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UNLV Professor Gets Grant To Study Sexual Harassment In Academia


The Me Too movement sent shock waves through all kinds of industries from politics to entertainment with high-profile cases bringing down well-known and extremely powerful men. 

While those stories grabbed headlines, women and men in every profession know it can be a problem. 

Now, a UNLV professor is looking at addressing the problem in her discipline. 

UNLV political science professor Rebecca Gill, along with colleagues from three other universities, just won a $1 million grant to look into sexual harassment in political science. 

The grant is from the National Science Foundation. Specifically, Gill and her colleagues will be working with the American Political Science Association to address the issue.

“Typically, we’ve relied upon departments themselves and colleges and universities to try to deal with these problems, but we’re trying to encourage these professional associations to use their untapped influence to try to get some real change in the way that people in our discipline relate to one another and treat one another,” she said.

Gill understands the problem on a personal level. While in graduate school, she was asked to have an affair by an older professor in exchange for a position on the editorial staff. She declined but the incident impacted the rest of her graduate career.

She doesn't see sexual harassment as being a bigger problem in academia than in other fields but she does admit the structure of universities can make it different.

For instance, a tenured professor may seem untouchable and above any kind of policies but Gill said that is not necessarily true anymore. Plus, tenured professors are at an institution for a long time and have more interest in making sure their work environment is a healthy one.

She said the project will be launched with the focus of getting at the problem right away instead of trying to find out whether its a problem. Gill pointed out that it's established that it is a problem.

“We’re going to start by helping departments figure out where they stand, what the climate and culture is in their own departments,” she said.

Gill and her colleagues plan to focus a lot of their efforts on the real world and get ideas on what really works in creating a healthy environment because she said sexual harassment is just "one manifestation of poor behavior." 

“There are institutional configurations that fail to sanction bad behavior and allow it to fester until it becomes particularly damaging to these certain groups of people,” she said.

Gill said they will be helping individual people within the political science discipline look for the warning signs of bad behavior and find policies to end the behavior quickly.

Rebecca Gill, political science professor, UNLV

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.