I’m concerned for your academic career if you talk about this publicly

What truths would be written if academics weren’t afraid of losing their jobs?

What truths would be written if you followed through, in practice, the type of sovereignty and decolonization you theorize in journals?

All the times I’ve heard some version of “I’m concerned about your academic career if you talk about this publicly”: that’s not concern for me.

I knew about the systems, I knew the stories about these men. We all do. We all do, because academic aunties gossip. And academic auntie gossip saves lives.

But still, I irrationally believed I was safe, or somehow exempt.

Even after, in second year, that time I got out of that ethics professor’s car, downtown, at night, in the middle of winter, and walked home rather than sit beside him after he joked that his seats recline all the way, if I was interested.

Even after, in third year, that time your fave scholar put his 50-something-year-old hand on my thigh under the table at that conference.

I’m not talking about “complexities” or “relations” or even sex; I’m talking about a fundamental failure to comprehend power and consent.

Like last week, a friend told me about the question he heard from a colleague:

“So are you sleeping with her?”, he asked, “she’s your student, right?”

because he can’t imagine any other reason why a professor would be friends with me.

“Well be careful, that kind of thing will stick to you” (even after he replied “no”): brotherly advice.

No, it won’t: but your words will stick to me.

That’s how patriarchy works, don’t you get it? The risk will never be theirs. Just get that tenure, bro. Just keep a handle on that funding, bro. Then you’ll be safe. Academics: we look out for each other, bro. The risk will never be theirs.

The risk is mine, for daring to believe I could stand on stages and give keynotes alongside men with PhDs.

So: these men talk. But so do women.

“Don’t take a ride with him. I’ll pick you up at the airport before your talk”:

I’m thankful for academic aunties who have saved my life all those times.


I’m angry that academic aunties know to offer rides because they didn’t have anyone to do the same for them, when they were me.

Believe her when she tells you not to take a ride with him. Believe her.

All the times I’ve heard some version of “I’m concerned for your academic career if you talk about this publicly”: that’s not concern for me.

Fuck any academic career that comes at the price of my safety and bodily sovereignty.

Fuck any academic career that requires my silence.

Fuck any academic discipline that shelters abusive men.

Academic aunties save lives.

Believe her.

29 thoughts on “I’m concerned for your academic career if you talk about this publicly

  1. Wow! What a gutsy piece, Erika. It is so important that people tell their stories, the difficult, horrid stories sometimes. Without the truth, we cannot live wisely in the future.

  2. Brilliance and Brave. Didn’t know, “Academic Auntie” was a term, but just this past Summer, for a young woman who was coming to Chicago to present at the Neuroscience conference, I told her that I would take her to the conference that day because every Black girl pursuing that lofty ideal needs an Auntie to shore her up and offer a safe harbor.

  3. A really excellent post and a topic I wish was talked about more. I didn’t have an Academic Auntie. I wish I did. In hindsight I probably could have avoided a lot of heart ache and problems both professionally and personally if the sort of person you describe had been there to tell me things like “he makes it a point to never work with female grads” or “his invitation to do a keynote is going to come with strings”

  4. You said it, sister. Thank you for writing this important piece. The sad reality is that some Indigenous male profs are implicated in this too.

  5. “Academic aunties save lives.” – 3 years ago I went to a conference in Knoxville. The airplane arrived late in the evening so I had to take a cab to my hotel. During all the way to the hotel, the taxi driver, realizing I had an accent, insisted that I said “I love you” in my language to him.
    “Academic aunties save lives.” – especially when they become your colleagues and don’t mind driving to the airport at 1130pm so you don’t have to walk out of a cab in the middle of nowhere.

  6. ” Academic Aunties” I love this term. This post has inspired me to write on my blog about the dangers the lye behind the fence. It is important that people know that their children are not always a 100% safe in schools these days. I have heard stories of professors persuading student’s to ” have lunch” or “go get some coffee” to talk about their academic career( grade). It is so perverted and needs to come to an end.What I would like to see happen is nation wide awareness about the issue and award student who come forward with this type of behavior. We do not need these types of people teaching our students anything because they have no moral code about themselves and they are handing grades over for sexual favors, a little flirting here and there, or by getting their student’s to let them get away with touching them. I love this piece of work right here. Keep up the work.

  7. It sickens me that anyone would first break solidarity the trust of their colleagues and equals in this way. The fact that it creates an unsafe environment an environment where you are unable to be focused on your work is unacceptable. That environment needs to be changed. How can we help?

  8. Thank you for sharing these words. I have been told something similar. I know who not to trust.

  9. Erica this is not just an academia issue, is it? It is also a consequence of the sexualization of indigenous women. Thank you for writing about this.

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