Savithry Namboodiripad, Collegiate Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Linguistics, will present “A Survey of Linguists and Language Researchers: Harassment, Bias and What We Can Do About It” at 2 p.m. on Friday, December 14, in the School of Education Building, Tribute Room (1322).

Dr. Namboodiripad’s talk is based on research in which she and her collaborators conducted a survey of 1,415 linguists and language researchers, asking how individuals' social identities have affected their experiences of harassment and bias. The study was partially supported by a National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID) Grant to Support Research & Scholarship for Change.

All are invited to attend. RSVP required.


A survey of linguists and language researchers: Harassment, bias, and what we can do about it

Savithry Namboodiripad (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), Corrine Occhino (Rochester Institute of Technology), & Lynn Hou (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Linguistics has been rocked by two very high-profile cases of harassment (Flaherty 2017; Witze 2017). While these cases are clear instantiations of bias, everyday in our field, less-publicized cases of harassment and bias are occurring in professional settings around the world. These incidents have generated many formal and informal discussions, along with impressionistic conjectures about the types of individuals who are more likely to experience negative climate. In this talk, we aim to move from conversation to action, with empirical support from the results of a survey of over 1,400 participants who work in these fields. Our goals are to connect and contextualize the experiences of individuals, relate existing research on harassment and climate in academia to the aforementioned fields, and bring together resources to support both those who are already working to make change as well as those who are looking for ways to make a difference in their spheres of influence.

We begin with some unsurprising yet sobering results: individuals who are minoritized in society at large, especially those from multiply marginalized backgrounds, are also more likely to experience bias and harassment in professional and social settings. This creates a negative climate, and affected individuals are more likely to avoid professional and professional-adjacent spaces, such as conference dinners, starting collaborations, or particular subfields.

We also find that those experiencing and discussing harassment in general have less institutional power than those who are best-positioned to prevent harassment and mitigate the negative effects of harassing behavior. Relatedly, we find a disconnect between scholars in the majority and younger scholars in their perceptions of the field. More advanced and less minoritized scholars are more likely to indict theory-based conflicts as being the main source of negative climate in linguistics, as opposed to harassment and bias based on gender, race and ethnicity, language background, and disability. This result reflects the demographics of the field, with more junior scholars being more likely to come from marginalized backgrounds.

We end our talk and begin our discussion with proposed causes of and solutions to harassment and negative climate in linguistics, focusing on the perspectives of junior scholars who have themselves experienced harassment and evidence-based recommendations from a recent panel sponsored by the National Academy of the Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2018). We share a living document of actions that can be taken by every individual. We see these survey results and, we hope, the ensuing discussion as a way to transform the whisper network into a shout network, and as motivation for further allocation of resources to create a more safe, inclusive, and just future for linguistics.