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Political Scientist Empowers Others With Her #MeToo Moment

Rebecca Gill’s experience is informing gender inequality research and inspiring other women to share their stories.

People  |  Oct 23, 2018  |  By Karyn S. Hollingsworth
Woman framed by books

Rebecca Gill, a UNLV political science professor and director of the Women's Research Institute of Nevada, has helped bring attention to the issue of sexual harassment in academia. (Aaron Mayes/UNLV Creative Services)

When Rebecca Gill shared her #MeToo moment at a political science conference in January, she didn’t anticipate the attention her story would receive.

For months before the conference, the movement had been inspiring victims of sexual harassment, assault, or misconduct to speak out and had helped unseat several powerful men in entertainment, media, and politics. 

Gill was a panelist on mentoring across genders when she shared her experience of when a senior professor’s interest went beyond her research. As a doctoral student at Michigan State University, Gill had participated in a summer social research program at the University of Michigan. At the end of the summer, the professor — who was teaching her course — talked about hiring her on his journal staff before suggesting Gill have an affair with him. As planned, he joined the Michigan State faculty and served as editor of a leading political science journal.

And Gill grappled with feelings of inadequacy and her research stalled. 

Exploding the Myths

Gill, now a political science professor and director of the Women’s Research Institute of Nevada at UNLV, didn’t publicly share the experience until that Southern Political Science Association conference more than 15 years later. Her disclosure there, and later on Twitter, sparked a conversation about sexual harassment and misconduct in her field. 

“I told the story as a way to highlight some of the myths about sexual harassment and to emphasize how people who already feel marginalized can be completely sidelined by this type of harassment,” she said.

 

This afternoon at #SPSA2018, I was on a #CWC panel about mentoring across genders. Below, I'll include my comments from the panel. In it, I speak candidly about my #gradschool #metoo moment. @SPSAwomen @SPSAwomen 1/n

— Rebecca Gill (@msGSXR) January 4, 2018

 

Her story has been reported in media and education outlets such as Buzzfeed, The Nevada Independent, Inside Higher Education, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. She is cooperating with ongoing Title IX investigations at Michigan State and Michigan, but resolution is not swift or sure.

“The investigations were by far the most stressful, time-consuming, and soul-crushing parts of this process,” she said.

Research Grant

Though she didn’t welcome the attention, sharing her experience has helped spur new research. Gill and a team of political scientists secured a $25,000 grant from the American Political Science Association (APSA) to study gender discrimination in the discipline.

So far, the funding has supported the #MeTooPoliSci preconference workshop at the 2018 APSA annual meeting in August. There, the group — including researchers from Purdue University, Princeton University, Menlo College, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and University of California, Riverside — collected insights from dozens of women in higher education on the impact of sexual harassment on their lives as well as ideas for mitigating it. They plan to publish their findings.

Gill’s efforts are being praised in political science circles. Along with Valerie Sulfaro of James Madison University, Gill received the Jane Mansbridge Award from the Women’s Caucus for Political Science for her service to the profession and exceptional efforts to advance opportunities for women.

Gill is grateful that she hasn’t encountered the vitriol many women experience when they speak up. Support from UNLV colleagues has made a difference, she said. “I hope this shows other women that it is getting safer to come forward. I knew I would have the unwavering support of my home institution.”

Ultimately, Gill hopes to begin breaking down cultures that support and perpetuate harassment. Asked if she’d tell her story again, she said, “I am reluctant to encourage people to come forward unless they are already inclined to do so, but if I had it to do over again, I’d like to think I would still tell my story.”