This Is What Happens When A Leading University Lets Misogyny Persist

College is a place where all students should feel empowered to discover their passions and prepare for their future careers. The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) was the place where I hoped to do just that, so I was ecstatic when I was given the opportunity to begin my freshman year there this Fall.

As the number one public university in the country, UC Berkeley boasts faculty members who have won many prestigious awards, including three fields medals and four Pulitzer Prizes. One such renowned faculty member is Geoff Marcy, who the Washington Post calls “one of the biggest names in astronomy” for his pioneering work to find exoplanets, some of which could potentially host life.

A university investigation also found that Marcy violated the college's sexual harassment policy multiple times by engaging in inappropriate physical behavior — including unwanted massages, kissing and groping with students — between 2001 and 2010, according to Buzzfeed. The university claimed that after the investigation, it "imposed real consequences on Professor Geoff Marcy by establishing a zero tolerance policy regarding future behavior and by stripping him of the procedural protections that all other faculty members enjoy."

Although he blatantly exploited his power as a professor and violated a clear policy, therefore, UC Berkeley allowed Marcy to continue teaching until he finally resigned this week. This showed a complete disregard for the students he harassed and sent a clear message to the entire campus population. UC Berkeley is apparently more concerned with maintaining a roster of prestigious faculty than their students' well-being and the community's values.

While this incident is problematic in and of itself, it's also crucial to note that women already struggle to succeed in STEM without the added burden of facing sexual harassment. Women are deterred from pursuing STEM fields by insidious social norms that equate STEM with masculinity, and the effects are clear: The number of women receiving bachelor’s degrees in STEM has actually declined in the past decade.

This gender gap isn't just sexist at face value, either, but contributes to the broader gender wage gap in this country. Women make up 48% of the work force but only 24% of jobs in the STEM field, which tend to have the highest salaries. A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education also found that men graduating from top universities (including UC Berkeley) vastly out-earn women because more men more frequently graduate with degrees in lucrative STEM fields.

UC Berkeley’s apathetic response, therefore, not only deepens the fissure between women and STEM, but also reinforces broader notions of gender inequality. As University of Melbourne astrophysicist Katie Mack wrote, the problem is bigger than Marcy. “It's not just Marcy, and it's not just Berkeley," she wrote. "It will take more than firing Marcy or sanctioning Berkeley to create an environment that's safe for us to get on with doing the science we love.”

Perhaps this unfortunate incident, therefore, can contribute to raising awareness about the struggles women in STEM in universities across the United States and the world face. In fact, a  petition has even been launched to support the individuals subjected to Geoff Marcy's inappropriate behavior and hold the university accountable. The petition is a small step to show UC Berkeley that its miscarriage of justice hasn't gone unnoticed and that future instances of sexual harassment within the academic community can not and will not be taken lightly.

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Chloe Hallinan
WMC Fbomb Editorial Board Member
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