Sexual harassment can wend its way into your life under any number of guises. In one particular incident, I was having beers after work with a friend who also happens to be a prominent professor at the University of Minnesota. I held a leadership position in one of the colleges at the time. We discussed several things that friends normally talk about at happy hour (work, kids, etc.) before I shared that I was struggling with marital difficulties. He initially appeared authentically sympathetic. I remember his words, “you deserve better,” deeply resonating with me. They came right before he propositioned me.
“We’d be great together,” he said. At first, I didn’t know what he meant. Once it registered, I felt a mix of shock and extreme discomfort. He traveled to Washington D.C. frequently and suggested we hook up if I had any plans to be out there as well.
I can’t begin to describe the utter disillusionment I felt after the experience. He is brilliant, and I enjoyed working with him. I helped promote his work and elevate his visibility. He was always grateful, friendly and complimentary. I thought it was due to my competence. As it turned out, there may well have been other motives at play. How could someone who appeared so decent, and at times even humble, stoop to the level of propositioning a friend who was at her most vulnerable?
And then, as many women in this situation do, I questioned myself. Did I do something to invite this? Was it somehow my fault that he felt it appropriate to suggest we engage in a sexual relationship? Of course, the answer to those questions is no. He’s a creep, plain and simple. I wish I had felt empowered enough at the time to call him out, or more.
As the hashtag #MeToo floods our Facebook feeds, let us hope that others in a similar situation will recognize strength in numbers, feel the power that I simply didn’t and find the words that I simply couldn’t.
Editor’s note: The writer, who requested anonymity, is a University of Minnesota alumna who held staff leadership positions in central administration and in one of the colleges at the University.