The #metoo movement has ignited an irreversible process where previously buried allegations of sexual harassment are now broadcast for all of society to see. Victims are speaking up, their stories no longer swept under the rug. But with the unearthing of allegations and the long list of accused comes a number of very difficult questions. How should we evaluate allegations that are sometimes impossible to prove? Are settlements in sexual harassment cases admissions of guilt? And how should we think about those accused of sexual misconduct; can people change or should they be forever ostracized?
These questions are not easy. They’re not meant to be. But the implications of the #metoo movement urges their deepest consideration. We need to have difficult discussions to grapple with these uncomfortable questions and decide the new shared social norms for evaluating sexual misconduct.
Robert Kane’s history at ASU, the circumstances surrounding his hiring at Drexel and the lack of university transparency regarding the facts of the case highlight how this is a discourse that has yet to take place at Drexel. While the allegations regarding Kane are certainly not new, the #metoo era provides important context for the ramifications of the case to be understood. A difficult conversation must now occur.
If we’ve learned anything from the #metoo movement, it’s that the only way for us to move forward in the shared goal of stamping out sexual harassment is for everything to come to light, so we can define new standards of evaluating this information. It’s unfair to ostracize someone at the slightest whiff of an allegation, but it’s irresponsible and damaging to ignore that information. Otherwise, harassers will hide in plain sight and the status quo will prevail.
And yet, the plaintiff’s allegations in the civil case against ASU regarding Kane were just that; allegations. We will never have the full context of what truly happened at Arizona State, but even allegations ought to be thoroughly scrutinized, and #metoo reminds us of that.
What the university does with the information on Kane — and any information regarding allegations of sexual harassment by potential new hires — is, as we said, a difficult conversation, but a necessary one. Before it comes to a decision on any candidate, it is crucial that the university seek out and identify any civil allegations. A criminal background check is not enough. Drexel only knew a piece of the puzzle of Kane’s history, and this could happen again if a new system is not put in place.
We’re not saying that Drexel should fire Robert Kane. We’re not saying that Drexel should bar anyone with a history of civil litigation from being a part of the Drexel community. What we are saying is that faculty and administrators should demand access to all of the information, and learn with the rest of us how to evaluate allegations of sexual misconduct, rather than shrugging its shoulders and approaching the issue with disregard. Ignorance may be bliss, but in some cases it’s complicity.
Last spring, Drexel’s Office of Equality and Diversity gave out shirts to students that said “Not a bystander.” With this information in our hands, we knew we could not be bystanders during this critical time. Now it’s Drexel’s turn to stick to this pledge.
Let us recall an email on Nov. 30 from Drexel University President John Fry, titled “Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Safeguards Reaffirm Drexel’s Zero Tolerance.”
“The recent disclosures across the nation of allegations of sexual misconduct by well-known individuals in various fields — including higher education — demonstrates the need for vigilance to ensure that Drexel University maintains its zero-tolerance policy concerning all forms of sexual harassment and misconduct, including, but not limited, to sexual assault, sexual violence, sexual abuse, stalking, intimate partner violence and any form of nonconsensual sexual conduct,” the email reads.
The matter is in the university’s hands. Whether or not administrators knew everything about Kane’s history before, they are aware of it now. They are aware of the limitations of the current background checking system and it’s up to them now to determine if that system is acceptable.
As Kane’s case shows, sexual misconduct in the workplace is not always clear cut, but the university must now decide how this fits into the context of their zero-tolerance policy. It is not a matter of who is to blame; it is a matter of how we can ensure the safest environment for Drexel students in the many years to come.