University of Michigan staff from across campus gathered Thursday to discuss the impact of the #MeToo movement and how sexual misconduct is viewed and addressed in today’s society.
Sarah Wagner, chair of the WeListen Staff Series of which the discussion was a part, said sexual assault and sexual misconduct is a topic “that affects nearly everyone, in just about every field.”
“As with all of our sessions, we’re hoping to reduce the stigma of talking about topics like this,” said Wagner, who is also the graduate program coordinator in LSA’s Department of Psychology.
About 40 staff members attended the discussion at Rackham’s Assembly Hall.
Before breaking into small group discussions, organizers presented a slideshow on the history of the ‘me too’ movement, a legal history of sexual harassment in the U.S, cultural changes motivated by #MeToo, and high-profile cases of sexual misconduct within the entertainment industry, politics and higher education.
Tarana Burke founded the movement in 2006 to help “survivors of sexual violence, particularly Black women and girls, and other young women of color from low wealth communities, to find pathways to healing,” according to the movement’s website.
When allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein became public in 2017, the hashtag #MeToo went viral on social media as people shared their stories of experiencing sexual harassment and assault.
During the WeListen event, staff members discussed a variety of topics, including how victims and perpetrators of sexual misconduct are treated based on social identities such as race; due process and the power of public opinion in sexual misconduct cases; the importance of believing survivors; and the need to address the ways in which sexual misconduct is structurally embedded in institutions.
Julie Fielding, an editor for the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in the epidemiology department, said Thursday’s session marked her first WeListen staff discussion.
“I was looking for (diversity, equity and inclusion) events and I saw this one and it seemed interesting,” Fielding said. “I’m curious about the ‘me too’ movement. All of the other DEI events I’ve attended have been very interesting and helpful and increased my overall awareness and knowledge of things so I thought this would be another good one.”
Cory Page, a project coordinator in the School of Public Health, said that by attending the event he felt he could speak to the male experience of learning masculinity while growing up. He said he’s seen the negative impact of toxic masculinity through personal stories from the women in his life as well as through volunteering for First Step, Wayne County’s resource center for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
“It seemed important that I come and be a bridge, and also that I come and bear witness so that when I go to men in my life and say ‘No, no, no, don’t believe that, here’s what I’ve heard from women who I’ve spoke to about this,’ I can be a better ally in that way,” Page said.
The discussion was organized by the Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning and LSA’s Department of Psychology. The series is modeled off the WeListen student group, which works to foster dialogue through small-group conversations between students across the political spectrum.
The WeListen Staff Series has previously covered a variety of topics, including mass incarceration, free speech and immigration.