UR professors, "Silence Breakers," among Time Persons of the Year

Dec 6, 2017
Originally published on December 6, 2017 1:06 pm

Two University of Rochester professors are among Time Magazine's Persons of the Year.

Time calls them the "silence breakers," women who have voiced allegations of sexual assault and harassment by dozens of high-profile men in entertainment, media, business and sports.

"When you report sexual harassment, the most likely thing to happen is that you're retaliated against. That did happen,” said Professor Celeste Kidd. “The least likely thing to happen is that you wind up as one of the Time People of the Year."

Kidd and fellow UR Professor Jessica Cantlon are two of the complainants in an EEOC complaint filed earlier this year against the University of Rochester for its handling of sexual misconduct allegations against tenured professor Florian Jaeger.

Kidd said she doesn't know if the university would have responded any differently to their complaints had the “Me Too” movement currently sweeping the nation happened earlier.

"I don't know if that would have made, for example, (University of Rochester) president Joel Seligman more sensitive when we went public. I don't know if that would have prevented him from making the dismissive comment about the women (who accused professor Jaeger of sexual misconduct) maybe not existing and if they did, being liars. I don't know if that would have changed."

Kidd said there is no longer an expectation that victims of sexual harassment and assault will remain silent.

"I hope that this will empower them to know that if it feels wrong, it's wrong and that they have allies in the world that they can go to for support and advice."

Cantlon believes the movement that has inspired women to break their silence has helped people understand that sexual misconduct is a civil rights issue, not a personnel dispute.

"These aren't social interactions that are fairly exchanged between two people. These are behaviors that subjugate women and make women less free."  She calls that a first step. "I think the next step will be tackling what are the proper procedures to take in cases of sexual harassment and assault to make sure that victims get relief and are protected from retaliation."

The University of Rochester Board of Trustees appointed a special committee to investigate the allegations against professor Jaeger and the university's response to them.  The committee's report is expected to be made public on January 12.

In addition to the committee’s investigation, the university said it has taken several other steps to review its approach to sexual misconduct, including the establishment of a faculty and student-led commission on women and gender in academia to examine campus climate.  In a statement, the university said it is “committed to making this campus one that is welcoming and safe for all.”