Thursday, July 22, 2010

In Which I Receive an E-mail, Coin a Phrase, and Make a Recommendation

The e-mail: Several hours ago, I received an e-mail from an unknown correspondent, sent to my university account, with the subject line "student." Thinking that this was someone enrolled in one of my fall classes asking if I could provide a copy of the syllabus (a common occurrence here), I opened it. What I found was a helpful suggestion as to what I might "need," sexually speaking, complete with a couple of anatomically-based insults. No virusy attachments or links to unsavory websites; just a single, foul sentence.

Coining a phrase: I actually don't believe this was personal (I didn't recognize the name, and I've been on sabbatical, so my opportunities to piss students off have been minimal); most likely it was some random person trolling faculty websites looking for women to harass. It occurs to me that this type of behavior is part and parcel with catcalls and other skeevy behaviors from one stranger (usually male) to another (usually female), with the intent of asserting power, and that the whole spectrum of behavior needs a phrase to describe it. I propose gender terrorism.

The recommendation: So, finding myself more irritated than actually intimidated, I decided that I should at least go on record. I e-mailed my chair, and she wrote back almost immediately, telling me that it should be reported to our network security people, and to keep her informed. She is generally good about these things, and takes them seriously, preferring to be safe rather than sorry. The network security people, on the other hand, advised me to "ignore it" or call 911. They also helpfully advised me not to reply to my correspondent.** Fine. As I said, I'm almost certain that this was random, rather than personal, and I can't imagine that the university should go on red alert every time that some jerk decides this kind of thing is hilarious. But you know what would help to make women feel like they're welcome in the workplace? A simple statement of solidarity. Something like, "we have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment," or "we value the safety of our employees." Sure, they're platitudes. But knowing that the university has my back in case something were really amiss here would mean a lot.

That is all.

UPDATE: I guess that's not all after all, because just before closing up for the night, another e-mail came in, this one with the name and number of one of my fall courses in the subject line. So I guess it's not random after all. Crap. This is going to be a huge pain in the ass for me, onacounta some jackass.


**Good to know, right? 'Cause my first thought was to strike up a fucking correspondence.

21 comments:

Tree of Knowledge said...

What a horrible surprise. Your term is a good one.

I'd let HR know what the network security people said. If for no other reason than to have it on record.

Anna M Blanch said...

I really want to know what the network security people said after you reported email #2. I like your chair's response. The least the network security people could have done was log it - calling 911, seriously? cause that's a great use of emergency services time when the university has much better access to the systems then they do...if it isn't network security's job, whose is it exactly?

I hope this person goes away, alternatively - i hope they get their comeuppance, they've already used an electronic medium to commit a criminal offence...

Comrade PhysioProf said...

That fucking sucks, NPD. I'm sorry you have to deal with this crap.

haphazardmusings said...

That's so horrible! I think the network security folks should have been a little more helpful. Did they sing a different tune after the second e-mail?

R.B. said...

I wish there wasn't a term for that, that it didn't exist. Gender intimidation, at least on the internet, has always stuck in my craw. Make me want to pick a username that's gender neutral.

I hope your people take this seriously. Can they trace something like that? That's definitely a threat.

Bardiac said...

You can call the police's regular number to report a non-emergency problem. I'm guessing your police department has a group that works on computer crime (porn, fraud, etc.). I don't know how much they can help, but maybe?

This REALLY sucks. I'm sorry it's happening to you. Gender terrorism is right.

Kate said...

Yuck. Do you have a hate speech or hate crimes number at your university? Or a Dean responsible for "equal opportunity" or "diversity?" Usually they take this kind of stuff seriously. You may end up having to go to the police if you can't tell if the person is affiliated with the university or not by his/her email address.

I'm really sorry you have to deal with this. This is ridiculous, and offensive, and oppressive.

Janice said...

I'm with Anna and Kate. Make sure that your university steps it up NOW -- your chair should also weigh in directly because this has gone from a single, random incident to something possibly more than random creepy.

The email should have enough information to at least track down the IP of the sender through the headers which might tell you if it is local in origins. Get the sexual harassment people on board if the network security people continue to blow you off. And get the number of campus security handy, too. Ugh!

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I'd report it to the campus police, too. I'm so sorry you have this to deal with. I hope it goes away soon. But remember the mantra: document, document, document.

heu mihi said...

Oh gross. How creepy. And how rotten of your network people. Bleah.

medieval woman said...

Like Dame Eleanor said, you're doing the right thing by documenting everything - and hopefully computer people (either at the police or the university) can track the jerk through their IP address.

I'm so sorry you've had to deal with this - what a gross bastard. Please keep us updated!!

Susan said...

Campus police at least. I hope someone there takes it seriously (and I would have gone there first, since it doesn't appear to be about hacking the system in any way.

And gender terrorism is a good term.

auto ethnographer said...

OMG. Horrid and scary, to say the least. I'd report both emails all the way up to the Provost's office with a cc to the network, HR and the Dean and the campus police.

Tigs said...

I'm sorry, that super blows.

I wonder, particularly, whether this form of gender terrorism is aimed at you as prof, or you as prof+feminist blogger--- that's a lot of power to be wielding there what with you having lady parts and all!

I only wonder because the follow up email with specifying information only came after you posted here that you weren't intimidated...
Does your blogger account allow you to log IP addresses?

Digger said...

Network Security is probably blowing it off because it isn't actually threatening to the network, just to you.

Campus police, for sure, if not the local police; perhaps law enforcement can "encourage" the network people to give a crap.

It would be nice to know if you're the only one getting this, or if they're sending them out in general.

Sorry you have to deal with this crap :(

Historiann said...

So sorry to hear about this, Notorious. Agree with all who have urged you to report this higher on up, and to document everything. I think it's something that the Dean should be made aware of by you and your Chair. It may be happening to other women faculty at your uni, but if your Chair treats this like an anomalous one-off, then you'll all lose the opportunity to hear about other incidents and force the administration (and your IT people) to document all of these cases and try to track down the aggressor.

Sucktastic welcome back from sabbatical!

the rebel lettriste said...

My brother is a cop. I'd say go to the campus police and then to the police police--and make sure that everybody on campus knows about it. You don't have to call 911, but having the cops involved will ultimately protect you should things escalate.

I am reminded of a similar situation my colleague dealt with. (She was being threatened by a student during class.) Our chair told her that if she was threatened again, to tell the student to come and talk to him!! Because Daddy was going to lay down the law? WTF? (I told her to call security and have them wait outside the classroom, which she did, and all ultimately was well.)

There is a term for threatening behavior. It's called "menacing." And it's illegal.

So sorry you're having to deal with this!

cop's wife said...

Notify the tech people again, including a reference to the first incident & their “response,” tell them that you have notified your dean, are notifying the Provost, HR and the appropriate office that handles sexual harassment, and the University’s legal department, and that you are filing a report with campus security and your local city/county police. Inform them that you expect them to take this seriously and to make every effort to cooperate with the police, including discovering the identity of the person attempting to sexually harass and threaten you.

And they can do that. There was an incident here at my University in which a graduate student was receiving similar emails, which escalated into far more frightening content in the emails. They found out who it was – a fellow graduate student who – no lie – was living in his mother’s basement and had a history of stalking.

Notifying all those people may seem like overkill, but it makes them take the situation seriously – and it tells the University administration that THEY had better take it seriously. The student mentioned above had to hire some big lawyers before our University did anything.

Clio Bluestocking said...

What a welcome back. The harasser is bad enough (then he told on himself with the other infomation, proving the maxim that your average criminal is not so bright), but those network people? Yeah, they need to have a file on them, too. They are supposed to deal with abuse of the network, are they not? Jerks.

The Bittersweet Girl said...

Sucks is right. Good advice from all above -- you've got to work hard to get admin. to take this stuff seriously. It's like you've got to re-educate them every single time: yes, it is true that when incidents like this are not dealt with swiftly and properly, they can escalate to actual physical violence, the kind that gets universities into legal trouble. Hello!

Welcome back to the trenches!

Anonymous said...

Have you tried the Equal Opportunity office? Ours was quite helpful when a student threatened to...well...he basically offered to have sex with me because he "could tell I wanted it." ... just wanted to float another balloon from the land of academic surrealism.