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Law's Presence, Law's Absence: Reporting Stories of Employment Discrimination in the Academy

  • Susan Sterett (a1)

Discussing employment problems in universities enacts an information asymmetry that has recently highlighted sexual harassment as a legal wrong while dampening other potential descriptions of reasons for disparities. Defining sexual harassment as unwanted sexual attention both understates and overstates problems at work, not least because it is not an issue for all women. This focus contrasts with books that popularized other kinds of barriers at work for women just a few years earlier. The stories about sexual harassment contrast with systematic evidence concerning reasons for disadvantage at work, which is less easy to tell as a story with characters, events, and a time line. In this instance, law, along with university leaders’ willingness to publicly act on claims, has proven productive of complaints that women have been reluctant to make since the Office of Civil Rights issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” in 2011 addressing sexual assault in higher education. This article draws on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s reports of discrimination. It concludes by arguing for proliferating stories, motivated by lessons from systematic research, even if law is not a remedy.

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