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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

What can we learn from Dartmouth?

Leah Somerville
www.sciencemag.org
Originally posted November 20, 2018

Here are two excerpts:

There are many urgent discussions that are needed right now to address the cultural problems in academia. We need to find ways to support trainees who have experienced misconduct, to identify malicious actors, to reconsider departmental and institutional policies, and more. Here, I would like to start a discussion aimed at the scientific community of primarily well-intentioned actors, using my own experiences as a lens to consider how we can all be more attuned to the slippery slope on which a toxic environment can be built.

Blurry boundaries. In scientific laboratories, it can be easy to blur lines between the professional and the personal. People in labs spend a lot of time together, travel together, and in some cases socialize together. Some people covet a close, “family-like” lab environment. For faculty members, what constitutes appropriate boundaries is not always obvious; after all, new faculty members are often barely older than their trainees. But whether founded on good intentions or not, close personal relationships can be a slippery slope because of the inherent power differential between trainee and mentor.

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Shame and isolation. It is harder to appreciate the sheer dysfunctionality of an environment if you believe you are experiencing it alone. Yet even if multiple individuals have similar experiences, they may hesitate to share them out of fear and shame or a sense of pluralistic ignorance. The result? Toxic environments can remain shrouded in secrecy, allowing them to perpetuate and intensify over time. For example, a friend of mine from this era did not tell me until years later that she was the recipient of an unwanted sexual advance. This event and its aftermath had an excruciating impact on her experience as a graduate student, yet she suffered through this turmoil in silence.

It is crucial that people in positions of power appreciate the shame and isolation that can accompany being a recipient of inappropriate behavior and the great personal cost of coming forward. Silence should not be interpreted as a signal that the events were not serious and damaging. Moreover, students need to perceive that clear channels of support and communication are available to them.

The info is here.

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