To the SEA membership:
Like many of you this week, we read Professor Seo-Young Chu’s essay in Entropy: “A Refuge for Jae-in Doe: Fugues in the Key of English Major.” Prof. Chu writes that Jay Fliegelman, who died in 2007, raped her when she was a graduate student at Stanford University. As a result of an investigation into his actions, the University suspended Prof. Fliegelman for two years without pay. Inside Higher Ed published an article today on this matter, with a quote from Stanford University’s spokesperson.
The influence of Jay Fliegelman on our field is significant, through his own publications and through the work of his many graduate students. Because of his standing in the field, it is especially important for us to state, for the record, that the SEA’s position is one of zero tolerance on sexual harassment of any kind, especially on senior scholars taking advantage of their position of power over junior scholars.
We make this statement while acutely aware that we cannot say what precisely it means for a scholarly society like the SEA, which does not investigate, prosecute, arbitrate, hire, or fire, to communicate its zero tolerance for harassment, assault, and exploitation. Nonetheless, as the officers of the Society of Early Americanists we wish to convey our personal commitment to doing all we can to refuse, condemn, and prevent such abuses of power.
Our response to this news will not stop with this communication to you. We ourselves, along with many of you, are still in the most immediate and intensely emotional phases of reacting to Prof. Seo-Young Chu’s essay. Along with you we will be continuing to absorb and respond to this information, while we determine what the SEA along with other scholarly societies can do to protect members of our society and our field from sexual predation and other abuses of power. Most of all, we are committed to generating environments free from harassment, aggression, or violence, especially at the conferences and other gatherings that we oversee.
We have begun discussing some possibilities for programming at our next biennial, including an informational session on preventing and addressing sexual assault and harassment in academia. This panel, as we are beginning to envision it, would have speakers with expertise in the relevant areas of psychology, law, and Title IX compliance. We are also considering developing, perhaps in coordination with other scholarly societies, a best practices document on the ethical mentoring of students and junior scholars. This conversation is in the earliest stages, and we welcome input from our membership. Please email any or all of us if you have ideas. Our emails are listed below our signatures.
Gordon Sayre, President
Patrick Erben, Vice President
Ralph Bauer, Executive Coordinator
Laura Stevens, Immediate Past President