, the College and University Professional Association, and the (National Academies).

Top ?

Specific Research Questions

  1. What do we already know about harm mitigation as an approach already in place in academic settings? Can that knowledge inform prevention/ intervention programs?
  2. What are the barriers to expanding harm mitigation principles in other fields/areas to address identity-based harassment in the academy?
  3. What recommendations for partnerships and action moving forward can we offer?

Research methods would include:

  • Directed interviews and focus groups with people doing this work in academic contexts
  • Literature reviews of restorative justice and harm mitigation
  • Collecting data from vulnerable populations for their opinions of a harm-mitigation approach. For example, post docs and graduate students are often targets of identity-based harassment, and we would need to understand if this response would be acceptable.
  • Collaborations: This agenda will require experts in law, restorative justice, and compliance, as well as the social sciences

Top ?

Additional Research Frontiers

Participants identified additional questions worthy of research. We could only choose four for deep dives, and there was great enthusiasm for these areas as well (in random order):

  • Influence of social media in generating and/or ameliorating harassment
  • Influence of local/state policy on how data are collected (e.g. giving space to respondents to identify as mixed or multiple race(s), a variety of genders)
  • Faculty views of compliance and management training: how do we move the needle from compliance to commitment to inclusion?
  • Advocates and allies: how do we design programs and how effective are they?
  • Bystander research: how do we train for reactive bystanders? What tools do they need most? What promotes or hinders people from reacting in the moment?
  • Role of professional societies in STEM culture change: Are interventions practiced by professional societies effective in reducing harassment in higher education generally? How can we capture synergy between the work done in societies and that done in colleges and universities?
  • University Compliance structures: what makes them effective? What are the roles of Presidents/ Provost/University Attorney/Board of Trustees?
  • How does the experience of harassment depend on place (lab, office, field site, conference, lab meetings, informal gatherings, et al)?
  • What new methods might researchers use to study intersectionality when the numbers are small?
  • What are the best practices for leadership training in creating inclusive campuses?
  • Concepts of academic freedom: some faculty resist policies because they believe it infringes on their right to free speech/ academic freedom. How do faculty think about academic freedom and its relationship to changing cultural norms?
  • What disciplinary norms across STEM fields either foster or discourage harassment? How do social norms for interactions in professional settings, such as conferences and meetings, support or discourage identity-harassment?
  • What differentiates victims who stay versus those that leave the discipline?
  • Why is change so slow?
  • What levers does it take to move institutional systems to change?
  • How do we create conditions to make intersectional inclusion an institutional imperative?
  • How might we combine disciplinary approaches and methodologies not only to deepen our understanding of experiences of identity-based harassment had along a diversity of dimensions but also for assessing and recommending remedies? For example, pairing quantitative (e.g. statistical, algorithmic) with qualitative (e.g. interviews, discourse analysis, ethnography, policy analysis, focus groups) methods and pairing a range of fields like psychology, humanities, anthropology, computational science, information science, linguistics, gender and sexuality studies, ethnic studies, disability studies, education, social work, and more could help move the field of research forward.

Top ?


The workshop was very successful in engaging a diverse group of scholars. Having multiple perspectives (disciplinary, institutional, career stage, personal identities) allowed us to pinpoint several research priorities for studying Identity-based Harassment of interest to the broader community of research and practice dedicated to equitable STEM environments where everyone is safe from harm. Participants themselves indicated strong interest in pursuing some of these frontiers. We encourage the ARC Network community to consider pursuing these topics and exploring the questions described within this report, especially in collaboration across fields, sectors, and research/practice boundaries.

Top ?

[1] Many MSIs have majority-white faculty.

Report Authors

Joan Herbers, PhD

Joan Herbers, PhD

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

Dr. Joan Herbers is Professor of Evolution, Ecology & Organismal Biology and of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at the Ohio State University. Trained as an ecologist, she studied the inner workings of ant colonies for most of her academic life. A few years ago, she developed a second career concerned with gender equity in academia. She is Principal Investigator of Ohio State’s ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Award titled Comprehensive Equity at Ohio State (CEOS) and is author of the recently-published Part-time on the Tenure track (John Wiley & Sons). Dr. Herbers, a former department chair and Dean,has studied academic STEM women’s participation in entrepreneurship and commercialization. She and her colleagues developed Project REACH, a curriculum that to encourages STEM women faculty to expand the reach of their research by engaging in commercialization activities.

Heather Metcalf, PhD

Heather Metcalf, PhD

ARC Network PI, AWIS Chief Research Officer

Heather Metcalf, PhD, is Chief Research Officer for AWIS, where she leads empirical work on gender and the STEM workforce. She has undergraduate degrees in applied mathematics and computer science (Clarion University of Pennsylvania, 2003) and master’s degrees in computer science (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2005) and gender studies (University of Arizona, 2007). Dr. Metcalf earned her doctorate from the UA’s Center for the Study of Higher Education (2011), where she studied science and technology policy. Throughout her career, she has applied her unique, interdisciplinary work to influence cultural, systemic, and policy changes in academic, industry, and public policy spaces and to train researchers and practitioners to build equity into their daily thought and work. Dr. Metcalf has research, policy, and programmatic expertise on myriad topics in STEM, such as: bias; intersectionality; educational and workplace cultures, policies, and practices; leadership; innovation and entrepreneurship; STEM pathways; and more.

Rochelle L. Williams, PhD

Rochelle L. Williams, PhD

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

Rochelle L. Williams, PhD, is the ARC Network Co-PI. She is also the Senior Director of Programs at the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). Dr. Williams served as a Research Scientist in the Office for Academic Affairs at Prairie View A&M University. Since 2012, she has worked as a subject-matter expert for the National Science Foundation on issues about cultures of inclusion, broadening participation, and university education programs. Dr. Williams received a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Spelman College and both a Master of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering and PhD in Science and Mathematics Education from Southern University and A&M College.

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.